We’re looking back on some bright moments in a difficult year, and asked each member of our team to name a few of their favorite stories. This is one of Robert Chappell’s.
“It’s a trip.”
That’s the assessment of James Gavins on his music video, titled “N THE HOUSE TN (oh you trynna catch the rona),” going viral nationwide, thanks in part to a social media boost from Rafael Casal, Ava Duvernay and Oprah Winfrey.
— midwestjames (@midwestjames90) November 23, 2020
Gavins, the creative director of the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives (OMAI) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has taken to making music, dance and comedy videos during the COVID pandemic. Performing is nothing new for Gavins — an alum of the UW’s First Wave performing arts scholarship with a degree in theater, he worked with the Youth Arts Initiative and mounted a one-man show before returning to UW to join OMAI.
“The comedy and the sketches, and things like that, I’ve been doing that for a while, but as far as the music … that really started once quarantine hit, because I was an artist at home figuring this all out for myself, this is how I communicate. You try to communicate, and this is how I relate to most people,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
Gavin’s viral moment started last weekend, when he came across an old beat he’d made and decided to use it to create a sort of stay-at-home anthem.
“It was getting to a point where holidays are coming and everybody is starting to feel this pressure of, ‘Should I go home? Do I want to go home? Who’s going to be there?” he said. “And then there’s been this weird inter-family tension about people getting around each other celebrating. And what I wanted to do was I wanted to create something that kind of served as a bridge that it could be like, ‘ha ha ha… But this is why I’m not coming.’”
The song extols the virtues of staying in, Purel and Uber Eats.
Creating the video wasn’t exactly a massive artistic endeavor.
“I’m going to be really real with you, I started writing that song just on a whim.” he said. “Then I was like, ‘Am I going to record this right now?’ And then as soon as I was done recording it, I was like, ‘Imma shoot the video now.’ So I set everything up, shot the video, and then I sat and just edited the video. And then it was just up on Instagram. For real, from me (saying) ‘Oh, I should do this,’ to putting the video on Instagram was like an hour and 20 minutes.”
That was Saturday. By Sunday, the video was already gaining traction, aided in part by Rafael Casal — who preceded Gavins as creative director at OMAI and who’s become a well-known writer and producer in California — sharing it on social media. It ended up on the SoOakland Instagram page, and suddenly had 15,000 views.
“Sunday and Monday it was like, ‘Whoa, what is happening?’” Gavins said with a laugh.
Tuesday, it made the leap to the next level when filmmaker Ava Duvernay made it the pinned tweet on her Twitter account, calling it “My anthem.”
My anthem. Hopefully yours too. 🎶 pic.twitter.com/zR6E7xap0k
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) November 24, 2020
Next up, it was Oprah.
“Thanks for this long awaited theme song,” she wrote in a reply tweet to the video.
Thanks for this long awaited theme song.👏🏽🙌🏾 @ava sent to me.
— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) November 25, 2020
So far, the video has been viewed over 150,000 times on Twitter and nearly 90,000 more on Instagram. That was never the intent, Gavins said.
“I wanted to make something that everybody can hold. And it went across age, it went across financial status. And Everybody needs a little eighties bop. Everybody needs to get funky again,” he said. “Sincerely, this was not like, ‘I’m making this so it can go viral.’ It was like, ‘I’m making this because I just want to really bad.’ And now it’s out.”
And what’s also out is the follow-up — striking while the iron’s hot, Gavins dropped another video early this morning. And yes, it’s covid-themed. The title?
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