Black Pumas + Ridley Scott + The Kinks + Lucius = Kick-Ass Super Bowl Ad

Black Pumas
Frank Hoensch/Redferns/Getty Images
– Black Pumas
perform at the Metropol in Berlin, Germany on Feb. 19, 2020.
“Strangers on this road we are on / We are not two, we are one,” the chorus of The Kinks’ 1970 song “Strangers” declares.
Black Pumas’ incredible start to 2021 ensures that the Austin-based rock band has little chance of being strangers to U.S. audiences. The charismatic band, which formed in 2017 and features singer/songwriter Eric Burton and guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada, is following its stand-out performance on the inauguration day “Celebrating America” prime time special with a spot on a commercial airing during Super Bowl LV.
An ad for the Ridley Scott-produced crowdsourced documentary “Life in a Day 2020,” which was directed by Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald, will feature Black Pumas covering The Kinks’ “Strangers” with a guest performance by indie act Lucius.
While landing one’s song in any commercial any day of the year is great exposure for an up-and-coming band, ads aired during the Super Bowl are a cultural phenomenon of their own with an expected audience of 100 million viewers.  

Mary Kate Melnick, head of licensing at ATO Records, explains how Black Pumas scored the big opportunity: “We work with the music supervisor Jennie Armon, who works at a company called Found Objects Music Productions. Jennie came to us and was like, ‘I love the band. I’m working on this project, a commercial for this film.’ For this spot on the Super Bowl, they wanted to do something special. So, a lot of ideas were kicked back and forth. We explored licensing a song by Black Pumas that already existed and then we were like ‘What if we do a cover?  And what if it features another artist?’”
She added, “It was a process where everybody’s coming together on the label side to do something totally new; we’re working with another artist in addition to that. And then we’re talking to YouTube and we’re all [working] to put something really cool and interesting into the world as a team.”
The members of Black Pumas learned “Strangers” on their own time and then didn’t play together until they hit the studio in early January.
“As a band we learned the song in a day. … Then the process from start to completion took a few weeks after that, really making sure that the vocals were something that that were going to work with Lucius and the commercial,” Quesada told Pollstar.
After Lucius sent in their parts – recorded in Los Angeles because of COVID – Quesada explains there was “a lot of back and forth, a lot of fine tuning. We sort of treated it like two different things, we made the full song and then we made the commercial version. One of the more important parts was the visual aspect so we had to line up with that.”
Quesada praises The Kinks as “rock ’n’ roll pioneers” and notes that Black Pumas didn’t learn until after they’d recorded the song that The Kinks’ Dave Davies had to sign off on it – which Quesada says “was probably good we didn’t have that added pressure.” Fortunately, Davies gave their version his stamp of approval.
“There was a really fine line that we had to tread where we had to make sure that it was different enough from the original, but not too different. We definitely put our spin on it. We like it to just imagine if we had written this song, how would we play it?  The other twist is that Lucius had already covered it [in 2016]. They knocked it out of the ballpark in terms of being able to adapt to where we took it musically,” Quesada says. 
The commercial will be available online Feb. 4 – the same day Black Pumas’ cover of “Strangers” hits DSPs. The film, which features clips from people around the world sharing scenes from their lives on July 25, 2020, premiered at Sundance Feb. 1 and will be available on YouTube Feb. 6.
“I grew up in South Texas and football in general is South Texas is huge, so I grew up watching football and the Super Bowl,” Quesada says.  “My dad had a giant Super Bowl party for a long time, this massive rager.  Being one of the biggest stages – not literal stages – but format to have your music on is huge for me.”
Next up for Black Pumas is the Grammy Awards, where the band is nominated for Album of the Year for Black Pumas (Deluxe Edition), Record of the Year for the single “Colors” and Best American Roots Performance for “Colors.” 

The soulful band plans to hit the studio soon to work on its sophomore release.
“Little by little we’re starting to chip away at demos and shift through songs,” Quesada says. 
And of course, the band is looking forward to eventually returning to the road when it’s safe to do so. 
“Doing the livestreams and things like that are great – a way for us to get our music out and keep momentum going – but there’s nothing like the actual interaction with the crowd. It’s been far too long,” Quesada says.