Pepsi, Politics, and Reggae: When “Activism” Becomes Appropriation

Having missed the memo on pretty much every single thing happening in the United States right now politically, Pepsi’s new spokeswoman Kendall Jenner starred in their widely criticized “Live For The Moments Now Anthem” advertisement (skip to about 1:30 to get to the Kendall part). The clip depicts Kendall stepping out of a luxe hotel, dressed expensively. With the nod of a handsome Asian sk8r boi that looks like he was lifted directly out of a Mary-Kate and Ashley movie, Kendall strips away the trappings of her family’s culturally-appropriated wealth and joins a protest of the most impeccably dressed young people holding inoffensive signs about love. Kendall then ends all our social justice problems by flirtatiously giving a Pepsi to a cute but bored-looking police officer standing in front of the protesters’ path—mimicking an image of a now infamous Black Lives Matter protest, in which a statuesque black woman faces a barricade of policemen dressed in riot gear. Apparently, since Caitlyn Jenner was a massive fail in appealing to the LGBTQ+ community, KJ’s gotta step up and be the #woke one of the family brand. Anyway, back to the ad. Policeman cracks open Pepsi, protesters cheer, Kendall Jenner considers joining Kanye West on his bid for the 2020 presidency.

While I could continue to speak about the levels of appropriation flagrantly expressed in the visuals, I feel the “Live For The Moments Now Anthem” advertisement is a fitting metaphor for pop culture “activism” as a whole. The primary reason why? The advertisement’s soundtrack—Skip Marley’s song, “Lions”.

Who’s Skip Marley, you ask? Well, he recently appeared on Katy Perry‘s equally #woke new single, “Chained To The Rhythm”. It appears that Marley is jumping on the politically active bandwagon, and using the legacy of his grandfather Bob Marley’s name, I don’t see why one wouldn’t try to capitalize off that. In the United States, the smartest thing you can do right now as an artist is claim some song/movie/product/etc is “anti-Trump”, and you become the most socially conscious person in the entire universe. Hell, if you play your cards right and parody Trump, you get an entire country to forget about the fact that a few years ago you were slinging out homophobic slurs to journos as if they were Pepsis to police officers.

There comes a point where political activism becomes a method for cashing in on fans. We’ve seen it with the use of “feminism” as a catch-all buzzword for brands and artists, most notably in Taylor Swift‘s co-opting of this political ideology to sell records like “Bad Blood” with her self-proclaimed “girl squad”. But, after some recent press disasters surrounding artists like Taylor, or “She-E-Os” like Miki Agrawal and Sophia Amoruso, feminism is on the outs—”activism”, or rather “anti-Trump”, is in. Skip Marley’s bland pop songs marketed as protest anthems work really well for advertisements like Pepsi’s, taking the politically-entrenched roots of reggae music and watering it down so much that it’s used in perhaps the most cliche way possible: as the soundtrack to an Instagram-worthy fake protest led by Kendall Jenner.

Bob Marley, easily the most famous reggae artist of our time, spoke about the political strife he saw and faced in his native Jamaica, involving himself in the violence and danger of Jamaican politics and using his music as a way to unite people working for a change. Jamaican artists like Peter Tosh were speaking out about racism in their home country back when it wasn’t really all that cool to address racism. In 2017, we have artists taking legitimate political issues and playing upon our own anxieties for personal gain and profit. That leaves us with one of the biggest brands in the world using a generic verse from a reggae song about “the movement” while we watch a member of one of the wealthiest families in the United States make a mockery of people actually risking their lives to create change.

But hey, looks like Sandra Bland would’ve been fine if she’d just put on some Skip Marley and whipped out a Pepsi. Right?

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