For the past two years, 18-year-old singer/songwriter Billie Eilish has laid claim to being a voice of her generation. In addition to her angsty artistry, she cemented her standing as a Gen-Z leader through self-assurance and social awareness, echoed in memorable ads for brands such as Apple and Deutsche Telekom.
Now, American tennis phenom Coco Gauff, who won't turn 17 until March, treads similar territory in a minute-long film from The Rec League for New Balance, released today to coincide with the start of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships in Flushing Meadows, New York.
Gauff appears on a practice court and in candid footage, displaying the strength and resolve that helped her become a world-class competitor on the tour last year, at the age of 15:
"They say she's young. Her game says otherwise. And so does she," the spot begins. "She's not just here to climb the rankings. She's here to lead the next generation. Coco doesn't fear the big stage. She commands it. No more waiting. Too much to win now."
Little Simz's "Offence," an unapologetic rap statement about being true yourself in the face of adversity, makes sense as the soundtrack.
"Coco embodies the idea of 'We Got Now' [New Balance's theme line], which is built on immediate action," says Siobhan Breagy, the sneaker company's global brand marketing manager "Her contagious ambition emboldens others to join her by using whatever platform they have to create positive change."
Of course, you can't be a generational leader just by saying so. That comes over time, through an accumulation of words and deeds. It took Serena Williams quite a few years to establish herself as an arbiter of culture, sports and the Black experience.
Though she's spoken out for social justice and comports herself in a classy manner that belies her years, Gauff still has a ways to go to cement her standing in tennis, let alone the public consciousness. Heck, she hasn't even won a major tournament yet. (Serena's shooting for her 24th such title at the year's Open.) This makes the ad's assertions feel more like a solemn vow than a done deal. In terms of broad Gen-Z influence, Eilish is way further along, perhaps because her creative output provides more points of deep, immediate connection.
"Coco is the future, there's no doubt about that, but she's ready to seize the moment now, too," Rec League co-fouder Jack Jensen, who co-directed the spot with Trent Ubben, tells Muse. "She is so confident, poised and empathetic, that's something you take away immediately upon being around or listening to her. She truly cares. She also knows that both her racket and voice carry with it a lot of influence and power—and at 16 years old!"
Jensen's crew shot most of the footage pre-lockdown in South Florida. "Then, when the world stopped, we regrouped and refocused the original script, working alongside Coco, her team and New Balance to adapt to the changing moment," he says. "It made the story and work so much better. We always strive to stay authentic to the athlete. We say it all the time, but real always resonates."
In one memorable shot, Gauf stretches out on court amid a sea of bright green tennis balls, a visual suggested by the team's still photographer, Johnny Izquierdo.
"Once he threw that idea out there, we knew it was a winner," says Jensen. "Johnnie is crazy. Ten minutes into the shoot, he's jumping into the ocean with all his clothes on, climbing up on ladders, and crawling through the sand—he'll do anything for the shot. That is why I both love and fear him equally."
As for the choice of music, "after we rewrote the script and saw where the story could take us, we really only had one track in mind—and it was this one," Jensen says. "We just felt it connected with Coco and NB so well. The energy, the unapologetic stance and attitude, it just locks you in from the jump. That's some good shit."
The Rec League - Creative, Production & Post Agency
Jack Jensen & Trent Ubben - Directors
Johnnie Izquierdo - Photographer
Little Simz, "Offence" – Artist, song
Jesse Sinkiewicz – Sr. BA Manager at Hailstorm
Patrick Cassidy - Global Brand Marketing Director
Siobhan Breagy - Global Brand Marketing Manager
Lauren Adderly – Global Marketing Associate
Leah Wholey – Global Marketing Associate
Evan Zeder – Sports Marketing Manager