In light of the recent release of the single “Earth” by the rapper and comedian Lil Dicky, we analyze the successful strategy adopted to encourage responsible environmental actions worldwide.
On the 18th of April, 2019 the American rapper and comedian Lil Dicky released a single called “Earth”. The music video – that exhorts people worldwide to adopt respectful environmental actions – went viral on YouTube, reaching 77 million views in less than two weeks.
But why did it work so well?
An important premise: in this context we are not interested in discussing whether Lil Dicky´s intentions are sincere or profitable, or whether the message he conveys is acceptable or not. These speculations are left to the watchers.
The intention here is to analyze why the artist’s concept turned out to be successful, becoming popular in a ridiculously short amount of time since its online appearance: Lil Dicky’s official post on Facebook regarding the music video has so far received more than ten thousand re-shares.
I will develop my reflection trying to follow the progression of the video.
The opening scene is played by real actors and represents typical childish misbehavior. However, the childish misbehavior is not acted by adults, a situation that would trivially denounce humanity as disrespectful towards the environment and that represents a typical cliché we are sick of watching. It is acted by children themselves, who kick a garbage can along the street.
Children are childish: they can be so, because they do not know how responsible people should behave yet. Thus, immediately at the beginning of the video, the intention appears educational rather than critical.
In simple terms, the message is the following: we do not care whether you have been behaving respectfully or not until now – it is in human nature to be born immature and savage, but please be aware that we can always learn to act better.
From real actors to animation. This is the second stroke of genius. Although definitely not original, at this point of the video there are two clever aspects of it to take into account.
The first is the decision to use animated cartoons to represent the Earth and its natural environment, transforming the human protagonist (Lil Dicky himself) from a 21st century freak into a primitive. Again, the educational path takes precedence over any criticism we may have towards disrespectful environmental actions: early humans used to live in harmony with nature, and used to be a healthy component of it. Why shouldn’t we be able to revive such a lifestyle?
Secondly, the use of animated cartoons allows for the arrival on the scene of talking animals in an easier fashion. As I already mentioned, this decision shouldn’t be a surprise. Letting the possible victims of a natural disaster talk is a better way to make complex issues like pollution and climate change emotionally resonant; when an animal or a plant speaks, it shows human traits – especially feelings and somatic reactions – that spectators can easily interiorize and deeply comprehend.
The animals’ language is updated to present-day teenage slang. When we think about talking animals, we usually picture Disney’s animation movies. Despite the years, this is still our reference. In these movies, animals tend to speak a rigorous and rather classical language, easily accessible to children in pre-school or primary school age. Conversely, Lil Dicky’s animals speak as young teenagers would do in the 21st century. Taken together, the use of animated animals and the adoption of a fresh, “scurrilous-but-funny” language makes for a winning formula. This choice is appealing because it relies on the archetype of the gentle, human-like animal well rooted in our collective psyche, but at the same time it reaches a young audience that could already – at least partially – understand the environmental issue and get emotionally in touch with it.
The choice of dubbers. The guest vocalists are all celebrities and famous singers, including Justin Bieber as the baboon, Ariana Grande as the zebra and Shawn Mendes as the two rhinos. Once more, the selection of such featuring artists reveals the intention to target teenagers, particularly those oriented towards pop, hip hop and rap music. The song itself is largely rapped and its style adapts well to current world music trends.
Leonardo DiCaprio. The Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio is a public sustainer of environmental resilience, protection of ecosystems at risk, and a fighter against climate change. As stated on the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation website, a portion of the profits from the “Earth” project will be devolved to non-profit companies directly involved in developing solutions to support renewable energy transition, protection of ecosystems and wildlife, and sustainable farming activities.
His presence as a guest cartoon character makes the video even more successful. His long-standing adherence to environmental topics, his undisputed credibility and his status as a celebrity guarantees an enormous visibility to this climate change-related project, that perhaps we may consider unprecedented in media history.
All in all, we can consider Lil Dicky’s single “Earth” a successful strategy for two major reasons:
- The video preferred an educational approach over a critical one. Instead of using a negative narrative to denounce what is wrong in public behavior, it opted for a positive narrative in which a return to certain old habits would be desirable.
- The positive narrative was aimed at young teenagers, who represent the next sentient generation in every historical civilization and the proliferative source for future decision-making.
Received: 04.05.19, Ready: 19.05.19, Editors: HH, AFB.