The musician directed the video for Charly Bliss's new single Capacity, the latest in a string of gorgeous videos helping to solidify her reputation as a star in multiple mediums.
"I was watching a lot of heist movies at the time," said director Michelle Zauner of her work on the music video for indie pop up-and-comers Charly Bliss's new single Capacity, released today. With its dizzying series of shots featuring neon cacti, speeding cars, blurry TV screens, and plenty of cash, the video plays on all the best tropes of kitschy-crime 80's shows and films like Twin Peaks and Badlands in a display of what's becoming its director's signature style: dreamy slow-motion sequences and vaguely cultish imagery that both leans into and laughs at vintage pop culture's most extravagant excesses.
Charly Bliss - Capacity [Official Music Video] www.youtube.com
The video is another installment in the growing body of directorial work for which Zauner, most famous for her excellent solo work as psychedelic-indie-rock musician Japanese Breakfast, is becoming increasingly noted. Alongside frequent collaborator Adam Kolodny, she directed the videos for Jay Som's "The Bus Song," which captures a blissfully homey Californian summer, and Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers' new project Better Oblivion Community Center's "Dylan Thomas," which transports the viewer to headquarters of a mysterious, quasi-religious cult.
Jay Som - The Bus Song [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO] (Amazon Original) www.youtube.com
Better Oblivion Community Center - Dylan Thomas www.youtube.com
She's also directed most of the visual counterparts to her own songs. " Boyish," from her excellent 2018 LP Soft Sounds from Another Planet, is a dismally gorgeous interpretation of a high school prom. Zauner dons a suit, slips into her characteristic bath of ethereal pink and purple lights, and soundtracks one girl's shift from pining over a boy to taking the stage and shredding on her guitar.
Japanese Breakfast - Boyish (Official Video) www.youtube.com
It's a similar narrative to the story told by Mitski's Your Best American Girl video, in which the protagonist exchanges her unrequited desire for an archetypical, all-American guy for a much more satisfying love affair with her bass. Japanese Breakfast joined Mitski and Jay Som on tour in 2016, a lineup of all Asian American women that—although musically very different—were unified by a sense of creative ambition, talent, and a knack for crafting lyrics that cut through all bullshit.
Mitski - Your Best American Girl (Official Video) www.youtube.com
Zauner is also signed to Mitski's label,
Dead Oceans. The label's interest and that subsequent 2016 tour with Mitski was a marked surprise for her, for earlier that year she had been working at a "soul-leeching" ad job while quietly dealing with her mother's death by writing what would become Psychopomp, an album that explores many dimensions of grief through waves of reverb-heavy electric guitar and lyrics, sung in her distinctive wail.
A psychopomp, in Greek mythology, is a nonjudgmental tour guide who carries the soul from life to death; and the eponymous album's composition served this purpose for Zauner, providing catharsis in the midst of a storm.
Image via Rolling Stone
Since then, she hasn't stopped creating. Her
first published essay won Glamour's nonfiction contest, and she hopes to turn a lauded essay about Korean food and grief published in the New Yorker into a full-length food memoir about her childhood growing up Jewish-Korean in a predominantly white town.
In the midst of it all, she's found time to turn her knowledge of heist movies and crime dramas into Charly Bliss's newest visual. Judging by the quality and the sheer breadth of the output she's been gifting the world with over the past few years, "a lot of heist movies" probably means endless numbers of films watched at all hours of the night. Zauner seems like the kind of person who's constantly uncovering new conspiracy theories, always knee-deep in a rabbit hole of pop science and personal reflection.
Certainly her own music videos belie a huge variety of filmic and cultural influences. 2016's "
Jane Cum" is hypnotic and haunting, following Zauner on a journey through misty woods to a fiery ritual. Directed with Kolodny and House of Nod Productions, the video borrows from vintage movies, mostly riffing on the 90's horror flick The Craft. 2018's "Road Head" continues this tradition of using occult themes to express the complexities of human feelings.
Japanese Breakfast - Jane Cum (Official Video) www.youtube.com
Japanese Breakfast - Road Head (Official Video) www.youtube.com
"Machinist," also from Soft Sounds, is a nod to sci-fi, inspired by Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and takes inspiration from the Mars Project, an initiative meant to eventually make Mars habitable. It's a trip through a subterranean laboratory that finds Zauner writing love letters and dancing beneath glowing wires and flashing TV screens, using a vocoder and autotune to tell a cyborgian love story; throughout, she almost seems to be laughing at the surreality of our modern technology-saturated world while relishing in its aesthetic beauty.
Japanese Breakfast - Machinist (Official Video) www.youtube.com
"The Body is a Blade," of the same album, is also a tribute to 80s nostalgia, as well as to her mother's memory. It shuffles grainy, faded shots of summertime fields and beaches with family photos as Zauner sings about the body's persistent will to live in spite of all odds. It's classic Zauner: aesthetically beautiful and effortlessly dreamy, a tradition that Capacity dutifully follows, its lurid celebration perfectly framing the song's sonic buoyancy and moody lyrics. Maybe soon enough we'll be getting our own full-length feature film from her, but until then, it seems a safe bet that there are more cyborgs and redemptive senior proms to come.
Japanese Breakfast - The Body Is A Blade (Official Video) www.youtube.com
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @edenarielmusic.
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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