This article originally appeared on VICE US.
When I was a kid and the US military was trying to bring in cannon fodder for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (still going strong, btw), its recruitment tactics were fairly straightforward. You’d get weekly calls to the house landline from recruiters, usually during that golden window between school letting out and working parents coming home. Then there were the kiosks at the school career fairs where they’d hand out pencils if you talked to them. The final prong of their mid-aughts enrollment effort was to set up a tent outside of the Gamestop I frequented to coax passing gamers into conversations about how enlisting basically makes you Master Chief.
Today, with landlines a thing of the past, gamers more keen to build in Fortnite and Minecraft than mindlessly kill in Call of Duty, and research indicating that Generation Z may be the most progressive generation ever, the military has had to step up their efforts. In liberal cities, where the military isn't popular even at the best of times recruiters are really struggling, and the Army in particular has missed its latest recruitment target. The battle to reach a new set of young people has led the Army to create a work of art so monumental that it might, ironically, bring an end to all war across the globe.
On February 1, US Army social media channels dropped the video for the Army-produced rap song “Giving All I Got” on an unsuspecting civilian population, where it landed with the force of 💯MOABs.
Let’s dive in on the finest piece of recruitment fine art to come since that Marine ran through a Ninja Warrior course to fight a lava monster with a sword.
The video opens on the shot of a man’s back as he walks down a graffitied hallway. The scene is reminiscent of 8 Mile, a film that came out in 2002, when the 18-year-olds this video is targeting were still infants. Our singer/songwriter protagonists, sergeants Arlondo Sutton and Jason Brenner Locke, greet each other with a bro hug.
“Everyone starts from somewhere, but where you start doesn’t have to be where you end,” intones Locke in a moving spoken-word voiceover.
The beat finally drops and the sergeants run out of fog of war and leap into the air, bouncing hyphily while Sutton sings the chorus:
“Giving all I got. I ain’t never gonna stop. Army changed my life. Gave me a new clock,” Sutton rhymes. (I originally heard "new Glock," which makes sense because I thought that Sutton ad libs a gun sound immediately after this line, but after publication the Army contacted me and informed me it's "new clock.")
On February 25, 2001, The Simpsons aired a classic Season 12 episode “New Kids on the Blecch” in which Bart and other Springfield youngsters form a boy band where they unwittingly spread military propaganda by singing “Yvan eht nioj,”—“Join the Navy” backwards. Exactly 18 years later, “Giving All I Got” brings this parody to life and dispenses with the obfuscation, as a disembodied autotuned voice softly repeats “Join A-R-M-Y” in the background while the sergeants sing and dance.
Unfortunately, the video did not come with closed captions and Genius did not have the lyrics for this song in its database, so some of the next lines were hard to parse, but what Sutton does make clear is that there are “misconceptions ‘bout Army life,” but he’s “gonna show you how to win, though.”
“Education you gon’ get. No doubt we stay fit. What’s life in these tan boots? Airborne, we stay lit,” he sings as paratroopers load into the plane behind him.
Locke’s verse begins with bars that let Gen Z know he and this armed forces branch are speaking their language.
“Doin’ it now, like an acrobat I’m flipin’ the script like flipping through pictures on Flickr,” he spits. “If you wanna grow up, then start with the one in the mirror.”
Before one has time to ponder this sentiment, Locke repeats that “there’s more to a soldier than just taking orders.”
For those listening who are still not sold on joining the Army, Locke begins to list benefits while Humvees park behind him.
“Uniform: paid for. Electric bill: paid for. Water bill: paid for.”
Figuring the audience has picked up on the pattern at this point, Locke ad-libs a “ha” after the next benefit, living quarters, which we’re informed are covered with a chopped and screwed “paid for” that grinds the track to a halt.
The reprieve is brief and Locke finishes his verse standing in a MMA gym with some lines about “paying a mortgage” and “eating up fear like a bowl full of porridge.” Closing with a line that seems to conveniently forget the Vietnam War, he claims that the US Army, like a lion, is the “king of the jungle.”
The chorus repeats as the fellas stand next to snipers in Ghillie suits and one of the marksmen fires a round straight at the viewer.
The rest of the song is more of the same but highlights include:
- The camera pushing in on a K-9 unit as Sutton sings about how much he “want[s] that bone.”
- An Army band playing instruments for visual purposes only as they are never once heard on the track
- After-effects screen shakes added to accentuate the punches of a slo-mo MMA fight
The video ends with the two soldiers reflecting on their journey up to this moment while walking down the sidewalk. A civilian sees their head-to-toe camouflage and asks if they’re in the Army. After he thanks them for their service, the sergeants attempt to recruit him, despite his insistence that he already has “a good job.” We finish with the camera zooming to black on Locke’s shirt before the US Army logo fills the screen.
“We are encouraging our recruiters to find creative ways to be more relatable to the qualified youth in their areas. These Soldiers wanted to use music as a way to relate to youth and show them that you can be a Soldier and still be an individual,” the Army said in a statement I received after publication. “This is one small piece of the many new, creative ways our Soldiers are testing to see what helps us connect with today's youth."
The video may not be connecting, given that it had 975 dislikes and 426 likes along with nearly 66,000 views on YouTube. But I'll say it: As corny as it may be, “Giving All I Got” kind of slaps. And if this earworm sticks in my head much longer, I might just have to go snatch that signing bonus bag and blow the whole thing on a Camaro.
Update: After publication, the Army gave VICE a statement about the video and informed us that the line we heard as "new Glock" is actually "new clock." This article has been updated to reflect that.
Follow Justin Caffier on Twitter.