Let’s Turn this Back into Lemonade
I am a 28-year old WASP. I am the anti-Internet. I cannot dance. People like me are the reason “Black Twitter” is a term in the businessman’s lexicon.
When I got home from work today, I poured myself a bottle of wine, put my phone on silent and published one final Instagram before I settled in to watch Lemonade, the much-acclaimed visual album released this week by Beyoncé.
There is very little that Queen B and I have in common, apart from us both hailing from The Dirty South. And on any given day, I don’t consider myself an overly active member of The Bee Hive.
So why did I — when I made it home from a moderately strenuous day at work — make the decision to join in her arduous journey through marriage, infidelity and healing?
It’s because I’m deeply disappointed with the current state of affairs in my world.
That’s not intended to sound angsty or depressing.
Two months ago, I picked up my life and moved to a new city, where I know only a handful of people, for a job with a startup. I didn’t do it for a pay increase or for my dream job.
(To be honest, I couldn’t tell you what my dream job right now even is.)
My profession is marketing, which includes background in the usual buzzwords — advertising, public relations, social media and spreadsheets. And marketers love startups. They’re willing to try anything and take risks, which typically requires lots of creativity and very little accountability.
However, that’s neither how I was raised nor educated. I was fortunate to learn how to make the most of very little, like our subject matter expert Bey. This is what has served my career well.
I’ve had the opportunity to support and manage marketing efforts for clients ranging from the Fortune 10 to local nonprofits. And, in the process, I’ve found that the sexy accounts — the Nikes and GoDaddys of the world — are not for me.
In fact, my first job after college was with an advertising and PR agency that focused primarily on technology clients. Even there, while managing global PR strategies for tech companies, I spent the majority of my time sitting on Facebook fighting against angry moms who weren’t satisfied with one mainstream client’s product.
The work I loved most was not for the clients I could brag about to my friends. Instead, it was the work that I knew, whether or not anybody cared, changed the way people lived their lives.
That’s what allowed me to go home at the end of the day feeling that a 14-hour workday was worthwhile.
I moved my life to a completely unknown city for the opportunity to do that every day. But with that opportunity has come so many more lessons.
Startup life, as the Internet alludes to, means working very hard and playing equally hard. If an all-nighter means the difference between winning and losing a deal, the choice is not an issue. You chug some more coffee and you get your ass on the computer to make things happen.
And my new city is flush with startups. Walk into any Starbuck’s and you’ll find several tables of future “executives” glued to their MacBooks, documenting their dreams to change the world.
Unfortunately, there’s something about the business world that crushes dreams. It’s not hard to pinpoint the time in a company when the dream is overtaken by the need to please investors or to pursue a big check.
I moved to my new city because I was offered an opportunity to help change the way people live their lives without them ever knowing why. In marketing, that is the anti-startup and the anti-dream.
I’m glad I took the job.
But being in business in a startup market has reminded me why certain people are successful and others are not.
People today understand authenticity. That’s why every time something very good or very bad happens in the world, a fresh wave of news articles floods your newsfeed with deleted tweets and apologies on behalf of big brands.
You cannot fake caring.
Even the Grammys are rarely surprising anymore. You know the names who will be on stage and you know why — whether because you’re a fan or because you have the Internet.
A few years ago, I found myself staring repeatedly at Chanel’s holiday video. It was the first instance I can recall post-YouTube when a brand made something truly beautiful. It featured Pharrell Williams and Cara Delevigne.
Leave it to a 100-year-old fashion brand to start the digital renaissance.
I don’t own a single piece of Chanel clothing; but I know exactly what the fashion house stands for. That has never been a struggle for the company because it cares about what it produces.
As a new member of the startup community, I’ve heard or watched countless business pitches promising to change the world. And most of them have warranted eye rolls from me, the likes of which I think Beyoncé would be proud.
At some point in time, people began writing business plans with introductions outlining why a product is valuable before explaining why it will make a difference. And that’s deeply disappointing to me.
I’m proud to work for a company where I know the founder and CEO works harder than I do to make people’s lives better. I can’t say the same for most of the people I know.
Last weekend, before Lemonade made its HBO and online debut, I decided to start a new little piece of Internet — VidJockey.
I’m a fan of music libraries like Spotify and (formerly) Songza; and I’m a huge fan of music videos. I spent most of my pre-collegiate life playing music in some form or another; and, in the process, I gained a deep appreciation for the way music, along with secondary components like visuals, can create an emotional experience.
Case in point, I was part of a wedding a week ago in which the reception concluded with attendees forming a circle around the newlyweds and singing at the top of our lungs All My Life by K-Ci and JoJo — a 90s favorite. This was the most memorable wedding experience for me, above the bachelor party, rehearsal and ceremony. At that moment, the music, experience and several glasses of whiskey opened up my heart to sing to this couple what normally wouldn’t have extended beyond an, “I’m happy for you two.”
Music alone does great things; but we, as Beyoncé knows, have entered a video reprise.
Since that beautiful Chanel tribute, popular artists such as Taylor Swift and Bey have poured significant resources into video experiences because they allow people to feel their music.
And the money has followed, as in business.
At some point in time, the term “entrepreneur” meant someone who was inventive — who created something that helped people. Today, it’s a term for people who make piles of money by creating something that people will buy.
Today, companies struggle to humanize their brands by publicizing acts of decency that would traditionally be commonplace, like offering food to someone in need or allowing someone to use a bathroom where they feel comfortable.
We are not living a world in which we do what feels like a good decision. We live in a world in which we do what is most beneficial — creating what people will buy before creating what is useful.
Beyoncé’s album is beautiful. It is clear she’s poured herself into the work not only in terms of vocals, but also cinematography, storytelling, publicity, format and every other phase of the creation. It is a manifestation of her life’s work to date — her brand.
This is love. And it’s what I wish more businesspeople like me exhibited.
So how we supposed to lead our children to the future? What do we do? How do we lead them? Love. L-O-V-E, love. — Lemonade | Redemption
I decided to start VidJockey because I appreciate the art. It combines my love of music with film and it evokes in the southern me a need to get #turnt, as it were. There is no money in the time I spend creating video playlists; but that doesn’t mean I won’t make money from it. After all, I have a decently thorough understanding of online advertising.
Growing up, I understood the business world to be a place where dreams went to become reality. Today, I’m afraid that’s not the case.
But where there is Beyoncé, there is hope.
I encourage you, the people reading this from a Starbuck’s corner or from a desk at a job you forgot you’re even sitting at, to consider why you’re spending (at minimum) eight hours every day doing what you do.
For some of you, the answer may be lighting a fire under your (or your boss’) ass to make a dream a reality. For others, it may mean reconsidering how you’re spending your time.
Regardless, what we can all learn from The Queen Bee is that a dream is not worthless. This week, Beyoncé released an album made entirely of video on platforms that few people use. And she basically killed the Internet.
Kim Kardashian’s trashbag photo shoot didn’t even come close.
Do your thing and let’s slay.