Through New Year’s on Creativity, we’ll be counting down the best work and ideas of the year in various categories: TV/Film/Branded Content, Print/Out of Home/Design/Experiential and Digital/Integrated/Social.
At No. 6 in digital/integrated/social, inclusivity has become more of a given in marketing messages, but this idea for MGM Resorts and McCann New York embraced it in a whole new way--it tapped top recording artists including Bob Dylan, Kesha and St. Vincent to re-record classic loves songs to create a LGBTQ wedding album, "Universal Love." The campaign also included a music video for Kesha’s rendition of a Janis Joplin tune, “I Need a Woman to Love Me,” which saw the artist, an ordained minister, presiding over a same-sex wedding at the Bellagio Hotel.
"I've got a man, crazy for me. He's funny that way." Those dreamy lines from Richard Whiting and Neil Moret's classic torch song take an ear-opening turn when they emerge from the gravelly throat of Bob Dylan. The musical icon has transformed the old standard into a celebration of homoerotic love in a new album from MGM Resorts, "Universal Love: Wedding Songs Reimagined."
Dylan, along with artists Kesha, St. Vincent, Bloc Party's Kele Okereke, Valerie June and Death Cab for Cutie's Benjamin Gibbard attempt to fill a gap in the music pantheon by reimagining familiar tunes of romance for the LGBTQ community, in the album created out of McCann for MGM.
The collection was released today on all the major streaming platforms, including Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music. It will also be pressed onto 10,000 vinyl albums, accompanied by liner notes written by music critic and Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis. It will go on sale on Record Store Day, April 21.
As part of the effort, on Monday, Kesha will be debuting a music video for her twist on the Janis Joplin tune, "I Need a Woman to Love Me." It will feature her marrying a same-sex couple in the Bellagio Hotel. (She's an ordained minister).
On the album, Ben Gibbard covers The Beatles's' "I Love Him"; St. Vincent does nice garage rocky cover of The Crystals in "And Then She Kissed Me."
The album is part of MGM's broader initiative to reposition the company from a hotels and casino brand to an entertainment brand, says Lili Tomovich, chief experience office and CMO of MGM Resorts International. "The vast majority of our revenues come from entertainment," she says.
MGM's portfolio includes 28 hotel properties, some of which take up about 50 percent of Las Vegas' main strip. It also owns a WNBA team, the Las Vegas Aces, and is co-owner of T-Mobile Arena in Nevada. Last fall, it debuted its "Welcome to the Show" branding campaign, which created an event-like aura around its various properties and featured bold messaging like "We invented MGM to entertain the human race, to blow the mind of all mankind."
Along with that, the company has long prided itself on its culture of inclusion and diversity. The Human Rights Campaign named it as one of its Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality, and the company has held gay weddings in its chapels a good decade before same-sex marriage was legalized in the States.
"We embrace humanity, and we're an entertainment company," Tomovich says. In conceiving the album idea, MGM approached McCann with these two basic tenets. We discussed what's going on in the world and looked for where there was an opportunity to make a difference." The agency then landed on the idea that there are no love songs speaking to the LGBTQ community.
Realizing the album has been more than two years in the making. To start, the McCann team started with the music itself. "After the idea was conceived, we made this big list of songs in which pronouns played a key role, and songs we knew if we made a simple word switch, it would take on a whole new meaning," says McCann New York CCO Tom Murphy. "There were many days of a bunch of us sitting in [N.A. CCO] Eric Silver's office debating which songs were right, or cheesy, or classic."
They then culled down a list of about 100 to a few that would make for a diverse mix and then approached various artists. "Some of them took our guidance, and others came up with songs never on our list in the first place," says McCann Senior Producer Deb Archambault. "When we brought the project to Bob Dylan, he was the quickest to sign on, but he came back with this song he wanted to sing."
While the artists and Sony Music may stand to profit from the albums, MGM will not be making any money from the effort. "It's not about the money, it's really about the message for all of us," says Tomovich.
"The intention is to say the world could use more inclusive entertainment," says Murphy. "The ambition is it doesn't stop with just the one album, and that we'll see regular people in YouTube land and other artists reimagining music. There's room in the pop world for a duet between two men and or two women."