Throughout the month, we’ll highlight music videos that tread into darker territory, sometimes unexpectedly. Perhaps needless to say…assume that they are all NSFW. See part 1. See part 2. See part 3. See part 4.
Happy Halloween! The lyrical content of these final four songs calls for something a little intense, and these directors deliver with violence and dystopia, not the usual horror tropes. Who needs slashers and ghosts when we’re quite good at tearing each other up already?
M.I.A. – “Born Free,” directed by Romain Gavrais
This one could easily be designated a short film for its length, cinematography and narrative arc. M.I.A. has never shied from political statements, including matters of war and racism. In “Born Free,” the targets are redheads, waging a resistance in the streets against the militarized American police rounding them up and exterminating them. Romain Gavrais pulls no punches in terms of violence, onscreen and offscreen. Boys are shot through the head, beaten to a pulp and obliterated by landmines. It is gut-churning, a forced confrontation with what occupying and militant forces do—including our own and those of our allies.
Teargas and Plateglass – “One Day Across the Valley,” directed by Andrea Giacomini
Teargas and Plateglass make more explicit reference to genocide using samples and imagery associated with their dark, churning electronica. “One Day Across the Valley” is a spoken testimony—from the survivor of a slaughter in a rural village—set to droning noise and percussion. (It’s more engaging than that description might indicate.) Andrea Giacomini accompanies it in a striking, disorienting way by using footage of soldiers, bombs and bodies reflected horizontally and vertically to create a truly fearful symmetry. At moments, before one’s eye can discern what one is seeing, it might look abstractly beautiful. It is impossible to adequately represent atrocities (should we even want to?), and documentary footage ends up being more than a little deceptive, even at its most raw. By forcing the eye to be more active in determining what it is seeing, a viewer might become a less passive witness. What that ultimately amounts to (guilt, grief, shock, protest?) is another question.
Antony and the Johnsons – “Cut the World,” directed by Nabil
Nabil makes the list again (see part 1) with this jaw-dropping piece. It’s more than a little polarizing to viewers; read the YouTube comments (another kind of horrorshow) and you’ll see paranoid men insisting that “Cut the World” is a misandrist fantasy that perfectly encapsulates the real motivation behind social justice movements. (So actually, don’t read those.) Over at Pitchfork, there is a more nuanced discussion and a version of the video with director’s commentary. (Read that instead.) It’s definitely an art piece (starring Willem Dafoe, Carise Van Houten and a cameo by Marina Abramovic), which is expected from art world and pop darling Antony, but be forewarned: If you don’t like seeing realistic and brutal violence, you might want to look away at the 2:49 mark.
Xiu Xiu – “Stupid in the Dark,” directed by Amir Shoucri
The violence is even more protracted in “Stupid in the Dark,” by Xiu Xiu. Lead singer Jamie Stewart was inspired to write this song after being mugged, so there is already a level of danger, threat and a desire for vengeance at work, but Amir Shoucri goes darker still by depicting a messy murder. We never know the relationship of the man and woman, whether this is an act of vengeance or a psychotic break. It doesn’t really matter; it’s just plain cruel. I would say it is the most pointlessly cruel video on the list and not really my cup of tea, but it is a perfect video to end on, as—for all these reasons—it is somehow believable and truly horrifying.