What’s the deal with Janey’s unusual campaign video?
Traditional themes re-mixed in innovative, three-minute spot
With the emergence of social media in the last 20 years, the announcement video has become a staple of local and national political campaigns.
When such a video drops, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve seen it before. They’ve become quite formulaic. They start with plaintive minor chords from a piano as a candidate lists the social ills their electoral district is facing, before transitioning to more hopeful major chords as the candidate presents a vision for fixing those problems.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey puts a fresh spin on the genre with a soulful, hip hop-infused soundtrack, visual cues that evoke a Black American aesthetic and a narrative thread that plays off the historic nature of her current status as the city’s first Black and first female mayor, albeit an acting mayor.
Most of the videos posted by Boston’s mayoral candidates fit into the traditional mold. State Rep. Jon Santiago highlights Boston’s problems with a camera following his journey from the night shift at Boston Medical Center, where he serves as an emergency room doctor, to the steps of the South End brownstone he calls home.
“I know what it’s like to grow up in subsidized housing, to attend Boston public schools, to wonder if my family will be given a fair shot,” he says, walking down darkened South End streets.
At-large Councilor Michelle Wu describes her young adulthood, taking care of her mother who suffered mental illness while helping raise her two younger sisters, and calls out the challenges the city faces.
“For too many, during this pandemic and well before, it’s been impossible to dream when you’re fighting to hold on, fighting to stay, fighting for our kids, fighting for a system that wasn’t built for us…” she says.
Janey’s video hits on many of the same themes the others highlight, but takes a radically different approach.
Shunning the standard minor-chord piano music, it starts with a stylus dropping onto a vinyl record, launching the piano riffs of a soul tune, in keeping with the 1970s-themed colors and typeface that splash the name Roxbury on the screen, a nod to the community’s longtime status as a predominantly black neighborhood.
The vocal track of a female soul singer plays as background while showing footage of past Black mayoral candidates Mel King, Bruce Bolling, Tito Jackson and Charlotte Golar Richie speaking about the need for change.
“At some point, we have to say we need to give the women a chance,” Golar Richie says in footage from a 2013 debate.
As she descends the steps of her Copeland Street second empire Victorian home and walks toward the Warren Street bus stop where she catches the first leg of her trip to City Hall, the music transforms.
“Boston having its first woman and first Black mayor, that’s just the start. We’ve got work to do. You’ve heard the problems — it’s a broken record,” Janey says, going on to recite a litany of racial and economic inequities in Boston.
The “broken record” line provides a cue for the soundtrack to transform. The needle scratches on the vinyl and the soulful vocal intonations began to repeat on loop. A bass-heavy hip hop beat is overlayed on the loop, adding an upbeat spin that becomes the soundtrack for the rest of the video, as clips appear of groundbreaking Black female political icons including former state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins.
The video takes the classic form of a campaign launch message and re-mixes it. Janey’s personal story is introduced in clips with her public transit journey from Roxbury to City Hall providing a narrative arc that includes her experience being bused to Charlestown during Boston’s tumultuous school desegregation era.
Janey quickly pivots from that painful memory to her current political position.
“I’ve been at the center of Boston’s history — the bad and the good,” she says as the video transitions to clips of her being sworn in and acknowledged as the first Black and first woman mayor.
Janey’s video plays up her status as mayor and includes clips of interviews she’s done on national television. While she assumed the role because of her status as City Council president, and has not been elected mayor, Janey has done her best to accentuate the historic nature of the current moment in which a Black woman now occupies the corner office on the 5th floor of City Hall.
The video ends on the power of incumbency. Through the entirety of the video, she provides narration, speaking directly to the camera only in the very last line, underscoring the significance of the moment.
“So let’s keep on going,” she says, speaking as narrator, before she turns and looks at the camera, providing the closing line, “Your mayor is asking.”
Janey’s video was produced by Cayce McCabe, a partner in the Putnam Partners political consulting firm. McCabe remixed “Your Love is Important to Me,” a 1964 song appearing on the b-side of singer Betty Everett’s “Shoop, Shoop” (“It’s in His Kiss”) hit. McCabe managed Linda Dorcena Forry’s 2013 special election campaign for the 1st Suffolk District.
Annissa Essaibi George