Exploring the Trump/Hip-Hop Conundrum at Viacom HQ

“How can the country that elected Donald Trump president be the same country that rates hip-hop as the number one mainstream genre?”

This is the question that opened Viacom’s Hype & Influence panel, moderated by Marketing Strategy’s Brooke Ozaydinli and featuring MTV’s Wanda Coriano, BET Music & Talent’s Bianca Edwards, and rapper Maliibu Miitch. The exploration of the state of Hip-Hop in today’s culture was a Black History Month event organized at the company’s Times Square headquarters by The BEAT (Viacom’s employee resource group devoted to the African-American experience), the Marketing Strategy team, and the BET Music Meeting.

“It’s not surprising,” Edwards said to Ozaydinli’s opening question, “because hip-hop thrives in environments with oppression and adversity.”

The Hype & Influence panel built on a video series of the same name, created by Viacom’s V By Viacom platform to explore cultural trends. The first edition, featuring BET’s Connie Orlando, 300 Entertainment co-founder Kevin Liles, and Miitch explored the same themes as the panel, which opened with a viewing:

Here are a few other highlights from the afternoon, from thoughts on the authenticity of Cardi B to the power and potential perils of hip-hop:

“People are used to everything being cookie-cutter”

Miitch addressed why she thought people connected with Cardi B, whose Bodak Yellow video has been viewed nearly a half billion times on YouTube. “People are used to everything being cookie-cutter,” she said, “but with an artist like Cardi, who doesn’t filter herself, people connect with her because she says out loud the things that people are thinking.”

Sparking a love of music

Coriano grew up in The Bronx hearing hip-hop on the streets, forming the foundation of her love for music across genres. “Living in the Bronx, hip-hop was my music and it was the music of that time.”

Maliibu Miitch and members of her Atlantic Records management team at the Hype & Influence panel, held at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters in honor of Black History Month. Photo by Pound & Grain.

Should children listen to hip-hop?

During the event’s question-and-answer portion, I sparked an extended debate when I asked about the relationship between kids and hip-hop. Miitch argued that parents do a lot of things in front of their kids that could be deemed worse than what artists rap about. “People rap about their truth and it’s not something to hide from children,” she said.

Coriano made the point that kids don’t always understand what is being said, and sometimes just like a song because they can dance to it or it has a nice beat. You can keep kids away from that sort of music, or give them a censored version, since many elements of hip-hop can be educational – she pointed to Logic’s 1-800-273-8255 or Kendrick Lamar’s songs about Injustice.

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Art Therapy with HERE and Karen Margolis

Much of artist Karen Margolis’s work embodies duality. Her series on cartography involves layering stacks of old maps, then using a soldering iron to burn holes into the textual landscape: in her words, “generating something new from what was lost.”

Margolis mined her college journal entries to source inspiration for a series called Emotion Flow Charts, repurposing words from what she describes as “rants and dreams…interspersed with deeply poignant moments.” She matched words such as “angst,” “sorrow” and “self-doubt” with a bold color swatch arranged according to numerical Pantone (aka those cards you pick up at the hardware store when you’re trying to choose a paint color).

Margolis described them as “Encrypted self-portraits.”

“They’re revealing and concealing at the same time.”

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Kids’ Choice Awards 2018: Live Updates

On Friday, March 23, I began live blogging my Kids’ Choice Awards experience as a Viacom insider. Here’s what went down.

This post was originally published on Medium.

A sublime experience

I left the Forum about two hours ago (7 p.m. PST) and it’s finally setting in that the KCAs are over. And to be honest, I was a bit relieved — not that the event was over, but that I had successfully made it from New York to Los Angeles, to pre-parties, to the press tent (I got lost twice), to the Orange Carpet and finally to my seat.

John Cena gets slimed. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

As I was live blogging, my goal was to try and keep my “live” coverage to a minimum — a paradox, I know. But as any child of the internet age knows, you can’t truly experience anything if you’re trying to document it in real-time. I’ve made this mistake many times in life — professional and personal — and the lesson is, you retain much more about whatever’s happening in front of you if you focus your attention on what is in front of you, not at your phone or notepad.

Here’s what stuck with me.

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RuPaul Charles Becomes the First Drag Star Inducted to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame

On Friday, March 16, RuPaul Charles werked his way down Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in one of his dashing tartan suits and trademark glasses. The entertainment icon and LGBT advocate was finally cementing his status as a Hollywood legend, with a gleaming bronze star.

RuPaul is not only the newest member of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he’s the only drag star to be inducted.

“This is absolutely the most important moment in my professional career,” said RuPaul in a speech at the ceremony.

Actress Jane Fonda introduced RuPaul, telling the crowd that he deserves a star at least three times the size of anyone else’s, to match the colossal contributions he’s made to entertainment and society at large.

“Behind the glamour, behind the drag queen is a man of great depth, incredible intelligence and compassion,” said Fonda.

The Emmy-, Critics Choice– and GLAAD Media Award-winner is credited with catapulting queer culture and drag to mainstream society, largely due to his hosting gig on VH1 franchise-turned-cultural phenomenon RuPaul’s Drag Race.

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Lifting Up Those Left Behind in L.A.’s Forgotten ZIP Codes

Watts is a Los Angeles neighborhood with a legacy of poverty, racial tension and violence. It’s notorious for the Watts Riots, a nightmarish five-day 1965 clash set off by police brutality and intensified by poor race relations. Today, residents of Watts’ low-income housing projects are still hindered by the city’s lack of interest in rehabilitating and modernizing their neighborhood. Children growing up in the area have more options to pick a gang than a college, and their tap water is potentially contaminated with lead or arsenic.

The 2017 Viacommunity Award winner, Flora Huang, was recognized for her efforts to help stop this cycle of hopelessness. Huang is Paramount’s vice president of Financial Planning, and she embodies the Viacommunity spirit of giving back year-round. Huang volunteers as a youth mentor for Red Eye, a Los Angeles based nonprofit organization focused on creating a network to connect the “the up and in” with the “down and out.”

Flora Huang helps a young mentee decorate for Halloween. Photo courtesy of Flora Huang.

“My goal is to provide consistency to kids who otherwise don’t have access to positive role models,” said Huang, who learned about Red Eye in 2016. “I let them know that there are alternatives beyond joining a gang and that they can be champions for their own success.”

As a mentor, Huang spends her Saturdays with Red Eye at the Imperial Courts Housing Projects in Watts.

“This is a part of the city most people choose never to venture,” said Huang. “This ZIP code is often forgotten; these kids are left behind. I choose to come here for the kids.”

On Huang’s first day at Red Eye, she spent the afternoon coloring and painting nails with a little girl named Kenayla. “She looked me in the eyes and asked if I would return next week,” Huang said. “She had pure joy in her eyes just from the hope that I’d be coming back.”

And so, she did.

The children who attend Red Eye’s Saturday mentoring sessions pose for a group picture. Photo courtesy of Flora Huang.

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Viacommunity Hosts a Screening of Selma in Honor of Black History Month

On Feb. 21, 40 high school students from New York City and neighboring public schools made their way to Viacom’s Times Square headquarters to celebrate Black History Month with a screening of Paramount’s critically acclaimed Selma, a crucial film about the African-American experience.

Viacommunity hosted the event, which featured members of The BEAT, Viacom’s employee resource group focused on the African-American experience, on a post-screening panel. To coordinate this celebration in honor of Black History Month, Viacom worked with nonprofit organizations The Opportunity Network and Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation (SASF), which provide academic support to students from underserved communities.

Selma depicts Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight for equal voting rights during the Civil Rights Movement, a momentous part of American history. Paramount’s re-telling of this visceral moment encapsulates the spirit of Black History Month.

Students and Viacom employees at a screening of Paramount Pictures’ Selma in honor of Black History Month – Photo by Esthefania Rodriguez

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Nickelodeon SlimeFest Continues to Break Into Experiential Entertainment, And You’re Going to Love It

Viacom’s live event business is booming. Just this past year, the company has launched Comedy Central’s Clusterfest, a first-of-its-kind music and comedy hybrid festival; Bellator MMA came to New York’s Madison Square Garden; and Nickelodeon brought Bikini Bottom to Broadway via the smash hit SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical.

Now, Nickelodeon will add to this growing constellation of live experiences with a two-day immersive music festival called…you guessed it…NickelodeonSlimeFest.

Nickelodeon debuted this kid-friendly festival in Australia, and has since slimed fans around the globe with events in South Africa, Italy, the UK and Spain. Now, the green goo is coming to the U.S., emphasizing the power and reach of Viacom’s global properties. It makes sense: outstanding events are universally appreciated, and slime is slime regardless of what language you speak.

Courtesy of Nickelodeon and Live Nation

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217 Years to Women’s Equality? Not on Viacom’s Watch

The World Economic Forum is concerned that, if nothing changes, full global gender parity is likely 217 years away.

Viacom thinks that we should start closing that gap today.

Today, March 8, is a good day for it: it’s International Women’s Day (IWD), an annual celebration of change-makers fighting for gender equality. Viacom, along with other media companies, nonprofit organizations, charities, politicians, entrepreneurs and activists around the globe, will celebrate women in a tradition dating back to the suffrage movements of the early 20th century.

Today, Viacom brands, talent and executives will spread a message of equality and social activism through the company’s global platforms, through a series of fan and employee events, and through support for larger movements lending a megaphone to women’s collective voice.

Here’s the breakdown on how Viacom will promote International Women’s Day:

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Viacom’s #SeeHer PSAs Portray Positive Female Role Models In Media

On Feb. 1, Viacom launched the first in a year-long series of PSAs across MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Paramount Network, CMT, TV Land and Nickelodeon. These vignettes feature inspiring, diverse women role models, both real and fictional.

Take a look at the first vignette, a feature film trailer highlighting a female engineer using her technological dexterity to prevent a world crisis. The vignette ends with that young girl sitting in science class, daydreaming about these future heroics.

“Portraying a strong female character isn’t rocket science,” announces the narrator.

This spot is part of the Association of National Advertisers’ ongoing #SeeHer initiative, of which Viacom is a leading partner. The goal is to accurately portray women and girls in media and advertising by 2020 (100 years after women’s suffrage passed in the United States).

Using the tagline “If you see her, you can be her,” the #SeeHer movement employs two of the world’s most pervasive industries – advertising and media – to illustrate the extraordinary things that women are doing every day.

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Kids’ Fluid Approach to Life, Italian Youth + Politics, Viewers’ Love for TV and More: International Insights Digest, March Edition

by Christian Kurz, Global Consumer Insights, Viacom

Viacom’s latest consumer insights include global kids’ fluid approach to life, youth and politics in Italy, viewers’ love for TV, teens speaking out against injustice, and the decline of casual sex. As always, on our blog you can find these and all our stories in English, Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.

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