It goes without saying that Michelle Obama and Barack Obama have become pop culture icons. Both the president and first lady have appeared on TV shows, late-night talk shows and even created their own skits to promote their initiatives, fully knowing that the best way to reach a younger demographic is through their television screens—not the newspaper.
FLOTUS covers Variety's latest issue, and inside the magazine First Lady Obama opens up about how and why she chose pop culture to be her medium of choice. Fresh off the heels of her Carpool Karaoke appearance with James Corden, the first lady tells Variety she couldn't believe just how popular it was, and just how far it went in promoting her causes. That being said, she's a true believe in the power of pop culture.
"What I have never been afraid of is to be a little silly, and you can engage people that way," Obama tells Variety. "My view is, first you get them to laugh, then you get them to listen. So I'm always game for a good joke, and I'm not so formal in this role. There's very little that we can't do that people wouldn't appreciate."
And listen they did. After her Carpool Karaoke segment went viral, "This Is for My Girls," the theme song for her Let Girls Learn initiative, saw an incredible 1,562 percent increase in digital sales and received 40 million views on YouTube.
"A lot of our audiences are kids and teens, and they want to be in on the joke. And they'll listen again," Obama says. "We're just a little looser with this stuff than most traditional first ladies."
Despite seeing so much success from her TV appearances, there are some shows she still can't believe she did, but is still glad she did them. "I think it was probably Billy on the Street, when I was literally pushing [Billy Eichner] in a grocery cart in a grocery store," she admits.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and FLOTUS realized she was happy she appeared on the screaming host's show during Barack's second term.
"You know, that's when I thought, 'This is crazy.' But again, it resonated. It was something that was successful. Maybe if I'd done that in my first year, it might have been too much," she mused, "but I think by the time we did this in the second term, people knew me. They understood the approach. It allows me to take a few more risks than in the first term, when people were just getting to know who I was."
As for what made her and her team tap into the pop culture well, Obama credits her life before the White House. "I view myself as being the average woman," she tells Variety. "While I am first lady, I wasn't first lady my whole life. I'm a product of pop culture. I'm a consumer of pop culture, and I know what resonates with people. I know what they'll get a chuckle out of and what they think is kind of silly. And whenever my team approaches me with ideas and concepts, we're usually like, 'Is this really funny? Are people going to understand it?'"