This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
Last week, NSW police dropped an unusual video on their Facebook page_._ Thier page is usually populated by CCTV footage and videos from drug arrests, but this latest offering was something different. It was a video clip from the state's police band, doing a song about staying home set to the tune of Smash Mouth's 1999 hit, "All Star." And it was weird.
The tune began with the words “somebody once told me, the rona’s gonna roll me,” and it became clear the lyrics have been artfully manipulated to spread a message of coronavirus safety. “Hey now, be an all-star, wash your hands, use sanny.”
I watched the video, over and over. There was something absurd and intriguing about watching authority figures trying to be relevant. In the video, there was an unimpressed trumpet player reading sheet music. Then there was a rock dog with a black guitar channeling Kizz in the third act. And my favourite—the effortlessly cool saxophone player grooving in wayfarers. They all played out in their respective squares, in front of a blue-to-purple gradient backdrop that was reminiscent of a PowerPoint background from back in the day.
As I watched this I realised NSW Police had pulled off a marvellous feat: a self-aware dad joke with an agenda. They'd weaponised 90s nostalgia, and the comments were subsequently awash with positive support. I remember thinking they’d perfected the formula of meme culture by not knowing anything about it. There wasn’t a troll in sight.
And still, the video was at complete odds with my experience of police. I wanted to figure out why they didn’t come across like grouchy officers itching to give me a ticket so I got in touch with Belinda Adams from “the rock band.”
“We’re actually a full-time unit of the police force,” Belinda explained over a phone call. “We're part of the public relations department.”
I asked Belinda about her day-to-day duties in PR and she explained that “when we're not rehearsing, we're out doing performances which could be anything from parades, school, community performances, parliament and the police force.”
And the name of the band? “It’s basically just the NSW Police Rock Band.”
Belinda told me that the idea for the song came from the digital media team, whose job is to relay important information to the public. “They chose an adaptation of 'All Star' because it's got a wide appeal across several generations. By using a popular song and then adapting lyrics, we can get a serious health message across to the public in an engaging and shareable way. My niece knows the song and she's 21. She absolutely loved it.”
Belinda seemed pretty excited by the feedback, which she described as "overwhelmingly positive."
"I checked this morning," she said, "and the post had received over 12,000 likes 5000 shares, and over a million views in like 24 hours.”
I asked why she didn’t expect a positive reception and she alluded to the fraught relationship the public often have with cops. “Like any role anyone plays in the community, you have your fans and then people that aren’t your fans."
In addition to their rock band, NSW Police also has a concert band, which is comprised of 18 members. “They play swing and jazz,” Belinda explained. Then there's a nine-piece rock band. “They play the atypical stuff that you would hear at a function where people were dancing, like pop stuff, soul, R&B and rock." Finally here's a brass quintet, a woodwind quintet, a clarinet quintet and Dixie group.
At that point, I asked why they didn’t have a hip-hop or rap band, although I already knew the answer. “We do have a DJ," Belinda offered, "so you might have seen us at the Mardi Gras parade. We do that every year, there’s usually myself on a float with either a rock band or a DJ or both. So we do have that element as well.”
I asked what hip-hop they played. “Oh, I probably wouldn't say hip-hop. I'd say more pop.”
I then asked Belinda about her experience being a policewoman, and was shocked to hear that she wasn't actually a cop. “We're representing the police force, but we're not police officers,” she said.
Despite the police uniforms and titles, Belinda told me that none of the band members were afforded any special authority. She was one of us. “We're like a specialised unit within the police force. We wear the uniform and we have to abide by all of the rules and regulations when it comes to wearing that uniform because it's a prestigious thing to wear,” she explained.
The application process is a three stage audition. “The same as what it would be for, say the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The competition is quite fierce, with some of the country's best vying for a position in the band. It's a really prestigious band to get into because we're the New South State Band.”
When I first watched the video, I laughed, as did my friends. But by the end of the conversation, Belinda had won me over.