I’ve always loved youtube for all the weird things that people upload on there. And my youtube history is often a bizarre odyssey through word association spiraling down a hole into some very niche corner of the internet, where I start learning about blacksmithery or Russian popstars who remind me more of aliens than anything I’ve ever encountered or how to make a bow and arrow from a sapling or where people load hour after hour of surreal skits. I think the best thing I’ve stumbled into over the last year is this:
I can’t even explain how funny that is to me or how hard I laugh every time I see it or think about it.
In anycase, the things youtube recommends me are often times pretty strange and I usually ignore them, but sometimes I get something awesome. Which is how I discovered Francis and the Lights yesterday.
This video popped up on my recommendations and, I mean, how could I turn down something that has Kanye West and Bon Iver involved?
So I click over and find one of the strangest and most delightful music videos I can remember. Having no idea who Francis and the Lights was, I had no concept of who this strange, hawklike man standing in a white room with Kanye West could possibly be, but I was into it, if only for how weird it is to do a single shot video of a white wall that pans over to Kanye West just slightly bobbing to the beat while looking at the ground, not even pretending to be singing the song. And as you watch, it just keeps getting weirder, because this skinny guy with awful hair starts strutting in the background, then sits on a ladder that serves no purpose, and then suddenly he’s dancing, and the way he dances is just so absolutely gleefully bad. It reminded me immediately of all those 90s comedians who built a career on describing how terrible white men are at dancing.
It almost seemed like it was the visualisation of all those Sinbad jokes that used to make me howl with laughter when I was a kid, staying up late on school nights.
But it doesn’t stop there either. He just keeps dancing once the chorus hits again, and who’s there? Justin Vernon! The man behind Bon Iver, someone I still have trouble imagining dancing because he seems like the last person you’d expect to be able to move with any semblance of rhythm, and then this video kind of proves that that’s the case.
Maybe what makes it strangest of all is that you see that this is choreographed! They spent some amount of time practicing these moves! There’s something both hilarious and amazing about this. That they could invent this dance, then convince a camera crew to film it. And Kanye West, we finally see, is just standing on the sidelines watching, maybe approving.
Anyrate, I really dug that song, and I love love love the video, so I of course clicked onto the related video, which was similar but with Chance the Rapper, and then I clicked another, and another, and I was intensely amused but also completely loving the music this guy makes.
And he has a strange visual aesthetic for his videos.
The beat to this song is so simple but it fits right between my heartbeats. And then his vocals are sort of Phil Collinsy or Peter Gabriely, but over beats that seem more like Jamie xx or even a milder Daft Punk…or something.
Whatever it is, I like it, and I like these strange single shot videos. Following in a tight frame right behind him as he walks through some city is weirdly engrossing, especially when the only sound is that electrodrumbeat and his haunting synthed out vocals.
And then he starts running while the song slows down only to handspring into the street and backflip as the song crescendoes down our ears.
What I’m trying to say is that I really dig this Francis and the Lights. He’s kind of amazing, and I could imagine him being a pretty big hit. There’s nothing about his music that screams pop sensation, but there’s also nothing about his music that seems offputting to a larger audience.
Big hooks, infectious beats, and a clear vocal style, and enough energy and self possession to make his awkwardness seem endearing, or even like a confident statement.
I mean, look at this goofball spend three minutes dancing in a field:
And then, through some kind of alchemy, this all reminded me of Kesha’s new song that I happen to hear on the radio because sometimes I hate my life just enough to listen to top 40s radio instead of whatever else I could be listening to as broadcasted from my phone.
But I was driving to pick up Chelsea and this song came on that began kind of small and simple, but rose into this emotional level that I don’t often expect from the radio. I was thinking to myself, This is a great song, and when it was over, the DJ said it was Kesha and I was kind of flabbergasted.
My knowledge of Kesha is, admittedly, almost nonexistent. She made a lot of music I found intensely offputting and annoying that I would hear out in the world at restaurants, stores, and so on. But I never gave her much though until I heard about the terrible things that were done to her by her producer.
I won’t go into it or even link to it, because it’s one of the most vile things done to a person that I can think of.
But that was a few years ago, and I probably had not thought about her since whenever I read that stuff about her producer assaulting her.
I don’t know. People who paid attention to Kesha probably always knew she was talented, but I was pretty blown away by her.
And after watching a bunch of Francis and the Lights videos, I looked up her new one, and it was…well, it’s right here.
I’m mostly struck by how passionate and bewildering the video is. The imagery is caustic and gaudy and fairly spiritual, but there’s also a sort of nightmare quality to it, and then a seeming ambivalence towards all the iconography that she jams onto the screen here. Because at a certain point here, you’re not so much watching her perform as feeling her perform a song that directly addresses the awful things done to her.
What I find especially interesting about this song–besides that Kesha made it–is how beautiful it is. Most popmusic has a strange kind of viciousness to it, I think. It’s often accusatory, especially when it’s about a relationship, romantic or adversarial. I think of Taylor Swift who’s basically famous for accusing people of treating her poorly and then proudly declaring that she’s better than them, or that they’re unable to hurt her because she’s strong and independent. Or something. I don’t know much about Taylor Swift either, so this is kind of my impression of her music that generally only glances against me every once and a while.
But it’s not just Taylor Swift. I even wrote a long thing about Justin Beiber last year that’s kind of about this same thing. There are probably a lot of examples that come to mind when someone mentions a song about a jilted lover or a cheating lover or a friendship that soured.
In all cases, there’s a clear antagonist and protagonist, and these are generally put in opposition.
You did a bad thing and now the world will know.
Or at least that’s how I think of them when compared to Kesha’s song.
Kesha’s doing something more interesting here, I think, and it’s something that’s much stronger than simply moving on or calling someone out.
She’s saying You did a terrible thing to me, and I forgive you.
It gives me chills even to write that, knowing what was done to her.
She’s not just moving on from the horrors inflicted on her by another person, she’s picking up the weight of that trauma, shouldering it, embracing it, and making it a part of her life, a part of who she is. She’s moving on, but not forgetting. She’s not starting over or beginning as a new version of herself.
At the same time, forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you forget what they did or excuse what they did. Those scars will always be there, but she’s accepting them, and instead of attacking the man who scarred her so, she’s hoping that he’s asking more than just her for forgiveness. Because the trauma we inflict on one person is never just contained by one person. The violence you do to a single person is always felt by a family, a community, the whole world.
It’s one of the most interesting things I think a popstar has done in a long time. At least to me. It shows a kind of strength we’re unused to encountering.
But, man, listen to those drums come in while she’s singing.