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David Byrne & St. Vincent ‘Who’

The director of the music video, Martin de Thurah, knows how to draw a viewer in. What I find immediately fascinating about his music video is how he chooses to match the visuals to the music. The video begins with a wide angle shot of a person biking down a road. Only when David Byrne opens the door of a nearby car does the song start; then, when he closes the door a few moments later, the phrase ends. The passage is playful, filled with brass instruments and emphasized by a long rest. It poses an intriguing counterpoint to the more somber visuals: Byrne moving, almost in slow motion, towards something we cannot see. The phrase repeats, only with more volume, and a sort-of story unfolds.

Upon first watching the video, I was drawn to Byrne’s loose and subtle dancing and St. Vincent’s haunting, clear voice, but I knew there was something more that I couldn’t put my finger on, something that was just as compelling to me as the way the video began. It took me awhile to figure it out: no matter how many times I watch the video, with or without sound, I have the urge to replay it, for the chance of seeing what I missed in previous viewings. “What do I not understand?” “What am I missing?” Usually, with any art form, we are taught that if this question exists, then the art is unsuccessful. I shy away from saying that here. Whether the lack of meat in the video is intentional or not, the combined film and song have enough pull; they make us feel something. In a roundabout way, the video toys with our desire: we are given just enough to want more. More of what, you ask? I’m still working that out, but at least I know why I find myself clicking the replay button over and over.

The music video is shot in black and white with a wide screen. Byrne is made up as a classy, older man in a grey suit; St. Vincent carries an air of sleekness about her. These visuals evoke elegance, but the characters’ actions are far from elegant. They move as if bewitched. Often, St. Vincent is shown as if transfixed, crumpling her body against the black of the asphalt road, dancing as if held up by strings of a marionette. When Byrne first steps out of the car, his eyes reflect the same lack of consciousness that St. Vincent’s do, and later he bends his body to the road, too. Can he hear something? Can they? We are left wondering what strange world we have stepped into. Is everyone drunk or high? On a few occasions Byrne takes swings of whiskey while behind the steering wheel. Out-of-sequence scenes show results of car crashes, yet we see no shots of impact. In this way the music video plays with our expectations; what we expect does not occur. We cannot predict how the story will end or by what means the video will bring us there. Maybe Byrne and St. Vincent know something we don’t and like their lyrics we should be asking “who?” and not “how?” Perhaps then we will understand?

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