Today at Apple’s annual developers conference, we met Bozoma Saint John. Clad in a bright-pink dress and hoop earrings, the Beats music vice president came onstage to present Apple’s revamped Music app, forced the audience of developers to sing along to early hip-hop, and left as your new favorite Apple executive. (Sorry, Craig.)
Saint John’s brief Music app demo turned the company’s reputation as a U2-loving dad org on its head. Not only did Saint John play The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” she asked a room full of mostly white, male developers to use Apple’s new real-time lyrics and SING ALONG to it. “C’mon, y’all, now you recognize this beat, right?,” she said as she started to shimmy onstage. “C’mon, we’re gonna rap. C’mon, y’all.” The livestream’s cameras panned to the audience, displaying a dismayed sea of men who seemed to be hearing Wonder Mike for the first time. It was the cringiest moment of live television since that time they let Ashlee Simpson on Saturday Night Live. Saint John, naturally, shut that down: “OK, you know what? No,” she said. “We’re going to pause this because some of you guys are not rapping to the beat, OK? But you’ll have plenty of time on your own to study the lyrics.” Rather than laugh nervously at the crowd’s lack of enthusiasm, she shamed them. It’s a true power move to come to WWDC and deliberately embarrass all the white men.
She moved on to show off the Music app’s personalization feature, “For You,” adding a charming aside that she loved it because “it’s all about me.” Her selection there included Leaf’s “Money” (the chorus of which encourages listeners to “Get that M-O-N-E-Y / that M-O-N-E-Y / get that motherfucking money”). Finally, she closed out the demo with “Atom” by the Ghanaian group Ye Wo Krom featuring Jhunea — clearly a personal nod to her heritage. She didn’t seem to care if the event’s attendees were expecting Taylor Swift; she was going to play the music that she liked.
But where did Boz (a.k.a. the new Woz?) da gawd even come from? Here’s the rundown:
Saint John was born in Ghana, and she, her three sisters, and her parents immigrated to Colorado Springs when she was 14. But the fact that she was new to the United States did not prevent her from running for student council in the 10th grade, an election for which she used the slogan “‘Nuthin but a Boz thang.”
Before she was hired as a senior vice president and head of global marketing at Beats in 2014, Saint John headed up the music and entertainment marketing group for Pepsi, arranging brand endorsements for the likes of Kanye West, Michael Jackson, and Nicki Minaj. While there, she also helped arrange Beyoncé’s godly Super Bowl halftime show.
Saint John has also picked up her fair share of accolades. In 2013, she was selected for Billboard’s list of 40 under-40 music power players for securing high-profile partnerships with some of hip-hop’s biggest names. When she gave an acceptance speech for BET’s Butterfly Award earlier this year, she acknowledged that her own challenges as a black woman were fuel to help her achieve her dreams.
“You’ve heard the phrase before: ‘What doesn’t kill me will make me stronger,’” she said. “Well, there’s truth in that but there’s also a lie in that. It’s not that thing that makes you stronger, it is you that makes you stronger. It is god in you that makes you stronger. And I’m a living, breathing, sashaying, working, shining testimony to that. Every day,” she said. “Can I get an amen?”
She calls herself an “execu-mommy,” a “bad mama jama,” and “a unicorn.” Her long-term career goals include “total world domination.” I bet you anything she was behind that Apple commercial that Jimmy Iovine took credit for in the most offensive way possible. Past Facebook profile pics include a photo of her in a leather dress and giant gold feather earrings with the caption “All leather everything. #BadAssMama.” There’s more where that came from on her Instagram account, @badassboz: “Sometimes I’m not sugar and spice. Sometimes I’m gun print onesie and dark liquor. #bangbang #whoshotya @applemusic,” one caption reads beneath a photo of her in, well, a gun-print onesie holding a drink. Anyone who’s brave enough to @ their company in a photo like that has my immediate respect.
Saint John’s appearance onstage felt natural and infectious. As short as it may have been, she brought a personal flavor to her demo that was entirely absent in the presentations of executives like Kevin Lynch or Phil Schiller. It’d be silly for Apple not to bring her back.
Major tech companies have always had issues hiring women and minorities, something that’s been uncomfortably obvious during live presentations, when typically only a company’s white, male executives present new products. Apple is no exception. But over the past year, the company has seemed to be listening, including more and more female and minority employees onstage. At today’s annual developers conference, Saint John proved she could hang with — er, outshine — the boys. Watch out, Hair Force One, you’ve got competition.