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Songs for Screens: Parson James on New Single ‘Only You’; How Google Pixel Honored Late Soulman Charles Bradley

“Songs for Screens” (formerly known as “Synch This”) is a Variety column written by Andrew Hampp, a VP at New York-based music sponsorship and experiential agency MAC Presents and former branding correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column will highlight noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as new and catalog songs that we deem ripe for synch use.

Parson James’ music has reached some of the country’s biggest platforms in the past two years, from “American Idol” and “Grey’s Anatomy” to festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza, as a solo artist and through his mega-streamed collab with Norwegian DJ Kygo, “Stole The Show” (which has racked up more than 500 million streams on Spotify alone).

But for his latest single, “Only You,” the 24-year-old South Carolina native has his sights set on Meryl Streep. Initially inspired by the breakup of a three-year relationship James describes as “toxic,” the soulful, inspirational ballad turns into an optimistic anthem for self-acceptance by the end. It’s Southern gospel pop with a quick detour to Sweden – his co-writer Jerker Hansson is one of the hitmakers behind more electro-leaning pop cuts like Charli XCX’s “Boys.” Where Sam Smith’s latest album “The Thrill Of It All” is built around the yearning for love and maintaining a firm grip, James celebrates the art of letting go — a unique narrative that could lend itself to the film/TV world in particular.

“It instantly sounds like a movie to me,” says James, who wrote the song after relocating from New York to the “completely lonely” environment of Los Angeles. “My dream would be a romantic drama that has a beautiful and happy ending with Meryl Streep playing some role.”

Raised by a church-going family in North Charleston, James eventually distanced himself from the gospel music he grew up singing after coming out as gay and leaving his family to move to New York City while still in his teens. Though he identifies as “spiritual” more than religious now, James considers his music to be “sonic sermons that I could believe in and that others could too.”

And that includes giving back to the LGBTQ community. On Wednesday night, James helped launch New York dance party SugarCube at Public Arts, the venue attached to the Public Hotel founded by Studio 54 co-founder Ian Schrager. “I believe so much in nightlife and discovering atmospheres that are rich in diversity, culture and art,” James says. “I want everyone – all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, orientation, creative mediums, to come to this party and feel safe, included and inspired by the art and community around them.” James even found a new celebrity fan in the front row. “Lil Kim came — and that was completely iconic. She cheered me on performing and I melted!”

SYNCH OF THE WEEK

Like his Daptone label mate Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley was a late-blooming soul legend-in-the making who passed away from cancer in September just six years into a career that began at the age of 62.

And just as Jones and her band The Dap-Tones were immortalized by Lincoln for a 2016 commercial filmed months before her passing, Bradley’s voice was equally beloved by the ad community. Bradley’s impassioned pipes currently star in the latest campaign for Google’s Pixel 2 phone, which like Samsung’s recent Peggy Lee-soundtracked spot bucks the EDM norm of cell-phone commercial music in favor of something more lived-in.

The song featured is “Grant Green,” a collaboration with British producer Mr. Jukes that’s built around a cover of “Ain’t It Funky Now” by Bradley’s musical hero James Brown. As the spot showcases the latest features of the phone, it’s hard not to shirk the Grinch-iest commercial cynicism as Bradley wails “I need youuuuu!” as if his holiday happiness depended on getting his hands on what Venture Beat calls “the sexiest camera on the planet.”

In fact, it was the Godfather of Soul who inspired by Google Pixel’s ad agency Droga5 to license the song in the first place, after commissioning the Dap Kings to record a cover of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” for a previous Pixel spot.

“We got to know the James Brown estate pretty intimately through that process, and the spot worked really well to match the lyrics in this song — the ‘I need you!’ worked really well,” says Mike Ladman, the music supervisor at Droga5 who placed the song at the recommendation of the agency’s account exec Doug Keith. “It gets your attention and cuts through. There’s soul in it, not some cold, computer-driven track.”

Though the overall process took about two months to place the song and clear the samples, Ladman says the result was worth “turning everyone stone to make it was the right track” as is often the case with synch placements. “I think the job of the musical producer is to get the best track on the air, wherever it came from, and fight for it.”

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