Obama’s scripted biographical video before his speech last night caught 38 million viewers.
These bio videos have a tall order to fill. You need to communicate universal experiences voters can relate to, but also show candidate as unique and extraordinary. And you have to put forward the rationale for the political campaign. So the music has to be universal, unique, and political all at the same time.So how did the Obama campaign do?

The video has a brief introduction, then gets started with Obama’s childhood photos. This opening section was strong. We hear a small orchestra of woodwinds and strings. A solo clarinet plays over images of Obama; an oboe takes over when we see his Mom. When Barack talks of his memories of his father, it’s a melancholy piano. All very conventional, but also very well done.

Even though Obama grew up in Hawaii or Indonesia, and ukeleles and Gamelan instruments aren’t really a fit for a US President.

Then Barack meets Michelle. We shift smoothly to acoustic guitar for the romantic story. Conventional, but so far so good.

Things misfire when Obama starts his rise in the state senate. A four-on-the-floor kick drum suggests the daily routine of work with a bushy-tailed optimism. It’s a little thin and repetitive, and doesn’t fit thematically with the opening material. It’s always better, if you have the budget, to license something from a band that worked for a year on their album – this section fell flat.

The opening themes return as Obama reminisces about astronauts, but then things go off the rails. We see Obama on a plane while a the narrator intones creepily about “promise”. A new-age synth pad takes over for the orchestra. The kind of thing you expect to hear rising from the snow when you see the Northern Lights for the first time. The moment overreaches – we’re gone over the top and self-serious. Is this speaking to the party faithful or working class swing voters?

The video finishes with light acoustic rock, a safe choice, but the producers want to communicate “Hope”, so we get the Soulful Celtic Fiddle. The sound couldn’t be more wrong for Obama, it’s like a mashup of Enya plus Hootie and the Blowfish. Leave the celtic touches out and you’ve got something safe and pleasing.

Finally, the video ends without musical crescendo or cadence – things fade suddenly. There is a vacuum – the viewer wonders “eh? that’s it?” but the moment is saved by U2 and the stadium crowd as the candidate strides out.
So let’s give the music an “A” for hitting the right Childhood Memories notes, but a “C” for overwrought Hope instruments. Given the dead ending, call it a “B”.

Next week – McCain’s bio…

Posted 10 years ago by John Piscitello

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