REVIEW:Itâs the end of the world as we know it and I feel Haim

How to dance like a Haim sister: Walk, step, skip, shimmy, and flip your hair. Simple. Illustration by RARD ALMARIO

REVIEW:It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel Haim

ALWAYS RIGHT NOW - Alex Almario (The Philippine Star) - July 7, 2017 - 4:00pm

I want to talk about a world without billboards. In this world, you cannot put up 30-foot-high invitations for coffee to unsuspecting celebrities, which means you cannot inspire people to rant about something that doesn’t affect their lives and that of anyone who actually matters. There are none of those distractions here. There are stores, but they are empty of people. So are the streets. In this world, everything has ended: cars, traffic, commerce, debates, hot takes, politics, possibly even existence. Everything except for the band Haim.

I want to talk about Haim’s music video for their latest single, Want You Back, but I suppose what I really want to talk about is the end of the world. After watching it almost every day for the past two weeks, all I keep thinking about is how liberating post-apocalyptic life could be. The video takes us to the uninhabited streets of Los Angeles, where the only people left are the Haim sisters, walking on the bare pavement in their casual, just-coming-home-from-a-night-of-partying garb. No one’s saying everyone’s dead, by the way; the premise is not so much ignored as it is rendered unimportant. This is a song and this is its video and for the entirety of its four minutes, the three sisters are walking and strutting around the vast expanse of nothing.

And it looks utterly arresting. The beauty lies in both the unfilled spaces in the background and in what they fill it with — their beautiful faces, their beautiful voices that echo their physical resemblance, and their beautiful movement, the effortless swing between air-keyboards-and-drum minimalism and full-on choreography. Even when they are not dancing, when they are just striding lackadaisically but determinedly, it looks as though they are carrying the rhythm of the song, steady and always moving forward. The entire imagery is a pop song interpreting a pop song. That is what music videos are supposed to do, or at least what music videos evolved into back in their heyday.

Return to Innocence?

Maybe this is what the end of the world looks like — a return to innocence. In the early ’90s, during MTV’s peak — when the channel fulfilled its destiny as radio on TV, always on in the background even when no one was really watching, the hits being played in an endless loop — music videos were no longer just commercials for songs; they became part of the songs. The main criticism against music videos in the ’80s was that they gave visual limitations to an otherwise richly abstract form. But as their novelty wore off, the argument became more and more irrelevant. The Pavlovian connection between songs and images grew stronger and it became clear that music videos weren’t boxing songs in; they were offering a new plane of existence. Aerosmith’s Crazy is a song about a passionately dysfunctional relationship, but it is also a music video about teenage rebellion. George Michael’s Too Funky is about obsession but is also a supermodel runway dream team. Björk’s Venus As a Boy is about sexual intimacy and also somehow about frying an egg.

The best music videos share the same main quality with the best pop songs in that they are meant to be repeatable, possibly consumed daily, like cereal or a bag of chips. This is why I think Haim’s Want You Back is the best music video of the last five years. It’s possibly the best of the 21st century so far. I don’t have a feel for what the consensus is, but I suspect it would be Beyoncé’s Formation, which damn near broke the Internet a year ago. It certainly was a great and dense work of art, but as a music video, as a piece of entertainment made to embody a pop song in both substance and form, Want You Back has a higher shooting percentage. Formation is an epic, a virtuosic symphony with complex movements. It was great when it came out, but watching it every day might give you indigestion. Want You Back is delicious candy that takes you to the spiritual realm.

Higher Purposes

Like the great music videos of yore, Want You Back elevates the song to a higher purpose. The song is about getting back together with the one you hurt. The apocalypse as metaphor is a powerful one because death also means resurrection. Being a better person, having a better life, a better world, means destroying everything that didn’t work before. To renovate, you have to tear it down first. To get back up, you have to know what it really feels like to fall.

Haim shows us how good it feels to dance in the aftermath. Their quick and tight movements are the slivers of joy that can be found when one lets go and accepts the end of something — a relationship, an era, a way of life. Underneath every jolt of recklessness is a thin layer of freedom from the past and while we’re certainly better off discarding the other 99 percent, it’s this residual sensation we need to harness, especially in this age of inescapable danger and decay. I’m not entirely sure what these thoughts are advocating but it sure is comforting to watch Haim sing and dance amid desolation.

Want You Back as a music video may signify the end of something, but as a song it signifies the beginning. It sounds like a protracted intro, a build-up that’s perpetually on the brink of climax, but it teases and never quite gets there. Maybe this is the key to the music video’s repeatability, aside from the gorgeous simplicity of the visuals. Everywhere we are surrounded by the sounds of things seemingly ending — common sense, humanism, the planet — so Want You Back is a much-needed breath of fresh air. It’s this generation’s greatest music video. It’s a rare source of hope in these dark times.

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Tweet the author @colonialmental.

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