Pop musicians have dominated both the mainstream and independent music scenes over the past decade, but the genre is still often dismissed as shallow, and working within a pop framework to convey a serious message is still sometimes thought of as trite. The Miami-bred, New York-based indie-pop musician Janna Pelle doesn't see the point in making pop music without a purpose, and she's on a mission to save lives with the video for her latest song, "Hit and Run."
In the video, Pelle is seen splayed in the street, ostensibly after being struck by a vehicle. Her body twitches periodically and her eyes roll back while debris sits in her hair and on her socks. Her purse and a boot are strewn about as a jogger runs over her body and a woman pushing a stroller walks past her, until a cyclist finally comes to her aid. The scene is loosely reminiscent of the moment Pelle's lifelong best friend, Patrick Wanninkhof, on a cross-country charity bike ride in July 2015, was struck by a distracted driver.
Wanninkhof, a Key Biscayne native, was killed on an Oklahoma highway when Sarah K. Morris drove off the road and struck him after becoming distracted by a notification from a real-estate app. He was only 25 years old. Morris is one of the first drivers to be charged with felony first-degree manslaughter for killing someone while driving distracted, and Pelle says the legal system is only beginning to catch up to the perils of the technological age. Wanninkhof's parents became advocates of the recent push to make texting while driving a primary offense in Florida. The effort passed the House but stalled in the Senate.
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Distracted driving is one of the factors that makes Miami's roads so uniquely dangerous. Pelle says all of her friends, but particularly those in Miami, most likely know someone who has been negatively affected by distracted driving. "I guarantee that most people watching this video will know someone — even if they don't know them personally — they'll know someone who was involved in a distracted-driving crash, or they'll know a friend of a friend... I even have friends that were driving distracted themselves and got in an accident, and now they're advocates against it. I had a friend who was tweeting and driving and crashed her own car. Luckily, no one was hurt."
Pelle chose an April release for the video to coincide with Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and though her music video doubles as a PSA, she says she refrained from using shock value to capture viewers' attention. "In the video, I wanted to focus more on the relationship that's lost rather than a scolding message — helping people put into perspective [the value of] phones versus human life, their own importance versus the importance of someone else they might not even know or be thinking about. I wanted to just show people walking by me. I'm lying on the floor and they're on their phones, and they don't even notice there's somebody potentially dead on the road... I'm not showing anything violent. I'm not showing anything extreme. I'm just showing apathy, and I think that's scarier."
Pelle's "Hit and Run" will be on her forthcoming album, Voice Memo, which features songs inspired by the stages of grief she experienced after Wanninkhof's death. One of the tracks is called "Dent." Says Pelle: "The chorus is 'I just want to put a little dent in it, baby,' and it's about being satisfied with not changing the world but just putting a little dent in it, and that is how I also feel about Patrick. I feel like he made a dent in the world while he was here, and that's all you can really ask for."