Amazon's 2020 Holiday Ad Is a Perfect Distillation of Life on Pause

The show must go on, but we define the terms

What a gift this ad is. Amazon's global holiday campaign, created by agency Lucky Generals and titled "The Show Must Go On," follows a young ballerina whose big night is derailed by Covid-19.

The work stars French ballerina Taïs Vinolo and is directed by Melina Matsouka, who also shot Beyoncé's "Formation" music video and the 2019 film Queen & Slim. Really, you should just watch it:

Amazon | The show must go on

"The Show Must Go On" works well on a few levels. The most obvious is its approach to life under Covid, which we've seen treated, avoided and managed in many ads already: Spots shot on Zoom, stuff that lets actors shoot alone from their houses, even ads that depict some proximity of life as we know it, with the shadow of Covid ever lingering beyond the frame. 

But Amazon cuts right to the chase. For our protagonist, pre-Covid life had a trajectory. She had a passion for which she was recognized, and that fueled her ambition. Then Covid descended, and the reason for all her efforts—a show—slides away indefinitely.

What does that do to a person?

We ask ourselves that question every day. Maybe confined life was simpler, easier to laugh about, at the start of the year. But now the year is nearly over and we're wondering whether all the things we've put on hold are just going to be that way forever. It is no easier to plan our futures now than it was in March.

The denouement in the ad happens when the girl's sibling decides to plan a surprise solo show, enlisting people around her to make it happen (ordering things on Amazon, mostly … which, to be fair, is probably exactly what would happen), and to serve as the audience. Such gifts of community, like collective clapping or people entertaining one another from balconies, have been hallmarks of the best life-in-confinement stories.

Throughout the work, people are in masks or otherwise at home, and maintain wide distances. This is reality now, and the treatment of it is frank and not flagrant. It even feels compassionate. 

"The Show Must Go On" also feels like a subtle jab at an ad that the U.K. released last month. Following its pretty crap management of the Covid crisis—second only to that of the U.S.—the government released an ad depicting a ballerina, alongside copy that read: "Fatima's next job could be in cyber (she just doesn't know it yet). Rethink. Reskill. Reboot."

The ad was widely perceived as insensitive and led to all kinds of clever spin-offs panning government leaders. The subtext is that the government is placing the burden of long-term survival on individuals, callously asking them to find new ways to be useful, as if jobs are essentially interchangeable if you just try hard enough. (Sounds familiar, to be honest.)

While its title suggests a similar position, "The Show Must Go On" actually takes the opposite approach. Our hero is a ballerina. It's not a matter of training, though training is part of it. It's a tribe she cares about, a skill that lights her from within and animates her muscles. Its demands and rigors are the way she prefers to suffer, and its moments of glory represent how she best expresses herself in the world.

This is a calling, and it isn't even a profession yet. It cannot be replaced with online coding lessons.

Her longing is something the community responds to, reciprocating her need with its own need to galvanize around one of their own, and indulge in art and beauty—because frankly, those things are always needed, maybe especially so right now. If this work succeeds, it's because it's a reminder that, yes, totally, the show must go on. But we decide the terms, and we do it together.

What the hell is "cyber," anyway?

CREDITS

VP global creative: Simon Morris
WW executive creative director: Jo Shoesmith
Senior campaign manager, EU: Jennifer Finch
Senior campaign manager, global: Kelly McFarren
Senior creative program manager, global: Kara York
Creative program manager, global: Jennifer Orrestad
Creative agency: Lucky Generals
Director: Melina Matsoukas
Production company: PrettyBird
Local production company: Division
Editing: Andrew Morrow
Post production: ETC
Sound: Sam Ashwell 750mph
Music composition: Peter Mauder

Profile picture for user Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is a founding contributor to Muse. She is also the co-founder of esports agency Hurrah.gg, and co-author of Generation Creation.

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