AKQA and Usher Insist That You Stare Into the Eyes of the Victims of Violence

By Patrick Coffee 

R&B star Usher (who doubles as Justin Bieber’s mentor) recently released a song called “Chains” featuring Nas and Bibi Bourelly that was inspired by his take on racial injustice in the United States.

In order to promote the song, the singer collaborated with AKQA and Tidal, the Jay-Z-backed music streaming service that its own founder totally forgot about for a minute in an interview last week. (Usher also performed the tune live for the first time at a Tuesday concert in Brooklyn sponsored by the streaming company.)

The agency worked with Tidal to create “Don’t Look Away,” which it calls “the first music video that uses facial recognition technology to ensure viewers are watching and paying attention.” The idea is that you have to look directly at the screen or else the music will stop.


A slide demonstrating how it works:

Chains_Slide3 (1)

Here’s the opener.

chains 1You have to visit the video’s homepage on Chrome or Firefox, but it’s basically like this: you see images of the faces of Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Caesar Cruz and others who died in recent years (some were killed by police officers and others were killed by peers or strangers). As their faces fade in and out, you see some details of their cases while Usher sings, “We still in chains/You put the shame on us.”

Here’s a screenshot.

chains 2

It works pretty well, but you do need a good webcam. We personally found it to be frustratingly over-sensitive as the video kept pausing throughout as we tried to look directly at the screen.

Here’s a short that summarizes the experience.

The concept is interesting: since society at large has stopped paying attention to the stories of these individuals who died violently and controversially, the viewer has to focus on them in order to hear the song. It’s a way of reminding people that it’s far too easy to just turn away from unpleasant news.

This is almost certainly going to be a contentious project because, as we all know, Americans who don’t really know anything about the cases have chosen to express strongly divergent opinions, which quickly became political flash points pitting various groups against one another.

This all resulted in a lot of hateful language and pointless trolling, but it didn’t change the fact that each of these people died in a tragic way.

Maybe Usher can help move the conversation forward with this project, but you’ll have to forgive us for being more skeptical than Leonardo DiCaprio.