I knew it the moment I saw it: when, just before midnight, the rapper Stormzy posted a short video on his Facebook page, which seemingly announced the transfer of Paul Pogba to Manchester United. In that video, the MC of the moment swaggers his way over a brutal bassline and angrily clattering drums, while Pogba – seemingly plucked straight from the stage at a rave – executes an elite range of skanks. I knew immediately that this was the blackest thing I had seen in world sport since Serena Williams, directly after winning the Olympics at Wimbledon, erupted into a Crip walk all over Centre Court. It is, almost certainly, the blackest football transfer I will ever see.
At this point, many people might say that it was a cynical marketing ploy by adidas, and I’m not going to argue that point – it was a superb piece of promotion. What I find more interesting, and remarkable, is that two black men are currently the face of one of the world’s biggest advertising campaigns. Stormzy himself, in “Not That Deep”, has a lyric which acknowledges this:
“it’s mad, man can’t text me again/Tryna make dark skin sexy again.”
Dark-skinned black men, as Stormzy well knows, aren’t meant to be sex symbols; most of the time, many of them are busy trying to appear as timid and inoffensive as possible, given that their appearance is readily associated with astonishing levels of aggression. Yet neither Pogba nor Stormzy seem to care about any of that. Instead of hiding from his skin colour, Pogba emphases it at every possible turn, his hair frequently crowned with gold highlights.
So does this advert truly matter, beyond bragging rights, share prices and shirt sales? Yes, I think it does. I think it’s significant because it shows successful young black men being unashamedly themselves, at a time when the lives of young black men and women aren’t always seen to Matter that much. (And, beyond any of that societal analysis, it’s a beast of a tune.)