Todrick Hall has been one of the brightest YouTube stars for years. In addition to releasing well-produced, expensive-looking videos on a regular basis, he also made it to the semi-finals of American Idol in 2010. Then, last year, he even got his very own MTV show Todrick.
Hall?s television adventure was short-lived, however, and his show has already been cancelled. This setback is just one of several issues Hall addresses in his latest ? and possibly best ? work, the hour-long musical film Straight Outta OZ.
Called a visual album by many ? and available in album format on iTunes -, Straight Outta OZ breaks down genre borders. The songs that make up the film are modern pop tracks with hip hop and EDM influences. They are linked by very short transitional parts, which feature Hall speaking in voice-over.
Retracing Hall?s life and career, Straight Outta OZ jumps quickly from one scenery to the next; from churches to upper class boutiques, and from the countryside to oppressive city locations. Meanwhile, it touches upon an impressive variety of topics, painting an eerily accurate picture of 21st century life. And, most importantly, even though the film is autobiographical, it doesn?t come across as a self-centered ego show.
Todrick Hall faces the struggles of a gay boy growing up in rural Texas
The Plot And The References
Essentially, Straight Outta OZ follows Todrick Hall on his search for a place to call home. After an introductory song, the film begins in Texas, where Hall was born. In the first section, the focus lies on the struggles of a gay boy growing up in a rural, Christian surrounding. Hall addresses his difficult relationship with his father in the song ?Over The Rainbow?. Then he details how his first boyfriend allowed him to finally see the world in ?Color?. At this stage, the film actually switches from black-and-white to technicolour, imitating the well-known The Wizard Of OZ movie from 1939.
?Is it really running away when you?re chasing dreams in that same direction??
The next section of the film deals with Hall?s decision to move to L.A. ? referred to as OZ-Angeles in Straight Outta OZ ? to pursue his dreams. After buying a pair of glittering red boots to complete his very own version of Dorothy?s famous blue-and-white outfit, he plays the roles of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion.
Todrick Hall in his Scarecrow outfit
Hall?s OZ is L.A.. His Dorothy is a gay black man. His Scarecrow points out the double standards of society. His Tin Man mourns the loss of a lover. His Cowardly Lion admits that he is hiding his true self and his self-doubt behind sunglasses and gold chains.
In the final part of the film, Hall has made it to OZ-Angeles. There, a female CEO, played flawlessly by Nicole Scherzinger, tries to take advantage of his dreams. Afterwards, Hall dresses up as the Wicked Witch to take a stand against those opposing him. Additionally, he addresses the hot topic of gun violence, referencing both the death of Christina Grimmie and the Orlando Nightclub shooting.
?The only power the wizard ever had over me was the power I gave him. I am now the author of my own story.?
The film ends with Hall being fired by an over-the-top CEO, who adopts the role of the great Wizard Of OZ, master of deception. Realising that he has to take his future into his own hands, Hall returns to Texas, to his version of Dorothy?s Kansas. ?I can?t stay, got a brand new me to find,? he sings in the final song, aptly titled ?Home?, bringing his journey to an end.
Emerald City inspired promo shot of Todrick Hall
As with every musical film, the songs are the most important aspect of Straight Outta OZ. Instead of using instruments, harmonies, and structures that are characteristic of musicals, Todrick Hall draws inspiration from modern pop music and pop culture. Generally speaking, the songs range from pop ballads to hip hop tracks. There are Gospel influences and EDM hooks as well, creating a remarkable representation of the current musical landscape. Indeed, most of the songs in Straight Outta OZ would not at all seem out of place on the billboard charts. In fact, the album that accompanies the film is currently placed firmly in the top ten of the US pop charts.
As much as Straight Outta OZ demonstrates Hall?s ability to create visually stunning narratives, it also shows just how talented he is as a songwriter. Not a single song in the film is a proper letdown, but some tracks stand out as clear highlights.
?What I saw these humans do amazed me. They built themselves a shiny world and filled it with unrealistic expectations.?
Firstly, there?s the dark, midtempo popsong ?No Place Like Home?, which acts as a haunting introduction to the story. Secondly, there?s the heartfelt ballad ?Over The Rainbow?, a song that speaks to every queer person in this world. Other highlights include the fun, uptempo popsong ?The Little People? and the dancy hip hop / EDM hybrid ?Dumb?. Finally, the anti-gun-violence song ?Water Guns?, featuring a powerful chorus by Jordin Sparks, is billboard top ten material. ?Tell me how we ever got here,? Hall asks in the second verse. ?We?re fighting hard, but the reasoning is not clear.?
Bob The Drag Queen and Todrick Hall during the performance of ?Wrong Bitch?
The Guest Stars
Even if Todrick Hall is clearly the main star of Straight Outta OZ, the list of guest stars is still impressive. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the wizard, while Glee singer and actress Amber Riley starrs as Hall?s mother. As mentioned before, Jordin Sparks provides the chorus for ?Water Guns?, while Nicole Scherzinger shines during her fun performance of ?Papi?.
In addition to these music industry heavyweights, a group of contestants from the popular Reality TV show RuPaul?s Drag Race makes an appearance as well. They can be seen during Hall?s performance of the hip hop track ?Expensive?, which takes place in a boutique. The drag queens perform as rich women while Hall utters lines like ?hashtag black cards matter? and ?I?m feeling posh, so address me with an accent.?
The winner of the latest season of RuPaul?s Drag Race, Bob The Drag Queen, also appears in Straight Outta OZ. She shares vocal duties with Hall on ?Wrong Bitch?, appearing in green Wicket Witch makeup. The fact that protesters in the streets are shown during the song fits Bob?s own personal story perfectly: she is known for having been arrested in drag after leading a similar protest.
Straight Outta OZ is musically impressive and visually stunning. It touches upon important topics and features numerous well-known actors and singers.
It is The Wizard Of OZ for the 21st century, a time in which fame, fortune, and identity are the three maxims that dominate our lives.
Todrick Hall has not only turned his personal story into an entertaining musical film, he has also given us the chance to reflect upon our own dreams. He inspires us to follow the yellow brick road home.