Landing the lead singer of “Maps,” “Gold Lion” and “Art Star” is not only an inspired hire; it also raises the question: Given Google’s massive reach, might this home-page video turn the commissioned number,” Nellie,” into an actual hit? (It certainly gives new meaning to the term “Google Play.”)
In many of her assignments, including her celebrated 72-day whirlwind trip around the world in 1889, Bly literally flew against convention of her day. So the lyrical inspiration is literal when Karen O sings: “Oh, Nellie, take us all around the world / And break those rules ’cause you’re our girl.”
The 81-second animation, in fact, is a beautiful blend of talents, as artist Katy Wu’s warm visuals elevate the narrative in time with the rising vocals — as Karen O (born Karen Lee Orzolek) unfolds the tale of Bly (born Elizabeth Jane Cochran — 151 years ago today).
“Someone’s gotta stand up,” Karen O sings, as Wu splashes a ripped line of vibrant, empowering color across a sepia-toned newspaper, on which a pair of finger-wagging, old-school mansplainers bookend notes on “What Is Proper,” as well as fields of vintage Victorian text (some from “An American bachelor’s soliloquy”).
“We gotta speak up for the ones who’ve been told to shut up,” the tune continues, as some of the diverse silenced suddenly, symbolically come into our view. And so we reflect on Bly’s commitment to exposing oft-unseen spheres of life, including her 10-day undercover reporting stay in a New York mental institution — published in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and then as the book “Ten Days in a Mad-House” — that helped bring about reform.
And when Karen O sings, “Tell ’em what a girl is good for,” we’re reminded that the gonzo journalist got her publishing start at age 16, when she wrote a rebuttal to an 1880 Pittsburgh Dispatch anti-woman piece that harrumphed in the headline, “What Girls are Good For.” Impressed, Dispatch editor George Madden soon hired young Cochran, who then took the nom-de-plume Nellie Bly from a Stephen Foster song.
“Take us all around the world” — Karen O
Wu’s animation also counts down Bly’s record-breaking global trip, as the stereotype-defying writer beat Phileas Fogg’s titular time from the popular Jules Verne novel “Around the World in 80 Days.”
“We wanna make something of ourselves, too.” — Karen O
Over her 57 years, Nellie Bly wrote of, and spoke for, the disenfranchised and the downtrodden, the suffragettes and the socially voiceless. She also inspired future generations of journalists.
“When I was a girl of 10, she made journalism seem like a career that not only could mean a life worth living, but also showed that against any odds, it was really possible,” author and NYU journalism professor Brooke Kroeger tells The Post.
Bly “grew up without privilege or higher education, knowing that her greatest asset was the force of her own will … ,” Kroeger writes in her 1994 biography, “Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist.” “As the most famous woman journalist of her day, as an early woman industrialist, as a humanitarian, even as a beleaguered litigant, Bly kept the same formula for success: Determine Right. Decide Fast. Apply Energy. Act With Conviction. Fight to the Finish. Accept the Consequences. Move on.”
“Break those rules / ‘Cause you’re our girl.” — Karen O
As “Miss Push-and-Get-There,” as a pioneer of “detective” and “stunt” journalism, Bly was an original leader of leaning in.
Elizabeth “Nellie Bly” Cochran was born on this day in 1864 in the Pittsburgh suburb of Cochran’s Mills, Pa. — a town named, in fact, for her once-moneyed father, who died when “Pink” (her nickname) was just 6, leaving the family to face some hard times — and certainly inspiring this future investigative champion of social causes to one day write about the hard times of others.
Bly’s journalistic derring-do and era-defying assignments remain the mark of a trailblazing light. She charted a fresh path of great note — and today, thanks to Karen O, of great notes.
Happy birthday, Nellie Bly!