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Music has since the beginning been almost universally incorporated into television commercials -- whether as a subtle barely-there background mood-creator, or as the focal point (where, for example, the central story of the ad is a performance by a band). Naturally, commercials being what they are, a focus on such a performance is frequently only ephemerally related to the product itself -- "here's a band rocking out, now go buy our brand of perfume." But this iPhone commercial has managed to weave together various elements of a single performance with a solid commentary on the product itself -- and perhaps some unintended commentary as well.

The first image is a man plugging an iPhone into his electric guitar in a subway station. He looks to be a busker of some sort, but what busker can blatantly afford an iPhone (or find a power source for an electric guitar in a subway station)? Next we see a woman testing making a synthpad sound with her iPhone; followed by an upright bass player using his iPhone to tune his instrument, before he launches into a certain iconic bassline. This sound continues as we cut to a girl apparently in music classroom sitting at a drum set, who appears to be playing this bassline as the background music to accompany her initial drumbeats. We cut back to the synthpad woman, and can see that she's some sort of performing artist, standing on a big cube in front of a billowing projection hued like blood in water. She waves her iPhone in the air, and it produced notes of the song. Then a woman begins to sing the same notes -- apparently the singer using her iPhone as a vocal tuner.

The classroom drummer begins to whale away the beat; the subway guitarist begins belting out electric notes, and a man with an iPhone changes the lighting scheme against which a group of ballet dancers are silhouetted. We return to the singer who we now see is part of a three-piece (all-girl) rock band, with its own bassist and drummer, and with the singer having her own guitar. The singer approaches her microphone, and starts singing, "Gigan-tic, gigan-tic, gigan-tic, a big, big, love," while the scene cuts to more iPhone users -- gamers using iPhones as control pads to make robots fight on an oversized screen; a father who low-angle films his daughter, dressed in a dinosaur costume, kicking down a block city and scattering popcorn in their backyard.

Another man films a marching band in a New Orleans style setting as the ensemble plays a few notes of the same song; a pair of motorcyclists kicking up dust on a desert road come to a roadsign in Spanish -- one looks at it through his iPhone and the sign text is translated to reveal a collapsed road and detour ahead; a muscular man in a gym jumps rope, then presses his finger to the iPhone's camera, obtaining a heartrate reading; a group of people prepare model rockets for launch in the desert, and as they audibly count "three, two, one," a girl among them presses a big red "launch" button on her iPhone, accomplishing exactly that. And, lastly, a teacher uses her iPhone to control a starmap projected on her classroom ceiling, as the legend appears on the screen: You're more powerful than you think.

While tightly knit and successful in showcasing the versatility of this product, a few additional, perhaps unintended things struck about this commercial. Firstly, the Pixies were a punk band, not at all wed to social niceties; and so it ought to come as no surprise that the song “Gigantic” is actually about a young black man (with stereotypical exceptional endowment of phallic heft) having sex with a married white women. The notion was likely somewhat more scandalous in the song's native era, but although it now would raise outrage amongst only throwback theocrats, it's still an odd undercurrent for a major corporation to sport in a commercial. Secondly, some setups seem derivative of other things out there in the world. The performance-artist touchpadding her tunes is highly reminiscent of Bjork in appearance, dress, and movement. The three-girl band ensemble could've stepped straight out of Josie and the Pussycats. To be fair I suppose that everything has a something which it would look to be the closest thing to, but it's hard to shake the notion that some intentional concept copying occurred with these.

Thirdly, the clear effort which the commercial has put into presenting racial diversity is notable. The opening guitarist is white, as are the motorcycling pair. The upright bass player is black, as are both the young girl drummer and the three-girl band's drummer. The gamers are of mixed race (the one in the background is clearly black, the other, more prominently featured one is ethnically indeterminate, and could as easily be Italian, Arab, Sephardic Jew). The father and daughter playing in the backyard are black, with the father sporting a positively enormous afro. The performance artist seems most likely to be Asian, as does the man filming the marching band, perhaps Japanese. The ballet dancers seem vaguely mostly white, but both they and their light controller are too-little seen to make any fixed identification of ethnicity. The athlete is black (and he really is "gigantic"). The girl who launches the rockets is clearly Indian, while the schoolteacher seems pretty likely Hispanic.

In a sense, the ad is speaking to the achievement of democracy through power. For the relatively reachable cost of a higher-end cellphone, every single one of this cast of characters can have equal access to every single one of this power set of capabilities, with no place for any of the old barriers once set against people for their race, gender, or creed. So perhaps the choice of song was intentional, subversive, symbolic -- and so, a surprising sign indeed, focused through the lens of a large corporation.

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