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END OF THE DECADE PROJECT: Obama Girl



END OF THE DECADE PROJECT: Obama Girl
NEWSWEEK
December 3, 2009
By Julia Allison


“You seem to float onto the floor
Democratic Convention 2004
I never wanted anybody more …
cause I got a crush on Obama!”


June of 2007: the Democratic presidential nominee hadn’t yet been decided, even by the most precocious of pundits.  It was a slow news day (month, really) when a not-quite-professional YouTube music video featuring a sexy young girl singing about her love for a certain politician broke out.  Before the end of the week, over five million people had seen “Obama Girl” gyrate in a bikini next to a superimposed shot of “relatively unknown” democratic contender Barack Obama, bare-chested in the waves.

No campaign video then – or since – has made it so clear: Hillary Clinton or John Kerry, he wasn’t.

“So I put down my Kerry sign / So black and sexy, you’re so fine.”

Presidential candidate as sex symbol?  This was a new era, indeed.

This was no Swift boat, no cranky senior citizens complaining about health care.  Instead we had model/actress Amber Lee Ettinger, then 25, with long flowing black hair and curves that could make gay Republicans straight – plus an undeniably catchy tune, some arguably amusing lyrics (“You’re into border security/Let’s break this border between you and me/You can love but you can fight/You can Barack me tonight”), and, oh yeah, a bright red pair of booty … uh …  “shorts” – with OBAMA in white letters on the butt.
Such iconic sexual-political imagery is the stuff of pop culture legend.

“It’s safe to say the original video was more memorable than any of Barack Obama’s own TV ads,” says former ad-exec Ben Relles, who co-created Obama Girl with vocalist Leah Kaufmann, shooting it in a single weekend.

That it looked slightly homemade – no slick videography, with a budget of just $2k, only fanned the flames of grassroots views & media love.  More important, the message perfectly articulated – in a cheeky (figuratively & literally) manner – the cult-like almost adolescent adulation Obama fanaticism that had been building in pop culture.   “It was a metaphor for how young people were head over heels for him for the wrong reasons,” says co-creator Ben Relles.

Well … maybe not the “wrong” reasons, per se, but certainly reasons not frequently ascribed to politicians, like, for example, uh … “hotness.”

But it wasn’t just sex appeal that made Obama Girl (now viewed almost 50 million times worldwide) the defining viral video of the 2008 election.  For the first time it became possible for an individual to create and disseminate a video to an enormous audience.  “A video created in a weekend for a few hundred dollars could impact a national election,” explains Relles, “That represents a real shift in the way people can participate in politics.”

And so Obama Girl stands – clad in a tight white tee with Obama’s face – at the intersection of sex, politics and the internet, harkening a new era where elections are young and sexy and fun and underwear doesn’t just sport boring lettering like “Juicy Couture” but instead politicians’ monikers.

“Obama Girl’s in textbooks, in museums, referenced on SNL and in Michael Moore’s book,” marvels Relles.  Oh, and one more thing … “Obama’s seen it.  He emailed me.”

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