Katy Perry's 'Teenage Dream' Becomes a Somber Anthem in Sandy Hook Promise PSA
A powerhouse PSA from Sandy Hook Promise and BBDO presents school shooting survivors who raise their voices in song, transforming Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" into a poignant plea for empathy and change.
The short film, directed by Smuggler's Henry-Alex Rubin, pulses with emotion, as young people—some paralyzed, or struggling with wounds of body and mind—deliver a message that rings out like a sad counterpoint to the bullets that once tore through their flesh.
A trigger warning applies: This is raw, upsetting stuff, two and a half minutes of tuneful, tearful truth about a nightmare that never ends.
"We thought there was strength in drawing the comparison between the way we all think about the typical high school experience—and the experience shared by school shooting survivors," Peter Alsante, executive creative director at BBDO New York, tells Muse.
To that end, Perry's 2010 track, all innocence and light in its multiplatinum original iteration, "felt like the perfect song to help bring this comparison to life in a stirring, emotional way," Alsante says.
The SHP rendition, with spoken-word bits, halting vocals and spare instrumentation, dives into a spiritual darkness, mourning dreams forever deferred at high-school massacres across the country. Family members also appear, reminding us that friends and loved ones endure trauma along with the survivors.
"We wanted everyone who participated to feel 100 percent comfortable with what we were doing and feel no pressure whatsoever," Alsante says. "For some we spoke with, the tragedy was still too raw. But others were enthusiastic to do what they could to help stop more tragedies like theirs from happening again. We focused on assembling a diverse collection of survivors to help show our audience that gun violence is a problem that affects everyone, no matter what your school may look like."
According to Rubin, "It wasn't possible to fly out to all of the 20-plus states where these kids lived, so we flew them and their families to New York. We asked each kid to send us photos of their rooms, and we did our best to re-create them. They brought whatever they could from their own homes: photos, posters, trophies, wall art."
"Working with real people is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have as a curious director," Rubin adds. "Whereas actors are often listening and learning from a director, in this case it was me listening and learning. I came face to face with kids who had been shot in the head, stomach, liver and heart. It changes you."
His subjects' strength reverberates, adding hopeful notes as the film urges viewers to visit Sandy Hook's website for more information.
"School shootings should not be a part of growing up in America," says SHP co-founder and managing director Nicole Hockley. "The goal of this PSA campaign is to illustrate the ripple effects and long-term impacts of gun violence in order to motivate more people to learn the warning signs."
Sadly, 15 school shootings have taken place so far in 2021. So the song remains the same, at least for now, but Hockley believes that "sharing the harsh reality and lived experiences of school shooting survivors reinforces the critical importance of prevention—and our collective responsibility to look out for each other. As kids are facing increasing academic pressure, stress and anxiety, it's more important than ever to learn the signs and say something to get help before a tragedy can happen."
SHP's past collaborations with BBDO and Rubin include award-winning work such as "Back to School Essentials," "Point of View" and "Evan."
These survivors appear in "Teenage Dream."
• Nolan Brandy, shot in the kidney, San Bernardino, Californing, 2017
• Isabelle Laymance, two friends were killed next to her as they huddled in a closet, Santa Fe, Texas, 2018
• Carlitos Rodriguez, barricaded himself behind a door as 17 students were killed, Parkland, Florida, 2018
• Aalayah Eastmond, hid under the body of her dead friend, Parkland
• Mia Page-Tretta, shot in the stomach, Santa Clarita, California, 2019
• Emma Nees, shot through the abdomen, Rockford, Washington, 2017
• Nick Walczak, shot three times, paralyzed, Chardon, Ohio, 2012
• Samantha Fuentes, bullet fragments remain in her face and abdomen, Parkland
• Chase Yarbrough, shot six times, a bullet remains lodged in his heart, Santa Fe
• Hannah Dysinger, the bullet that killed her best friend lodged in her rib cage, Draffenville, Kentucky, 2018
• Mitch, Annika and Alex Dworet: Alex was shot in the neck, his older brother Nick was killed, Parkland
Sandy Hook Promise
"Teenage Dream" PSA - Creative Credits
Launch: September 13, 2021
Creative Agency: BBDO New York
Chief Creative Officer, Worldwide: David Lubars
Executive Creative Director: Peter Alsante
Creative Director: Jim Connolly
Art Director: Samantha Spellman
Copywriter: Sandi Spino
Executive Producer, Director of Content Production: Alex Gianni
Producer: Molly Ross
Designer: Jong Yeu Wu
Senior Music Producer: Julia Millison
SVP Senior Director: Lindsey Cash
SVP Account Director: Ann Kim
Account Executive: Charlotte Manzone
VP Planning Director: Ben Bass
Planner: Kamillah Collins
Influencer Manager: Lucy Bennett
SVP Director of Production Services: Jessica Nugent
Business Manager: Grace Kelly
PR agency: Dini von Mueffling Communications
Founder and CEO: Dini von Mueffling
Publicist: Stephanie Morris
Publicist: Lily Seibert
Media Agency: PHD
Strategy Director: Nichole Verost
Strategist: Jake Brady
Activation: Caitlin Crawford, Grace Brandus, Jessi Searing, Natalie Stephan, Rachel Easton, Emma Rayder
Donation Outreach: Steven Bloom (OMG), Bryan Master (OMG), Seth Glosman
Production Company: SMUGGLER
Director: Henry-Alex Rubin
Executive Producer: Patrick Milling-Smith / Brian Carmody / Drew Santarsiero
Head of Production: Alex Hughes
Producer: Leah Allina
Associate Producer: Michelle Mehn / Mark Perez
Line Producer (New York Prep): Catalina Restrepo
Production Supervisor: Holland Kemp
Assistant Production Supervisor: Carly Rehm
1st AD: Anthony Dimino
Director of Photographer: David Devlin
Production Designer: Alex Fagin
Wardrobe Stylist: Young-Ah Kim/Jessica Bonanza
Casting Directors: Leah Allina and Lev Abramoff
Editorial / Conform & Finish Company: MackCut
Executive Producer: Gina Pagano
Editor: Ian MacKenzie
Assistant Editor: Cooper McLane
Lead Flame Artist: Jimmy Hayhow
Interview Editors: Franklin Ponce & Mike Leuis
Telecine Company: Color Collective
Telecine Artist: Alex Bickel
Executive Producer: Claudia Guevara
Music Company: Human
Audio Post: Post Human
Creative Lead and Chief Engineer: Sloan Alexander
Executive Producer: James Dean Wells
Arrangers: Thomas Kerry & Sloan Alexander
Song: "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry