A federal agency wants to give safety tips to young adults. So it's dropping an album
The federal agency responsible for promoting the safety of consumer products has employed plenty of tactics over the years, from recalls to regulations to PSAs.
Now, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is trying a new — and catchier — approach: It's released an album.
We're Safety Now Haven't We packs in six genre-spanning, safety-focused songs (seven if you count the one that also got a Spanglish version). There's an EDM banger about wearing helmets, a K-pop number about firework safety, and even a reggaeton track about smoke alarms. The artists are officially anonymous, but more on that later.
The album is specifically targeted at teenagers and young adults, Social Media Specialist Joseph Galbo told NPR's Morning Edition over Zoom.
He says the CPSC aimed to address the products and hazards that are especially prevalent among people ages 13-24 based on its injury data — including bikes, ATVs, fireworks, cooking appliances and phones.
Many people don't start to really think about product safety until they have kids of their own, Galbo adds. But high school- and college-aged kids are making their own decisions all the time, often without thinking through the potential consequences.
"One of the things we want to do with this album is just kind of provide young people a reminder that, 'Hey, it's important to wear a helmet when you're riding a bike. And if you do it, you'll be in a better position to live a healthier and safer life,'" Galbo said. "It's important to remember that when you're walking with your phone to look up so you don't fall down a manhole cover or accidentally walk into traffic or something."
The album can be found on the CPSC's website and YouTube channel as of Wednesday. Galbo says the agency eventually hopes to get it on Apple Music, Spotify and ideally playing on radio stations, too. Plus, all of the songs are in the public domain, so people can download, remix and repost them from there.
Galbo says he's excited to see what people do with the music. He hopes listeners will gain a better understanding of the simple changes that could potentially save their lives — and the agency that makes that its mission.
"We hope you listen to the music and we hope you have a lot of fun with it," he added. "And again, just to let you know, we're always here for you if you ever need to report an unsafe product."
An overview of the songs (but you should listen for yourself)
Some of the songs are more explicit in their safety messaging than others.
"You gotta put your phone away, pay attention," blares a techno song about distracted phone usage, which sent an average of 5,100 people between 13-24 to the emergency room each year between 2013 and 2022.
"Helmet... goggles... boots... jacket," intones the EDM track about ATVs, which were involved in some 36,000 such injuries in that age group during that same time period.
"Helmets are a one-time use product and impacts can decrease their effectiveness/You may not even see damage/Cracks in the shell, worn straps, and missing pads or parts are also reasons to replace a helmet," raps the bridge of hip-hop track "Protect Ya Noggin," which the artist also recorded in Spanish.
It's no coincidence that two of the songs are about wearing helmets. An average of 212,000 young people were injured in incidents related to bikes, scooters, e-bikes, skateboards and other such micro mobility devices between 2013 and 2022, per the CPSC, with head injuries among the most common.
Some of the more subtle tracks include "Going Off Like Fireworks" and "Se Pon Caliente," which could almost be mistaken for your run-of-the-mill, love-struck pop songs.
"I know I'm messing with a fatal heat/And I should walk away and let it be/But we lightin' sparks with our energy," sings the K-Pop group about fireworks, which injured some 3,170 young people between 2013 and 2022.
"And I can't get enough/I mean it when I say/I'm cautious of your love/Because our love is a flame," a reggaeton artist sings of unattended cooking, the number one source of home fires.
There's also a lofi track called "Beats To Relax/Be Safe To" — presumably a play on this popular stream. It's interspersed with samples of a child saying "what's that?" and "better," and a man's voice asking "Well, how about a marshmallow?"
That comes from an old PSA from the agency's early years in the 1970s, Galbo explains. In it, character actor Louis Nye creates a comically unsafe toy for his nephew — an armadillo made out of razor blades and cutlery. When the nephew expresses concern, Nye suggests a surprisingly prescient alternative.
"We wanted to kind of dig back into our own history a little bit for that track," Galbo said. "It was kind of funny looking at a PSA that was made 50 years ago where the protagonist is suggesting creating a marshmallow as a toy. And here today, those types of 'mallow' toys are one of the most popular you can find."
The album title and cover are themselves a rich text
There are several other clues that this isn't your average musical album. This includes the "warning" label on the cover and the fact that every song starts with a man's voice saying "thanks to the people at CPSC."
Galbo explains that all of the agency's public messaging must be labeled as such, even in audio form. And it decided to do that with a sample of narration from an old instructional video.
Even the name of the album, We're Safety Now Haven't We, aims to acknowledge the agency's past — as well as its future.
Galbo says the team wanted to create something that "speaks to the forever nature of talking about safety."
"It's kind of a fun play on the past and also having to look forward, and ... the responsibility that we all have to make safe choices in our lives, while CPSC tries to make sure that companies are making safe choices with their products," he added.
Safety messaging looks very different in 2023 than in 1973, and the album is just one example. The CPSC has gained a considerable following on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter) for its informative memes, starring a cast of quirky animal mascots.
Some of them are featured prominently on the album cover. Potato the dog stands on an ATV, Handsome Ron is the bird flying on a smoke alarm, the cat Copernicus Jackson holds a cell phone and Quinn the quarantine fox is wearing a bike helmet.
"These are kind of the big characters that we think people have come to recognize on our social media platforms, and so we wanted to make sure that they were front and center on this album," Galbo said. "We could have just slapped our logo on there really big, but we thought this would be a lot more fun."
It took less than a year to create what they're calling 'Volume 1'
The CPSC has dabbled in music before. For instance, its kids' "Pool Safely" campaign has a song, which Galbo describes as more of a jingle.
He says the agency decided earlier this year it was a good time to invest in something more longform, given how effective audio is at spreading messages, especially on social media.
"As we started diving into the data and seeing what was hurting kids in high school and college, we kind of walked away like, 'Instead of doing one song or trying to do two songs, let's just do six,'" he explained. "I [thought] that would broaden the perspective and open us up to just reaching kids in so many different ways."
From there, the team went about matching subjects with genres and reaching out to musicians from those communities, to make the songs as authentic as possible.
Galbo says the artists are from all over the country and different cultural backgrounds. The artists are staying anonymous in order to keep the focus solely on the music and messaging. He describes many of them as having a small following but an outsized impact, and says one or two are "fairly well known."
Many of the artists featured on the project worked with major clients before, he adds, but this is the first time any had been approached by a government agency. They started by talking through what a good safety song sounds like, looking to examples of educational music like Schoolhouse Rock!.
"Creating the lyrics was a really fun collaboration where we sent them some of our driest safety materials you can imagine ... and then kind of [let] them take it and figure out, okay, well can this be a song with literal safety tips or should it be something a little bit more conceptual?" Galbo explained.
The planning stage lasted from February to June, and production happened in July and August. Galbo says a big turning point was when the team got the first version of the first song "Protect Your Noggin" — which set the bar so high that they actually sent it around to other artists for inspiration.
"I think for the team, it became a real moment of, 'Oh this can work,'" he said. "And not only can this work, but this could be actually great if we put our nose to the grindstone and really, really continue to work hard on it. And the fact that we walked away with six songs that I think are all equally incredible is just so awesome."
Galbo hopes there will be even more to come, funding permitting. He's already brainstorming the next volume — like what a great safety album would sound like if it's meant for gaming, or performed live with a symphony, for example.
"Adding 'Volume 1' [on the cover] was our playful bet that maybe if this goes well, we'll get a chance to make more albums someday," Galbo added. "And I think as long as audio continues to be a really great way to reach young people, we should keep our options open."
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