Like every American, I have been inundated in recent weeks with prompts from social media apps urging me to locate my nearest polling station, messages from celebrities telling me to “vote” but rarely for whom, and face masks that may prevent the spread of Covid-19, but do not muzzle their wearer’s passive activism, which has migrated from front lawn signs to faces, the word “vote” emblazoned across the mouth. Is this even effective, or merely performative optics?
On more than one occasion in the past month, a new face began creeping onto my Twitter timeline: that of a bug-eyed, plasticised, ethnically ambiguous relic from my childhood… and her messaging was working. One of the Bratz dolls – Yasmin? – was animatedly tapping “vote.org” into her dolly browser. She was encouraging fans of the plastic figurines that dominated gurlhood in the early ‘00s to get involved this election. I favourited the tweet and passed it on to a friend. Yasmin was unthreatening, inoffensive, funny and she polished off her tweet with a fun groupthink hashtag: #bratzwhovote. A campaign was born, and I found myself gleefully sharing this variant of the “vote” message above all others.
A cursory scroll through the brand’s social media channels evinced that this wasn’t simply a one-off. The Bratz crew – including OGs Yasmin, Cloe, Sasha, and Jade – has entered the political fray. And not just in the puffy lip service way one might expect of a voluptuous, doe-eyed millennial toy brand (if one expected anything at all). The girls were busy: busy sharing voter registration dates, busy creating a “Voting? That’s hot” Paris Hilton x Bratz meme, and busy crowdsourcing going-to-the-polls outfits from followers. “Post your voting selfie + tag @bratz w #bratzwhovote 4 the chance to be shared on our feed,” a recent call-out read. That – coupled with their Twitter page’s header touting the tagline “Show us your voter lookz!” – struck a compelling (and stylish) chord in a way that Karlie Kloss wearing thigh high “vote” boots could only wish to achieve.
The performative veneer and banal drama of famous people (Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga, Lil Wayne?!) talking about the election reached its apex when the Bratz dolls – who already look like warped, plastic-surgeoned celebs themselves – began inadvertently mimicking actual celebrities’ social posts. The irony in that: genius.
The recent Bratz election coverage was not only amusing, but useful. The official Twitter for the advertising company R/GA tweeted a screenshot of early voting dates. The dates were listed by state next to a Bratz doll brandishing a miniature “I voted!” sticker on her chest, and shared by the @Bratz official Instagram account. “I was planning on voting early but TIL I can’t because my state does not allow it. What a drag! But thank you to the Bratz for keeping me informed,” the tweet read, quickly followed by another, “This is not really a joke. This is how I found out.”
Julio Torres, the comedian and creator of HBO’s popular series Los Espookys joined the discourse, tweeting: “In case anyone’s wondering, over on IG, the Bratz account is putting in the work sharing voting resources with ease, Barbie is a mostly passive neoliberal and Betty Boop’s silence is haunting not sure if she even plans to vote tbh.”
Now, “The Girls with a Passion for Fashion!” were unapologetically stoking political discussion via #bratzwhovote. Could Bratz truly influence one of the most important elections of our lifetime? “A majority of our audience is actually of legal voting age,” a Bratz representative told me via email. The Bratz core consumer is between 18 and 30+, across both genders, and mostly eligible to cast a ballot. “#Bratzwhovote is a social movement that encourages our fans to express themselves by making their voices heard, whatever side they are on. Every vote counts. For our fans who aren’t old enough to cast a vote, we think it’s never too early to emphasize the importance of voting!”
As compared to, say, passive neoliberal Barbie or clueless Betty Boop, Bratz have been on the frontlines of social discourse, posting an anti-racist statement during the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this summer. “It is all of our responsibility to take a stand against racism, and we can’t call ourselves inclusive while staying silent about these social injustices right in front of us,” the statement read. (Despite the apparent “wokeness” of their brand, the CEO of Bratz parent company MGA Entertainment called a Black influencer a “disgrace to Black people and the BLM cause” earlier this year, after the company was accused of creating a LOL Surprise doll in her likeness. He has since apologised.)
Bratz was created in August 2000 by Carter Bryant, then an employee of Mattel. He designed costumes for Barbie and, in his spare time, took some fabric from the rubbish pile at work and used them to fashion outfits for a more diverse and curvaceous style set to rival the lithe, conformist whiteness of Barbie. Each Bratz doll came in an assortment of skin tones and sported low-slung jeans with a heavy dose of sass. Today, that daring outlook of self-expression translates to expressing oneself at the polls. “Our authentic call to action for self-expression is just as relevant today as it was in 2001,” the representative explained. “Voting is one of the most powerful forms of self-expression, so there is a strong connection in the Bratz community and [our] values.”
A part of the Bratz political strategy was to leverage celebrity, but instead of shoehorning both product (Bratz) and message (vote) into one published post, they yoked that idea with a Bratz version of a celebrity, like comedian Jordan Firstman, who is known for his impressions. Bratz Jordan Firstman – which bears an uncanny resemblance to both the comedian and a queer Bushwick raver – rails against those abstaining from exercising their right to vote. “I’m just letting you know, y’all better be voting,” Firstman says in the voiceover as his Bratz head barely swivels. “You’re not a Brat friend of mine if you ain’t be voting.” Icy Girl rapper Saweetie was given the doll-head treatment as well, proudly declaring “your voice makes all the difference” in a barely-there, diamanté halter top.
Though it is “not likely” that Bratz would endorse any party’s candidate so as not to “create a divide with our fans,” according to the rep, the Bratz team is unafraid of harnessing “the power of our brand and audience influence to encourage this generation to speak up and start a conversation”.
The discordant clang of hundreds of fake-woke capitalist brands, celebrities and citizens drilling the “vote” message into our collective skulls has felt both inexhaustible and exhausting. Chris Evans somehow turned a leaked dick pic into a PSA to vote. Lady Gaga unearthed her entire wardrobe archive to dazzle us into voting submission. So it seemed fun, by comparison, to share the inoffensive, disembodied political rally cry of a Bratz doll. The message is the same as the others, but delivered at a remove from a divisive personality or poorly designed face mask. Bratz, with all their cartoonish hauteur, encouraging Americans to participate in this election while donning their most becoming voter lookz is the very reason America is so great: these dolls are saying we can have it all, but only if we are #bratzwhovote.