Now that more than 130 million Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, demand for travel and travel-based experiences is rebounding quickly. And in much the same way that John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back” became the de facto theme song for the first wave of business reopenings last summer, the “return to normal” will spark a whole influx of repurposed pop anthems in commercials over the coming months.
One of the first major entrants for this latest phase is vacation rental brand Vrbo’s “After a Long Wait,” a series of ads about the family gatherings that will finally be taking place amid indefinite COVID delays: from a post-pandemic wedding and a couple finally meeting their 7-month-old grandchild to the proms, graduations and other family reunions in between.
The campaign will receive a special two-and-a-half-minute premiere during tonight’s (May 25) finale of NBC’s “The Voice,” with a special introduction from host Carson Daly and coach John Legend, the latter of whom performs a cover of Johnny Nash’s 1972 Hot 100 No. 1 “I Can See Clearly Now.” Legend also appears in the spot alongside wife Chrissy Teighen and their children Luna and Miles. Following tonight’s premiere, the 60 and 30-second versions of the campaign will air on broadcast and cable TV (including ABC, NBC and E!) as well as online platforms like YouTube and Facebook. Watch the premiere of the full-length spot exclusively below.
As Legend explains of his “Clearly Now” cover in a behind-the-scenes clip from the campaign shoot: “It’s a beautiful, nostalgic song about celebrating the light at the end of the tunnel. …It’s one of those classic melodies that just sticks with you and puts you in a good mood. And what better song for a nation, a globe that’s emerging from a pandemic? It just feels exactly right for right now, and for Vrbo to ask me to sing this song and bring our whole family together and to celebrate being together, I felt like this project is perfect.”
For Lish Kennedy, Vrbo’s vice president of global brand, hopes are high that the campaign will help sustain bookings for the Expedia-owned platform, which has already had the best business start to a calendar year in its 25-year history. “It shows the belief in the power of this message, which is not just about Vrbo but how spending time with the people you love is so incredibly important,” Kennedy says. “We really wanted to continue to spread that message with a surround-sound campaign, and having it introduced on ‘The Voice’ by John and Carson feels like a Super Bowl spot. We know we’ll have a very engaged audience tuning in.”
Legend’s “I See Clearly Now” cover also marks his latest collaboration with Raphael Saadiq, who executive produced the singer’s 2020 album “A Bigger Love” and his 2018 holiday collection “A Legendary Christmas.” Having helped pioneer the Zoom-scoring process during lockdown with his work on HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” last year, Saadiq was able to apply his newly resourceful approach to the song’s production by performing all bass, Wurlitzer, piano, guitar and background vocals himself on the track (drums were handled by frequent collaborator Carl Lemar Carter, with additional instrumentation from Dylan Wiggins, Jamelle Adisa and Roland Gajate-Garcia).
As far as reinventing the song, which was already memorably updated in 1993 by Jimmy Cliff for the movie “Cool Runnings,” Saadiq says, “I really loved the ‘Nothing but blue skies’ lyric — that was my opportunity to [embrace] what I loved about that really hippie part of the ‘70s. So instead of it happening for maybe four bars, I think I doubled it and I just made it feel really like some Shuggie Otis-‘Strawberry Letter 23’ type of filtered sounds through it. That was always my favorite part of the song, and I couldn’t wait to get to that part. Then John came in and since John’s selling John so he just went crazy on it. We just gave it a feel that we felt the world’s in need of right now.”
Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by Anzie Blue, a wellness company and café based in Nashville. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ahampp.