Okay, so P!nk is kind of amazing.
P!nk’s music video for “Try” came out in October of last year, so it may not be exactly fresh in the mind of our collective consciousness. However, I saw it for the first time only a few days ago, so it’s new to me.
Since first viewing “Try,” I have probably watched it at least a dozen times (not counting the views it took to decide on a shot to use for the above sketch) and I have a really strong emotional reaction to it. The weird thing, for me, is that I was not sure on my first viewing and I am still not sure on my–let’s say–thirteenth viewing what that emotional reaction is. And . . . I think that’s interesting. So I will be using this post, in large part, to try to unpack how and why I feel about P!nk’s new(ish) music video, “Try.”
Let’s start with the obvious. This video is gorgeous. It’s shot beautifully. It’s choreographed beautifully (apparently by a two-man team called the Golden Boyz, consisting of RJ Durell and Nick Florez, with “stunt” choreography provided by Sebastian Stella. At least according to this October billboard.com article.). The settings and costumes and props and more-or-less everything you see in the video are perfectly chosen. It’s really obvious the amount of care and thought that went into this on the part of Floria Sigismondi, the video’s director. P!nk’s dance partner/metaphorical lover-and-or-abuser (in the video), Colt Prattes, is amazingly talented. And stunning. And visibly, emphatically, strong.
And so is P!nk. I can’t remember ever being so struck by the power and athleticism of a female body in a music video. P!nk, here, is graceful and buff and primal and holding her own with a dance partner who looks like he’s got a hundred pounds of solid muscle on her (at one point, they execute a move where their weights counter each other so perfectly that she actually lifts him up) and P!nk just looks so freaking cool. Like she could do anything. And that fits right in with the song’s mantra, which plays in the background reminding us over and over again to “try and try and try.”
And yet. And yet and yet and yet. The choreography here, the amazing choreography that makes the video, is violent. And scary. And sexual and cruel. And if it weren’t all of those things, if it weren’t so terrible and dangerous, it wouldn’t be nearly so amazing. P!nk and her dance partner play out what looks like an experimental ballet of domestic violence, and I don’t know what to make of that.
Let me make it clear that I don’t think this video glorifies domestic abuse, except inasmuch as it tells us that a beautiful work of art can come out of a place that is scary and painful. But I also don’t think it sends a clear message about domestic violence–or really, any clear message at all. Not that sending such a message is the video’s job. Or P!nk’s job. But maybe I’m so used to music videos telling me what to feel that this time, with this video, I just don’t know where to jump.
For comparison’s sake, let’s look at the first music video I thought of while watching P!nk’s music video, Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie.” Now, “Love the Way You Lie” is a very different kind of animal in a lot of ways (not least because the most prominent voice in it is the internal monologue of an abuser who feels like he just can’t help himself), but both videos look at domestic violence, and both steadfastly refuse to coddle the audience. These are both uncomfortable videos to watch, and I like that. I think that’s important. “Love the Way You Lie,” however, has a pretty clear message, running more-or-less along the lines of ‘Abusers may be sympathetic human people but abuse is still bad and some relationships are just toxic.’ When Eminem’s character promises to “tie [unnamed female love interest preformed by Rihanna] to the bed and set [their?] fuckin’ house on fire,” should she ever leave him again, we’re pretty sure we know what that means. This relationship is doomed, and the people in it are probably equally doomed. This is not a model for anything except how to destroy your own life and someone else’s. The song and the video both know that, even if Rihanna keeps singing that “It’s alright because I like the way it hurts.” Whether or not she likes the way it hurts is immaterial; we know that this relationship is not “alright.”
I don’t know what P!nk’s video says. What it’s trying to say. I think, like one of P!nk’s fans thinks, that what the video means has a lot to do with what, exactly, the lyrics are telling us to “try” (and try and try) to do. This fan (who used the handle ladyella) posted the following to pinkspage.com in November:
I was shocked to see the physical discord that the couple was engaged in (very powerful) and when I compared it to the lyrics, I was troubled. In an outsider perspective, this may seem like the lyrics in the song when compared to the video/performance, would be advocating for people to always “try” thru the turmoil. (Full post here)
So far, and I freely admit that my research into this has been neither broad nor deep, ladyella’s unanswered question is the most thoughtful piece I can find on how the video relates to the subject matter of domestic violence (and not just whether or not it does [hint: it does!] or whether or not it takes risks [hint: still does!]). P!nk’s dance partner, at various points, picks her up, throws her around and drops her. In a beautifully choreographed series of moves that is both obviously not violence and yet representative of actual violence, he forces her knees apart and uses his foot to lift her by the crotch. She winces in response. There is faux choking and faux hitting on both sides, and at one point P!nk grabs him by the throat and breaks a table with him. This all looks really good. Hell, it looks incredible. But is that really for the best?
One of the things that’s going on here is that a high-concept video has been paired with a set of low-concept lyrics. The video is amazing, and abstract, and specific, and brutal. The lyrics . . . are not. They’re good, and they work, and if they were more than they are they would probably compete with the video, and the whole project would collapse under its own weight as the audience tried to process too much stuff at once. But these lyrics are, for the most part, so generic that they could mean just about anything. (Or at least, anything that vaguely has to do with relationships and survival and a do-your-best/try-and-try-again kind of attitude.) The one moment that, for me, makes this a song potentially about moving on from an abusive relationship is the song’s first line: “Ever wonder ’bout what he’s doin’ / how it all turned to lies?” This implies that at least one relationship is in the ‘past.’ A later line, “Funny how the heart can be deceiving / more than just a couple times” implies that there is/have been/could be a series of unfortunate, abusive relationships in the life of the subject who appears also to be the song’s addressee. (Since the lyrics are made up largely a series of questions and commands, the song’s listener is also put into the place of the song’s subject. Neat trick, that.)
There are three main interpretations that immediately occur to me for “Try.” Option #1 is what ladyella feared, that the music video encourages the listener to work through and try to fix her abusive relationship. Option #2 is that the listener is being urged to escape an abusive relationship. Option #3 is that the listener is being told not to give up on love, despite past experiences. The video, more than the song alone, is in danger of seeming to support Option #1 (though I find it difficult to read it in quite that way). Option #2 appears to be a popular interpretation with fans. I would argue that the lyrics (sans video), support Option #3. I’m not sure if the music video as a whole points in any of these three directions. It does seem to on some level point to all of them.
At the very least, the “Try” music video provokes thought. It forces the viewer to think about abuse and survival, and it tells a more ambivalent, nuanced and perplexing message than could be achieved by the song on its own. This is a powerful, moving video, and whatever it does, it’s certainly doing something.
The song asks of its own protagonist, “and does it make you wanna cry?”
Every time I watch this video, I feel like I’m going to cry.
And then I don’t cry.
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UPDATE: When my mom, who is a research librarian of great power, saw the above disclaimer about my “research” being neither broad nor deep, she took that as a challenge. So, here are some links to add to the conversation, with a hat tip to my awesome librarian mother:
http://www.towleroad.com/2012/10/pinktry.html (This one is especially interesting–and relevant–for the comments at the bottom of the page.)