Why Not Meri Jaan

The Young Stunners – Talha Anjum and Talhah Yunus – have done a song for Pepsi. The cola brand’s generous marketing budget has pushed the song everywhere. It’s a collaboration with Jokhay and Umair, two long-time Stunners partners who I’m really glad to see on this recording. The old guard of Ali Hamza and Zeeshan Parwez serve as Executive Producer and Video Director respectively.

This song is the Stunners’ moment. Since becoming social media famous early in the last decade, both artists have developed their craft together and solo. Drifting apart for a few years, they reunited with their 2017 album Rebirth. The Stunners had an incredible 2020. In between Rebirth and now, the two have polished their writing, invested in artful video and styling, upped production levels, and mentored an array of hip hop musicians who they now frequently collaborate with. In short, they went from young rappers to established artists. Every song they put out easily hits millions of views. Their fan following is cult-like, and their repute amongst their audience and peers is as the undisputed kings of their genre. To see them celebrate their presence on billboards across the country, and Pakistan at large acknowledging hip hop in advertisements, reality shows and on social media is incredible.

Pepsi’s endorsement of Young Stunners should not be considered charitable or progressive. Pepsi needs the Stunners more than the other way round. Pepsi’s target market have been hardcore following Yunus and Anjum for a while. All Pepsi has that the Stunners might not is money. And it is only logical for them to build an ad campaign around the Stunners’ vision.

Pepsi has progressed from a previous tentative engagement with the Stunners and hip hop, and finally gone all in. Potentially, this means that Pepsi might finally let go of an aging, cumbersome and disconnected Battle of the Bands franchise and lean in to rap fully, or it could just be a diversification. Generally big brands remain behind the curve.

Hamza’s presence as executive producer indicates a few notable things about his career. After a personally exhausting season as co-producer of Coke Studio, Hamza was forced into soul searching. A solo album was promised, but has not materialized yet. Many musicians from the early 2000s generation of Pakistani pop, Hamza included, are pitching to become Executive Producers for branded music. Executive Producers become the face of the project for corporate clients, while creative work can be deputized to others musicians, producers and videographers. Hamza has previously worked with Yunus on a catchy Coke jingle, and both Stunners on a Pakistan Day anthem also for Coca-Cola. He also frequently posts about how much his children love the Stunners. It’s great to see Hamza give Jokhay and Umair the space to do what they do best.

It would be naive to expect anything but competence from Zeeshan Parwez and Studio Rokhan, and this video’s production is stellar. The animation in particular is refreshing. Given the immense size of the intended audience, the video – like the song – has to remain accessible despite pushing a genre that may be novel to many listeners. As a result the art direction, like the lyrics of this song, is not the most extreme work you will see from anyone part of this production.

Perhaps the muscle cars and dance troupe are hip hop clichés that could have benefited from the uniqueness of the Stunners’ own visual style. But my guess is that at least in part, the only way to sell novelty to conservative brand management teams in large marketing departments is by pointing to precedent. And in this case, hip hop may have been a hard sell without pointing to visual references already popular in global hip hop. Unfortunately this means that our local flavor of hip hop, which Pepsi should lean into, is instead diluted into something more global because it feels safer despite being more distanced from a Pakistani audience.

Ideally this song represents Pepsi (and other brands’) recognition of artists that are actually popular, new and pioneering. The commitment via marketing budget is promising. I am happy mostly though to celebrate in the success of the Young Stunners and their collaborators. Not because this song is the actual achievement, but rather that this milestone represents that the Stunners can only be ignored at your own risk.