Monday, April 05, 2010

Explaining Hot Chip's I Feel Better Video

This is the best music video I have seen since Christopher Walken dancing in an empty hotel to Weapon of Choice, and that was like ten years ago.

Hot Chip - I Feel Better

Hot Chip | MySpace Music Videos

It is directed by Peter Serafinowicz, the Brit who is the voice of Darth Maul and the creator of Look Around You (he also played a small role on Spaced). The thing, without explanation, is just awesome, and thoroughly hilarious, mostly because of the inspired absurdity, pointless and ridiculous violence, and the mischievous facial expressions of the bald guy. I also especially like a detail that skims by too quickly at the opening -- one guy is named "Kyng" and another "Mar'Vaine." What follows may be over-reading but I thought I would throw it out there anyway. Forgive me for the fact that my references are 10 years old. Someone who knows music better than I will be able to give better examples, I am sure.

I think the video is about how the sexy overproduced musical acts such as the Backstreet-Boys-style group that opens are just the public face of music created by sickly-skinny nerdy bald Moby-looking white dudes. Fans would be horrified if they were confronted with this uncool source, and indeed one of the best parts of the video are the horrified looks of the fans, confronted by this unglamorous badly-lit weirdo at 1:09 and 1:29 -- in fact I would read the looks as disappointed more than anything else. The singers react confidently, thinking that cool will carry them but they are each destroyed in turn, after being mocked for their meaningless gestures -- and it is significant that they are taken down by energy that comes pouring from the mouth, like singing -- this is where the music comes from, and part of the surprise of the moment is not just the vomited blue energy so much as the sound effect added: most music videos do not add sound, even sound effects, over the original song (since the video is just supposed to showcase the song), but this one does. The bald guy has the power to create sound where we expect none. He is the source they cannot stand against. Each guy in the band tries to support themselves by preening for the audience, but they are merely an effect and not a source and cannot save them. It is wonderful that they never break character and the screams of the audience when one is killed are funny because they are followed by everyone forgetting and being freshly shocked at the next kill, rather than running or freaking out. These are the fickle fans of the boy band.

After the singers are annihilated there is a weird moment of respectful silence as we move into the next bit -- the revenge of the nerds fantasy is followed by the contradictory fantasy of the nerd JOINING the group, becoming cool like them, wearing matching outfits and dancing with them, and being adored by screaming fans. (The bald guy's head movements at 2:38 are particularly great). The video reaches new heights as THIS is also revealed to be the last sin: like the boy band's preening, the bald guy's preening for the audience also ushers in revenge as the white nerdy guy is confronted by HIS source -- this disembodied black head. Just as Sexy Overproduced Bands live off the musical work of Skinny Bald White Dudes, so the Skinny Bald White Dudes live off the work of African musicians -- look at the black spirituals incorporated into Moby Songs or the Afro-pop influenced Vampire Weekend. Hot Chip themselves, the nerdy guys who appear in the crowd at the end and are destroyed by red lasers even as the skinny bald guy escapes on stage, count Prince and Stevie Wonder as influences. One of their most famous songs includes the lyrics "I'm like Stevie Wonder but I can see things," which is maybe one reason why the disembodied head at the end shoots lasers out of his eyes, rather than spew the same electric blue vomit as his opponent. One of the explanations of the British Invasion was that the British, because they don't have the same race issues because slavery did not take hold there as it did in the US, more fully and quickly embraced African influences (a teacher I had -- Perry Meisel, author of The Cowboy and the Dandy: Crossing Over From Romanticism to Rock and Roll -- claimed the Rolling Stones "Paint it Black" was about minstrelsy). And they are not as squeamish about pointing out such influences.

At the end of the Hot Chip Video, it is this big black head, the African musical source, that gets the last laugh, destroying the Backstreet Boys style front band, the nerdy members of Hot Chip themselves, the fans, and the sign with the name of the band. The whole video is about the revenge of sources on the people that profit from them.

Over-reading? More recent examples than the Backstreet Boys and Moby?


The British comedy team The Mighty Boosh, for example, makes a similar point to Serafinowicz's, and, like him, combines alien imagery with race (and minstrelsy specifically).


ba said...

I still think it's just that Serafinowicz just wanted bald guys shooting lasers, but you know what you should do? You should put him on your twitter, and send him a link to this article, maybe he'll respond!

Christian said...

I don't think you need to worry about the dated references, because boy bands themselves are all but dead. The entire video plays with late ninties iconography from the Moby'esque guy to the boy band to the black record producer. It is partly interesting that they all seemingly originates from dated stereotypes.

Christian said...

Speaking of music videos and pop- Any thoughts on Lady Gaga? I must admit, I find her fascinating. She's like a non-animated Gorillaz one-woman show. As artificial as pop itself. Hell, she even named herself after a Queen song about the death of radio and the rising popularity of music videos. Grant Morrison probably loves her.

pla said...

I am very fond of the Lady Gaga writings on the Vigilant Citizen website. I almost feel like some of those Lady Gaga videos are made just to freak out people like him.

Lady Gaga, The Illuminati Puppet
Laday Gaga, The Illuminati Puppet - Part 2
The Hidden Meaning of Lady Gaga's "Telephone"

Christian said...

That's hilarious. I thought the point of a secret society was that it was secret. :D

Zory said...

I like the analysis up to the point where the disembodied head comes in and has laser eyes.

Any other ideas on who this individual is other than black people & their music?

The destruction and contempt for the front group, and then it turning into the Source character really wanting to have their glory, I think, is a perfect analysis. And the beams coming out of the mouth makes sense when you're considering this character as the Source. But then why does the Head shoot out of his eyes? If the Head is truly the Source's source, does that mean all he wants is pure destruction of the creators and performers? No hidden desires of wanting to be on stage too?

It all fits right except for that damn head. I think you're stretching it. Did you have any other considerations?

Geoff Klock said...

The only idea I had about the beams from the eyes is the one I said above -- revenge for the Hot Chip line (in a different song) about "I'm like Stevie Wonder but I can see things." And I think its not the wanting to be on stage that is the main problem both figures seek revenge for -- it is the preening for the silly fickle audience, the ones that will ignore your literally a second after you are dead, as the video shows. If the Big Giant Head doesn't get on stage it is because he knows better than the Moby Looking Guy -- that kind of thing leads to corruption, and far beneath the thing that really matters: the music. I don't know if that solves the problem exactly but that is what I have. I will keep thinking on it.

Zory said...

I think Source's contempt for the performers for preening to an emotionally hollow audience ended up just being cover for his desire to be part of that himself. He's mad at the dancers for using his music for their glory, but deep down he knows if he were up on that stage, he wouldn't receive the same adulation because the hunkiness is part of the product. He becomes the nerd who joins the cool kids when he could have disappeared after killing the dancers. He destroyed, but then he joined. He shocked and disappointed the audience, but then danced for their cheers. Head just destroyed.


Say the Head is supposed to be black people. Does that mean the creators, the sources, are still hung up on old battles and old guilt? And the group the crowd really wants to see, while not creators, are truly the more desirable product, not because they're hunks, but because they don't bring all that old baggage with them? They have black and white members mixed together, pure, with no baggage.

I keep thinking about the part of the analysis that I don't think fits and keep looking at it as what if it does fit. . .

I'd sooner say the head is a spoiler to analysis than say it's black people & their music, the Source's source.

(word verification: unitaby. So close to Unibaby!)

Geoff Klock said...

I agree with you that the Bald White Dude knows dancing on stage cannot work because "hunkiness is part of the product" -- it is a hollow fantasy and so it is blown apart.

But the idea of a creative person or group with NO baggage ("together, pure") is also a fantasy. There is always a guy behind the guy, always some inspiration. No creator is every just a PURE SOURCE. Which is what the video shows -- the "source" has a "source" himself, and on and on.

To talk about the FANTASY of the nerdy guy who wishes he were a cool on stage dancer with screaming girls may be the key. Rather than say that the head is "black people & their music," perhaps we should identify the floating head as a kind of counter-fantasy of the Moby-looking guy -- this is HIS symbol for his bubble being popped. Influence, as Harold Bloom says, is not between creators so much inside of one creator as he navigates his psyche, his images of influence -- based on things in the outside world, but not exactly the same as those things.

This video is starting to remind me of those David Lynch movies like Mulholland Drive where the whole thing is a fantasy, and then the fantasy gets punctured or wrecked by what looks like reality, but may just be another level of fantasy -- because after all it is always just a movie, always just a chamber of illusions.

Zory said...

You're right on the pure group with no baggage just being a fantasy. They have a source. I just meant pure and without baggage in the racial aspect. The black and white guys are on stage together without conflict or concern of their source. That's a reason they're more appealing than MobySource. I think Head only shows up because MobySource has his own source on his mind. Everything here exists in relation to MobySource.

I find this analysis much more satisfying, taking out who the Head himself is supposed to be. He only exists in relation to MobySource---he is the next level of source, because hell, it's turtles all the way down. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I believe the head is Sammy Stephens of Flea Market Montgomery fame. He's a cult figure in his own right, and his appearance here may have no significance at all -- just a bit of absurdism.

But if there is significance, I think it's not that he represents black music, but that he represents YouTube, since that's the source of his fame. He's an internet cult hit. YouTube pwns the video stars, and even the Source behind them.

James said...

I'm not sure where "Black people and their music" crept in, but surely in Geoff's schema he's more specific than that, representing an earlier part of the chain from African to African American to Rock 'n' Roll to Pop music? (I know Geoff cited more recent, direct links between African music and modern pop, but still.)

Christian - I don't think you're right about the prevalence of dated imagery in the video; Serafinowicz and Hot Chip are British, and the boy band closely resemble JLS, a British boyband currently enjoying success after coming 3rdish in a Simon Cowell show (another layer of artificiality).

Geoff, did Serafinowicz ever get back to you?

northaufzoo said...

I think Anonymous is on to something in noting the Sammy Stephens-youtube meme.

Also, while I am mostly on board with Geoff's Moby/producer explanation, I wonder: why does the character look sickly to the point of being a wasting cancer victim? This isn't just a nerds-vs-jocks scenario, or a behind-the-scenes wizard pining for adulation/recognition.

In asking about Sickly Moby, we might find some explanation for the disembodied Sammy Stevens head fucking everything up at the end of the video. Here's my stab at an interpretation:

Sickly Moby is wearing an article of clothing that blurs the line between hospital gown and a priestly tunic. The character is meant to play on pop culture expectations that sickness should have meaning -- the sort of new age spirituality peddled on Oprah and in the movies. Being sick with cancer is supposed to be a gift to positive-thinking people -- see Barbara Ehrenreich's book, "Brightsided" (think it's titled, somewhat less subtly, "Smile or Die," in the UK) for more on that.

The YouTube head coming out at the end is there to tell Sickly Moby, It ain't so. YouTube is the 21st Century's Waiting for Godot. A bunch of meaningless routines played out endlessly. Funny, pointless and, in its own way, bleak (if you could see how I've spent my day so far, you'd know exactly what I mean). The floating YouTube head is there, then, to give Sickly Moby a lesson in existentialist terror.

P.S. This is my first time visiting this blog -- I'm only here thants [sic] to a link on Peter Serafinowicz's twitter feed. Very glad to have found my way over!

cool said...

We must not overlook the physical size of both musical representations. The moby-eque character is quite obviously sick and seemingly frail whereas the last head is quite large, and healthy looking(lol).

Moby character dominates his control via laser of the mouth, which is typically used for sound (great offering of why the audio is allowed over the song, btw). The youtube face, however, dominates using his eyes, a visually stimulation; I am sure you can see where I am going with this...

Is this a representation of the dying out of the musical medium controlling pop culture and a leap into youtube-esque mediums taking over? Both Moby and the large head have blue lights coming from behind, this can hardly be considered threatening. The red laser eyes accompanied with deep tones do, however, seem oppressive to all bystanders.

Regardless, great video, great song. Can't help but think of The Knife every time I hear, for a couple reasons...

Anonymous said...

I didn't get an impression of the Moby-esque guy as frail or sick (he runs quite fast at the end!).

Perhaps being skinny is used as a symbol for being unworldly, though as it turns out he is not as unwordly as he thinks he is. It also seems to be the approved body shape for aliens with big bald heads...

Anonymous said...

I tend to think it was just an effort to do something off-kilter that led to this video, but I like the analysis. I particularly enjoy the reference to the Simpson X-files episode in the video.

And Ross Lee's smirk is killin me.

After 48 hours of constant exposure to this video and song my obsession is only now starting to wane. Great stuff. Hopefully there is a sequel.

Anonymous said...

You should take note of the popular YouTube references mixed into this. The beam shot from the guy's mouth is a reference to an internet meme known as "shoop da woop", and the black guy is known for being that one dude who can bulge his eyes out of his sockets.

Anonymous said...

I took the laser beams from the eyes to mean that the original inspiration for the music comes from what the black guy has seen and experienced, as if they culturally belong to him. The bald guy takes these references and makes them into music and the boyband is then essentially nothing more than packaging

Anonymous said...

Hmm... Granted, your analysis might have some truth in it. But to be honest, I (after listening the amazing Hot Chip - I Feel Better [Max Cooper Remix] almost three weeks non-stop) decided to check out the original version too, and actually puked a little in my mouth while watching the video! YUCH!!!

What a load of horrible sh17! The Max Cooper remix is borderline sensational though.

Anonymous said...

I know this is old now, but I wanted to add my interpretation on it anyway. I agree with most of your theory, but I feel a few things are significant.

The reactions of the fans to the songwriter I would read more as disturbed or disgusted - the songwriter gives a mild disappointed look, but they don't bring him down.

Where you say 'respectful silence', I would disagree with that. In fact, I think it's the opposite. They're not bowing their heads in respect, they're refusing to look at the songwriter. Thus, he brings the boyband back so he can have the fame and adoring fans he's longed for. I also consider it significant that they don't run away screaming at this part, yet they do at the end when the band is destroyed a second time.

This next part is where the nerdy-style boys appear. Perhaps the true fans of the music?

The disembodied head.. I don't think he's a source. His manner and actions just don't fit for me. I'm sure there's lots of answers, and maybe the 'media' one is overused, but that's the one I'm going for. The fans portrayed in here are the ones that are easily swayed by images. But the media didn't attack the songwriter; he can carry on writing and the same fans will be buying his albums.
Who really gets blamed for songs: The writers or the image?

Anonymous said...

This was a very good analysis of the video. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Very much over analysed. There is no significance the the laser-eyed man being black other than the fact that the guy who can do the eye-popping thing happens to be black:

I think the video should be taken more at face value. Teenage girls love boybands. The guy came and destroyed them.

IO Psychic TV said...

Nah... it's all about this: IO Psychic TV. It's a part of many, many music videos since the early 80's as a subliminal message and it's happening again.

Kurt Koller said...

here's what the director says

pamj said...

I have to admit, I find the video extremely creepy. I also noted a few things not yet mentioned.
Most of the references you noted seem clear. But the preening looks and dancing of the boy band made them seem, to me, like stereotyped gay men. The black floating head, with its fat cheeks & XL lips, also seem like an offensive stereotype.
I also had a different take on the bizarre looks the skinny Moby guy was giving the crowd - I thought they made him look like "Chester the molester", lol. Also, I'm not sure if the Moby guy has cancer...or AIDS.
As to the commenter who thinks boy bands are dead...have you seen One Direction? I have a teen daughter and I assure you, the boys are still alive & kicking.
Most likely, the video is simply the story of a hunky boy band that gets attacked by some sort of supernatural Gandhii/creeper, but then all are killed by Amos/Andy.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

How about adding the lyrics with the video. To me, It's about how satan (the bald guy) comes in as the anti-Christ taking over (temporary) making those guys on stage "gods" and how the people (the audience) worship these false idols including the now "cool lookin" anti-Christ. Don't you see the fear when the bald guy sees the big black head? Because that is God. The real and only true God, who came to destroy the fakers. Notice how the bald guy's ray were just blue and piercing, but God's rays where red and actually brought fire... hell fire. And notice God didn't shoot rays of fire at everyone. So to me It's simple. The people can't have the last laugh. The devil can't. But God can. Don't wait till the last day to be on the right side of things or it will be "The Longest Night"

Do you feel better?

Try Jesus.