By Niy Birden
Grainy videos of DNA and various scientific studies transition from one another, while a soft drone murmurs as the soundscape. Children stand, completely still and attentive in line while a disgruntled man addresses them. The camera slowly reaches various points of his face, all from a closer angle each time:
“Emotion, empathy, feeling…
these human qualities, gentlemen, are for the weak
for those that we leave behind,
for those that we remove from the crop.
You are the leaders of tomorrow,
bred, to be the future’s history.
You should hold yourselves as such.
Do not let the world see you tremble.”
This introduces us to the world of Paloma Faith’s new dystopian musical entity. A world where emotion and resistance are often side-by-side. But this really is no wonder for the loyal listeners of Paloma. From the start of her career, she has shown to her royal subjects that she loves contradiction and embraces the artistic characteristics that come with it.
Paloma Faith started out with an extremely humble beginning, which makes it very easy to understand why playing other roles is such a second skin for her. In one of her many prior jobs and education, as a magician’s assistant she became a virtuoso in creating the fairytales needed to wow the minds of audiences. Unfortunately though, this role was relatively unheard. It was mostly silent and non-confrontational. Be pretty and follow directions, but don’t hit them where it hurts.
Don’t suggest you know too much more than them. Don’t suggest to the magician that you can do his job. Her early video, Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?, taken from the album of the same name, is a direct testament to the life that is lived through a magician’s assistant. Wow and amaze, but don’t take them out of that dream land.
And now, Paloma has created her own. From her studio debuts all the way to now, Paloma has quite honestly almost perfected the visual and audio partnering for her specific niche of music.
Because let’s admit it, Paloma is a niche artist.
While many other blue-eyed soul Brit singers from her generation are similar in musical quality and versatility (only by a slight smudge), none have matched up like her just yet. She literally has a song that depicts her wild and humorous antics and commotions while insisting that she is sober. It would come to mind to describe her as a circus-trotting Amy Winehouse, but even Amy was a bit more stubborn than her with artistic integrity. That’s only because Amy was set in her genre. She was one of the few white females who could be acknowledged as an icon in it.
And she wanted it that way. But with Paloma, she does whatever she wants musically and artistically, and she does not give a damn about it. And with her costume-like attire that have become a uniform for her, she is, in a sense an outstanding far more than triple-threat. Actress, singer, dancer. Director, writer, and now more engaging public figure with her revealing her plans to raise her child as gender-neutral. It is more than just being any other public figure, though. She includes her social commentary in such magical forms of visuals in ways quite similar to Michael and Janet Jackson, Janelle Monäe, Beyonce, and even Fred Astaire.
For her newly-released music video Crybaby, we see a world of unemotional humans being trained to fight against such temptations. Rigorous training including lie detector tests, weight training, combat and firmly standing still while someone practically berates you, even if you are a child. The males are of course normally separated from the females, and there’s of course the rebel. Of course women are not in control of this society. And the patron saint to protect and comfort the rebels? Paloma of course.
Interestingly enough, she isn’t the vulnerable and doomed damsel anymore, with the red hair that would surely make anyone swoon.
Instead, she is more like a Mother Mary, blonde-haired, stout yet still elegant, pensive, but bathing in the chorus of disco and r&b hooks.
In the song, a 4-on-the floor-like beat patiently leads the way with a guitar hook that perfectly matches the mood: melancholy, but still perfectly danceable. This is an automatic win for her, given her very R&B-heavy background, but not solely because she is sticking to her sound. Instead because she is using a sound that has continuously made phenomenal impacts in the music industry. Going all the way from Chic, to Michael Jackson’s champagne disco days, and further down the line with post modern producers like Pharrell Williams.
Her voice in this song is particularly medium-level. It feels as if Paloma is seriously speaking to you about your inability to be more intimate or emotional with her on a romantic level, but not in a threatening way at all. In fact, it rather sounds like she is pleading with the listener. And once she gets to the chorus, she enlists her backing girl group friends to help encourage you, sealing the deal:
“Oh, it’s okay to be
A little broken and beat
But I’m alright with that
You’re with me, relax
And you call it weak
Baby, you’re just unique
Come out of the black
Never hold it back
You got such sad eyes, turn blue to grey
And it hurts me to see you hurt this way
Oh, go on and cry, baby, crybaby
‘Cause you don’t have to keep it inside (just cry, just cry)
Go on and cry, baby, crybaby
And there’s no reason you got to hide (just cry, just cry)
A real man shows his feelings
Tears they can be healing
And I can be your savior tonight
So go on and cry, baby, crybaby
You keep coming home drunk
And I don’t know what’s up
You can talk to me
Spare those whiskey dreams
Don’t have to man up
That phrase kinda sucks
Let yourself be free
And open up to me”
So who is she talking to in the video, exactly? The up-keepers of the society who she knows she cannot bend, or the children at risk?
Visually, we are really watching through the world of a scared child, which, if you are considering the comprehensive context of halo-effects, definitely makes for a more twisted commentary. Through this world we see a child not-so blindly following the society that he is in, but soon finding himself having to pay the consequence of not being strong enough to resist emotion.
The price for that weakness? A very violent and tortuous death.
With a theme reminiscent of The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games, The Giver, The Matrix and Divergent all rolled into one, upon a decision, the children are lined up in rows, while they wait for their victim and their master. The victim, stands separate from the others, and readies themselves for the superior voice about to settle their fate. At the shout of their master, they must run into the woods, as much as possible, until each row of children is in the woods and ready to hunt them and ultimately end their life with a bat.
These children live in a world where they must be emotionless, but have to succumb to the authority that forces them to use such violent ways of attacking weak members. Furthermore, all this happens while quite upbeat music is playing. And don’t forget the lyrics. In Do you Want The Truth, her character is performing on stage and has a perfect smile, but it turns of literally like a switch as soon as the feathers cover her up for the chorus. A Perfect Contradiction, indeed.
This also isn’t the first time that Paloma has touched on being an outsider viewing and experiencing the pain caused from others. She manages to create with each visual a subtle nod to death, being anything from sitting on a chair and melting like wax, being left in a car en route to crashing, or even ahem, getting rid of the magician you work with.
However, the killing of children in such a brutal way definitely calls for attention because it suggests a much more powerful concept or mindset. Instead of being killed by love or killing for love, killing in defiance of love is the goal, or killing off anything that suggests positivity and happiness, even mental peace.
Although the video ended with a teasing last scene of Paloma running off with the chosen victim during the execution round-up, the “to be continued” trope that is followed makes the audience happily anticipate the next video. Paloma has already made series for her videos, but they were more in relation to love and heartbreak. What magic trick is she about to perform now?