DJ Khaled is offering a meet ’n greet, Migos’ Quavo is hosting a happy hour, Usher will give a dance lesson — these are just some of the ways artists are trying to reach young people in the run-up to this year’s election. It’s all part of an initiative spearheaded by Global Citizen and HeadCount, called Just Vote, that’s looking to ensure as many young Americans as possible are registered to vote. If these offerings aren’t enticing enough, Taylor Swift is throwing in an autographed guitar — so too, is Bob Weir. Like Swift, the Grateful Dead frontman is playing his part in trying to bring some levity to a time that’s been more divisive than ever.
Just Vote, which is billed as a nonpartisan campaign, aims to engage 1 million voters and get young people registered before state deadlines. It aims to mobilize young Americans ahead of the 2020 election and beyond. “Global Citizen did much of the heavy lifting in terms of artist outreach,” Andy Bernstein, founder and executive director of HeadCount, tells American Songwriter. “We wanted a mix of artists who appeal to young voters, but also some of the really politically aware artists like Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder and Bob Weir, all of whom HeadCount has worked with for many years.”
Usually, Global Citizen would be reaching young people directly, going to concerts and shows to physically engage with the public around the aims of its various campaigns. It’s how the organization has been activating music fans to be part of the solution to some of the biggest issues facing the world — from poverty to climate change. The organization also relies on rewarding music fans for their advocacy through concert tickets. But the Covid-19 pandemic, with its lack of in-person mass events, required some creative thinking on how to still push forward with Just Vote.
“This entire campaign is pretty much pandemic-inspired,” says Bernstein. “The thought is, ‘OK, we’re not registering voters at concerts right now, what can we do to reach the same fans we’d otherwise be interacting with in person?’ And that landed us on the idea of artists doing special private zoom chats with fans, and the way for someone to win that opportunity is to check their registration status. So we have a few artists doing that, like DJ Khaled and Quavo. But some got more creative. Like you can win a dance lesson with Usher. How cool is that?”
Billie Eilish, Billy Porter, FINNEAS, Julianne Hough, Loren Gray and Nicky Jam are on board too, offering exclusive experiences, performances and memorabilia all waiting to be unlocked through checking one’s voter registration status. A signed hoodie and t-shirt forms part of the prize Eilish is offering, while Porter is contributing a replica ‘Kinky Boot’ from his Broadway run.
Pearl Jam frontman and Global Citizen Advocate Eddie Vedder, who’s performed at a number of Global Citizen events, has donated a signed ukulele, while Lenny Kravitz, who made a bold political statement with his 2018 album Raise Vibration, is offering fans the chance to chat with the Grammy-winning singer himself in a personal video call. Gavin Rossdale and Shawn Mendes are also signing guitars for the cause, while Dave Matthews is promising an exclusive concert for everyone who checks their registration status.
A full list of experiences is listed on the Global Citizen website, as Just Vote seeks to reach young people in the online and digital universe. “It’s where we all live now,” says Bernstein. “For young voters, this is natural. Connecting with these artists through digital platforms is even more familiar, and more accessible, than going to a concert.” There’s no cost for taking part. All fans need is a phone, a computer, and a willingness to check their voter registration status. “The key thing here is that it doesn’t end there,” says Bernstein. “Once someone engages, both Global Citizen and HeadCount will stay in touch, serving up voter information and further opportunities to get involved. This is a giant on-ramp, a digital welcome mat for democracy.”
The campaign launched at the beginning of September. “It’s been terrific,” says Bernstein, on the response so far. “We can see every day more people checking their registration status and registering to vote.” Across the board, registration numbers have been down, as a result of the pandemic. As Bernstein relates, in 11 states the number of new voters in April of 2020 decreased by 70% as compared to April 2016. Other states are down as much as 50% over the same period. If it’s up to some of the country’s top musicians, those numbers will increase before the election takes place.