As artists, how do we choose our interpretation?
Is there a story that needs telling? Good people versus bad people? A perspective that is underrepresented at the table? An angle we’ve overlooked?
Foster the People had a sizeable hit in 2011 with “Pumped Up Kicks,” a song that attempted to articulate the point of view of young loners whose anger we typically fail to recognize—until something terrible happens.
We’ve all seen the news. Outcast teen channels isolation into rage. By inhabiting the viewpoint of the teen, songwriter Mark Foster is seeking empathy for a devil that we had a hand in creating.
He explained further to Spinner UK:
“’Pumped Up Kicks’ is about a kid that basically is losing his mind and is plotting revenge. He’s an outcast. I feel like the youth in our culture are becoming more and more isolated. It’s kind of an epidemic. Instead of writing about victims and some tragedy, I wanted to get into the killer’s mind, like Truman Capote did in In Cold Blood. I love to write about characters. That’s my style. I really like to get inside the heads of other people and try to walk in their shoes.”
Foster mulled over writing from the perspective of the victim, but felt it would be a cop out. He also points out that there is no actual violence in the song, only the kid’s internal monologue.
To give shape to this discussion, let’s look at a crop of Unofficial Music Videos, each seeking to define or process the artist’s view on a volatile subject, school shootings.
The Dancing One
Dancer Marquese Scott is a verified sensation as his dope dub-stepping performance video to a remix of the FtP tune has passed 130,000 views. No two ways about it, this is physical artistry of the highest caliber.
Scott’s rippling, contorting, and body control are precise like videogame animation; it’s easy to overlook his nearly inhuman movement potential.
As for the source material, Scott appears to be advising us to dance (i.e., make art) in the face of mounting danger, and to never stop living passionately as a countermeasure to dread and paranoia.
Just for the record, I’ve been saying the same thing for 50 years.
The Anime One
We find similar forces at work in the anime mashup of “Pumped Up Kicks” by video artist AMV BR. Foster’s lyrical frame is abandoned in favor of an anime tone poem that also seems to promote joy and optimism in the face of what can only be imminent tragedy.
The mercurial expressions of rapture and rage countenanced by anime characters tell us everything we need to know in any situation. We’re either having fun, in love, furious, or miserable. In the case of adolescents and adolescence, this is an unarguable statement.
The Narrative One
The video collective known as TheCactusClub employs the most basic approach to the narrative at hand, as we witness an abused, ghostly teen taking a long walk to school with his six-shooter. The action has impact, but lacks an emotional payoff; obviously we’re supposed to feel sympathy for the kid—he does have a vicious wino for a mother—but visually all we are left with is a protagonist who may or may not have committed a violent act. This makes sense in terms of Foster’s observation that the threats are only visible in the kid’s mind.
Footnote: There are many UMVs of “Pumped Up Kicks” out in YouTubeland which reinforces the idea that the song struck a nerve and generated considerable conversation. Even more telling, cable television series such as The O.A. and American Horror Story, that have depicted school shooting incidents, have become UMV visual aides after being synched up to the song. And it definitely gets you thinking.
One of our prime directives at TikiKiti is that we build and grow a community of fan video enthusiasts and actual producers. To that end, we want to zoom in, from time to time, on the creative types behind the keyboards, and the choices they make to get some idea of how the magic happens. Think of it as quick hits with fearless video artists for your daily inoculation of inspiration.
For instance, Jesse Locke, from Bend, Oregon, has orchestrated a grim tsunami of images to accompany the gritty Brit-rocker “Cigarettes and Alcohol” by Oasis. It’s an artful mashup approach, with footage from Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, Saturday Night Fever, Nosferatu, and Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as well as cutaways synched to band members themselves performing the song. It’s a seamless use of sound and imagery that makes a statement that’s bigger than the sum of its parts.
Thematically, Jess utilizes shots from acclaimed films to illustrate the dilemma of “having a good time” with the help of drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. The allure of dancing, seeing a band, and possibly meeting new friends on a Saturday night, becomes waylaid and defeated by the pursuit of intoxicants.
Whatever goal one had in mind in terms of an enjoyable evening, quickly becomes secondary to getting drunk, getting high, or smoking a whole bunch of ciggies, which in turn echoes the weary, jaded sensibilities of the Oasis song. The fact that substance abuse has become so ubiquitous in pop culture, has nearly rendered its use a cliché.
In Niconico Douga’s anime riot created for the venerable pep rally pop anthem, “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers, a similar idea is approached from a different angle, as a joyful explosion of performance anime is used to celebrate more positive (albeit purposely naïve) entertainment possibilities.
The pageantry, wonder, and frenetic pace of the anime (including scenes from popular examples of the genre such as Tamako Love Story, Kids on the Slope, and Angel Beats!), paints a much more optimistic picture of fun, as images of nonstop leaping and bounding give way to Hi Standard’s furious punk version of “Saturday Night,” with its accelerated tempo pushing the video toward a near-hysterical finale.
Behold, two videos with very different views on a subject: and this is only the beginning of our curated exploration of fan-made music videos. Stay tuned for more opinion and analysis.
If you want to be a part of the discussion, send us fan videos, whether you made them or not, and we’ll take a look and see what make them tick.