In “The Alphabet of Nations,” They Might Be Giants—the Brooklyn-based duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell—help kids learn geography and the alphabet in a catchy singalong that turns the ABC’s into a list of names of countries around the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The band has recorded a special version of the song for the 10th anniversary deluxe reissue of their beloved first children’s album, “No!” (2002). To celebrate the rerelease, Pentagram collaborated with TMBG to create a new video for "The Alphabet of Nations” that features images crowdsourced from fans around the globe.
For the band and the designers, the project represented the opportunity to do something that was not only for fun, but also for good. The video was made in collaboration with and to benefit the Global Fund for Children, the international children’s charity organization. GFC invests in innovative grassroots groups around the world that serve children in need. To help raise money for the Global Fund, TMBG and Pentagram have also created limited edition posters and t-shirts based on the video graphics.
They Might Be Giants have a long history of using technology in playful ways to engage their fans. Early on, they made their songs available by answering machine with their popular “Dial-A-Song” phone line, and they were one of the first bands to open their own online music store. For “The Alphabet of Nations” Flansburgh and the designers had the idea to do something that tapped into the band’s global fan base via social media like Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr. The band and designers invited residents of countries named in “Alphabet of Nations” to snap three photos––a portrait with their country’s flag, an action shot, or a portrait that represents their culture—and post them to the band’s Twitter at @tmbg with the hashtag #TMBGnation, or on the band’s Tumblr.
The video weaves these crowdsourced images into a lively typographic and geographic tour of the world. The reissued song is a special “extended” version that the band performs in concert, and the complete list of countries plays three times in the video. In the first run-through, the song is illustrated with letters and shapes of countries on a typographic map of the world. The second segment features photographs of the band members themselves. Finally, the last section brings it all together with the images submitted by kids and fans. The look of the video is bright, friendly, fun and colorful, with dimensional comic book “POW!”-style letters that fly out at the viewer and turn the kids into superheroes of the world. The palette is based on colors of flags, but slightly muted. The font is Titling Gothic.
The designers received a lot of images from some countries, and a few from others. They wanted to use every submission, so the song ends with the balance of photographs, to make sure no one is left out. After collecting the images, the team worked on the project for about a month, matching images to countries in the song and fine-tuning the typography. John Flansburgh says, “The team had so much graphic power and their ideas were so dazzling—I can’t remember doing an After Effects piece with so few notes.”