Let me start by saying: I love Mary J. In my mind, Mary J. is like my favorite Aunty who I only see a couple times a year. It is that familial relationship I have (in my mind) with Mary that has me so dismayed at her recently released Burger King commercial. The Aunty Mary J I know would never do something like this. I’m trying to figure out who pitched this to her and why they weren’t slapped in the face for being disrespectful to the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.
Let’s review what happens in the commercial.
00:01 — We’re told that “exciting things are happening at Burger King.” I guess, considering the rest of the short film, one might call this a bit of foreshadowing. I suppose our anticipation should be building at this point.
00:04 — White dude who has that “I look like every other white dude on Earth” sorta look asks “What’s in the new Chicken Wraps?” He’s flanked one each side by black women, on the left, an older natural haired woman. On the right, a younger straight haired woman who appears to be rocking out on big Beats-By-Dre-esqe headphones. The white dude’s question is then repeated by another average looking white man – who appears to be in charge as he interrupts the service of the racially ambiguous cashier.
00:06-00:10 — Things get weird. Out of no-where, Mary J. Blige interrupts the conversation, standing on a table, with a microphone, clad in all black leather, sunglasses and blonde hair. She again repeats the question “What’s in the new Chicken wraps.” This is the third time we’ve heard this question asked. Clearly, it’s an important question. But Mary asks it with a different tone, it’s as if there’s some sort of understanding amongst her, the white man in charge and every other employee of this particular Burger King, that whenever someone asks “What’s in the new Chicken Wraps” she gets the floor. White Man In Charge then passes the floor to Mary, the lights dim and coonery ensues.
00:17-00:22 — We reach minstrel show status as down near the front of Mary’s table-stage 3 patrons can be seen “raising the roof,” White Man in Charge sings and dances along to Mary in a very stereo-typically white-man-with-no-rhythm sorta of way. After this we get a couple more shots of French Dressing being drizzled over crispy chicken strips and a slow motion shot of a strip being snapped open to reveal all the steaming hot white meat goodness beneath the crisp. Sexy. (II)
00:24-00:30 — At the denouement of this masterpiece we’re treated to two perfectly laid, fully prepared crispy chicken wraps as Mary J. takes us to the bridge and our narrator implores us to “Coooome annnnd Get It.”
Ok, so I know I’m being a tad bit nitpicky considering this is a 30 second spot for Burger King. But here’s why. When it comes to advertising, particularly national advertising for a major brand like Burger King – everything matters. The pasty blue, short-sleeved button up the white dude who asked the initial question wore, Mary J’s all black leather, the natural hair of the black woman on the left, the straight hair and headphones of the black girl on his right, all were chosen to make a specific statement, or create a specific scene, all geared to appealing to the perceived sensibilities of the specifically targeted audience. Even the dancing–of three individuals right below Mary and the White Man In Charge–seemed clearly contrived, particularly when layered against Mary J’s rhythmic vocals. I guess my point in saying all this is … don’t take this commercial at face value. It wasn’t freestyled. It was scripted and story-boarded out by people who make tons of money. They paid Mary J tons of money for her appearance and she’ll continue to get paid as long as the commercial runs. At some point, you have to ask yourself: why are they spending all of this money, and what are they trying to tell us … besides chicken?
And then what about Mary? At this point in her career it’s a little disappointing that she thought it o.k. to stand up on a table a sing about chicken. It’s 2012, I know. Regardless of race, everybody loves chicken, I know. Still, for me, it’s never going to be o.k. for our artists to hop on tables and sing songs about the goodness that is crispy chicken. I just don’t think that’s cool or funny, not even in an ironically provocative kind of way. I hate having expectations of our artists, but I gotta say – I expect better.
Anyways, that’s my rant for the day. Have you seen the commercial? What are your thoughts. Do you believe it to be as specifically tailored and contrived as I believe it is, or is it all in good humor?
Oh, and in case you’re interested, here are the lyrics to Mary’s Chicken Song:
Crispy Chicken, Fresh Lettuce, Three Cheeses
Wrapped up in a, tasty, flour, tortilla
Crispy Chicken … Wrapped Up In A … Flour Tortilla … Flour Tortilla