Foster the People - Houdini
Foster the People are the perfect poster children for hipsters who are in on the joke. Their first single, “Pumped Up Kicks” (which can only be described as the catchiest song you have ever heard about gun violence) successfully tricked an entire nation into tapping their toes light-heartedly to a cute and memorable base line while the lyrics discussed mental illness and referenced Columbine. So Ironic!
Sure they’re signed to Columbia, but they’re not like the mainstream, man! Even though they aren’t exactly “indie” (as far as being a band that makes independent music), they write their own songs, play their own instruments, and don’t have one of those carefully constructed images you see in pop tarts run by the SYSTEM.
Or do they? How do you navigate the waters as a Pitchfork darling in the Top 40? How do you maintain that priority #1 is still sticking it to the man, even though the man is helping you sell and distribute your music to millions and millions of people?
My guess is that you get super meta, super self-aware, and yes, super ironic.
I want to take a minute from authoritatively analyzing FTP as if I know anything about them and just say that “Houdini” is one of my favorite music videos of all time. Maybe the band is trying to comment on the music industry. Maybe they had nothing to do with the video whatsoever.
That being said, one of the reasons I’m having fun with these reviews is that I get to practice thinking about when directors have to assess an artist’s position in pop culture, then react to it. It’s more than likely that 99% of the vision on this project belonged to the incredible directing duo DANIELS. So in trying to approach this video from that perspective, here is what I came up with:
Foster the People will not work hard for your approval. In fact, let’s just kill off the band within the first five seconds of the music video so that they don’t have to work hard for your approval. In the same way that Lady Gaga makes a statement through the amount of obvious effort in her work, FTP makes just as much of a statement by appearing to not actively participate in their music video at all. Maybe the band members didn’t want to look silly by trying too hard, so the directors wrote a narrative around that. Projecting “cool,” especially in the context of Le Hipster, can certainly read as apathetic. Considering that the band members’ characters are either dead or unconscious throughout the entire thing, they certainly do get away with the vibe of, “We just wanna focus on the music and someone else did the video for us…whatever man.”
And yet, the real members diligently appear in every scene, participate in a cute choreographed dance, and appear to have green-lit being carried and shoved around by faceless men in green suits. If you look closely, they actually put a respectable amount of effort into this, but get away with looking like they didn’t.
And the concept is soooo meta. It’s a film crew filming a film crew. They actually show us the green screens before demonstrating how drastically these things can alter our perception of reality. This isn’t a low budget indie project. But even though the music video looks polished like a major record label, it’s loaded with that snarky, satirical tone FTP started their career with. They’re not “selling out” but if they were to sell out? This is what it would look like.
The rest of the of the video is a brilliant narrative that plays out like a heist movie. It’s not easy to tell a story with no dialogue, but we see clear reactions of utter panic from the crew when the band dies, not out of any concern for them, but because a close up of a magazine tells us that there is a show tomorrow, and this is a business.
Someone makes a phone call, and from here and we get a thrilling three-act story that builds and builds until the resurrection of the band as android/puppets is complete. The show must go on! And it does, without or without the people who created the content.
This video is so smart, so funny, so self-aware and it brings everything that is usually off screen into the limelight. The creators show us upfront how to deconstruct the pop star, and while we’re watching all the strings being pulled in front of our faces, we almost miss the construction of the “indie star” going up in the wings.
(Fun Fact: The DANIELS Duo has directed some of the greatest videos I have ever seen. Their videos always include their signature special FX and stunning silent narratives. Check out their videos for "Cry Like a Ghost" - Passion Pit, and the insane, uncomfortable, and strange #NSFW "Turn Down for What" - DJ Snake ft. Lil Jon)