Candidates in the overcrowded Democratic field for president, take note: This is how you make a campaign video.
Harvard University students James Mathew and Ifeoma “Ify” White-Thorpe are crediting a music video they made with helping them to secure seats as president and vice president, respectively, of the Undergraduate Council last week.
The running mates on Monday released the rap video, which features a bass-heavy beat, witty bars, and a catchy hook, ahead of the polls opening on campus. By Tuesday, it was seemingly everywhere, reaching far beyond the decorative gates of the Ivy League school and racking up millions of views online.
“I knew it would blow up on campus because of the brand we have made as artists, but I had no idea it would go beyond that,” said Mathew, 21, who is majoring in sociology. “It’s been surreal, honestly.”
Leading up to their win Thursday night, White-Thorpe and Mathew, both juniors, had been running a campaign focused on integrating and elevating the voices of the students they would represent — not just their own ideas. Their slogan was “Harvard Can’t Wait.”
“We said, ‘You know, we want the people to know who we are. We want other people to be involved in this campaign,’ ” said White-Thorpe, 20, who is majoring in government. “This campaign is not just about us. Our run is not just about us, it’s about the people.”
As creatives, they decided a good way to spread that message would be through a musical collaboration that highlighted the talents of their friends on campus.
Mathew cofounded a group his freshman year called “21 Colorful Crimson,” which is made up of musicians from the class of 2021 who use art to “advocate for diversity and defy Harvard stereotypes.”
He tapped into that pool of talent and asked some of its members to help him and White-Thorpe cobble together the music video for the tail end of their campaign.
“Student government can be fun and politics can be fun. It’s not something that needs to be high and dry,” said White-Thorpe. “We said, ‘We want to meet people where they are,’ and we thought we could best do that through a music video.”
The song features a large group of students dancing — sometimes in synchronization, sometimes not — on campus, as rapper BJ Watson delivers rhymes about how Mathew and White-Thorpe stand out from the other four tickets on the ballot.
“It’s James and Ify, goddammit they do it so spiffy. They got the campus super litty; so smart and so witty. If there ever was a problem, you know these two are gettin’ busy,” Watson raps.
He continues, “It’s Ify and James. Better recognize the name, the most inclusive campaign. You cannot beat the diversity, the campus will never be the same.”
The lyrics are followed by a musical verse performed by singer and student Jenny Baker, who urges student voters to “jump on board” with what the duo has to offer. There’s also a saxophone solo.
They shot and edited the music video last Sunday and released it on campus Monday morning. On Tuesday, White-Thorpe’s brother, Uche, posted it on Twitter.
“And then it blew up,” Mathew said.
White-Thorpe, who made national headlines in 2017 when she was accepted into all eight Ivy League schools, said within a few hours friends from across the country were texting her saying they saw the video online.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,’ ” she said. “I didn’t necessarily anticipate that the reach would be this widespread.”
Since then, it’s been viewed on Twitter more than 3 million times and received immense praise from people across social media platforms, turning a campus election into a highly watched event.
The pair found out late Thursday that they had won the one-year term that begins in January. White-Thorpe’s brother shared a follow-up tweet about the victory.
They agreed the music video probably appealed to voters and helped drive them to the polls.
“Absolutely,” White-Thorpe said. “I think it definitely aided our campaign” and “touched pockets of the student body who tend not to be engaged in the process.”
The words to the song are indeed catchy, and the beat has a certain energy — which could easily explain why it took off online.
But perhaps what’s notable about the video is this: Mathew and White-Thorpe don’t have starring roles in it. For the most part, they’re seen dancing in the background as their peers perform and take center stage. That, they said, was the whole point — a visual representation of the campaign.
“It was about a campaign of many, and not just the two of us,” Mathew said. “That was the idea from the start, even beyond this video.”
He said the video’s reach also probably helped spread a different message to those not involved in Harvard’s politics.
“What we were showing in the video was a Harvard that is very diverse, as well as a Harvard student that doesn’t just do school,” he said. “I think people really enjoyed us defying stereotypes in that way.”