Charlie Strange, a Music Video, a Sandwich, and the Taste of Our Era
How Charlie Strange's last music video says a lot about what it's like to be a young adult in the 21st Century.
A sad piece of bread is getting covered in slow motion with an even sadder mayonnaise. Chunks of floppy lettuce are thrown on some cheese, the kind of cheese that would probably not melt after two hours of baking. A dirty pink, unnatural color coming from industrial meat slices completes the palette. If a little twist at the end of the four-ish minute video takes the viewer by surprise in a first phase (no spoiler alert), it is only to reinforce an impression of reclusion; of meal-for-one situation; of a rushed everyday routine; of forced standardization in a capitalist era; of a heavy duty to wear a happy face mask outside of the house, like the artist Polly Nor’s characters would do.
Those first lines do not depict a sarcastic cooking class parody, although they could. It is, in fact, about the brand new music video "Stay Home," a single released earlier in the year by the emerging artist Charlie Strange. Even if it was her first official release, the dream-pop artist, or "synthy cat lady," as she describes herself with humour online, has many years of songwriting, and self-production behind her, as well as a strong knowledge of classical piano. She cites Beach House but also Father John Misty as references, Beach House for the use of atmospheric reverb, in addition to "enigmatic guitar sounds," while taking inspiration from the story-telling of the American singer-songwriter.
But what does this pale sandwich have to do with Charlie Strange’s music, and, more particularly, what could be relevant for the contemporary viewer, and listener of “Stay Home”?
I would like to start by speaking of a word, over-used, questionable, but nonetheless emblematic of our time: Millennial. For some of us, it might only be a demographic term, designating those "reaching young adulthood in the early 21st Century." But it is a media word too, and the link that has been done with concepts like "Snowflake Generation," a pejorative idea, considering those young adults as "being more prone to taking offense and being thin-skinned compared to previous generations," as well as the articles written about phenomenons like "millennial burn-out" suggest that there are more layers to explore.
The Millennial is seen, in a media context, as a mentally unhealthy individual, who is evolving in a specific era; the early 21st Century. If the adepts of the Snowflake Generation term imply it is the Millennials’ own fault, those who talk about burn-out would be inclined to consider causal relationships, and, ironically, they explain that referring to a Millennial as a snowflake contributes to aggravate, if not cause, their mental difficulties. In any case, there is something in the air with the young adult generation, and this seems to be generally acknowledged.
This "something" is the same "something" that makes Charlie Strange sing that she "admire[s] the sympathy but [is] quite happy drowning" when her "friends think [she’s] stuck on a boat that is sinking." There is nothing new with the idea of a disillusioned postmodern generation. But if the imagery of a boat used to evoke the failure of a Titanic dream, it sounds different now, when the boats that we read about, while scrolling down the screen, are sinking every single day. Everything got bigger. The millennial burn-out depicted by Rhiân for the BBC is the result of a general "too much"; too much information, too many emails, too many work obligations that are linked with too many social obligations, too much emotional distress, too much cynicism, for some, a too urgent need to act, but how can I act, is the amount of plastic in the sea really going to be reduced if I say no to straws in my cocktails?
Maybe the only way to cope is to "Stay Home." Away from all the noise, from the "too much." But how to find peace and rest if the domestic is invaded as well? That’s what Charlie Strange’s lyrics, paired with her video seem to subtly suggest. If the song is about personal suffering, the story of a broken heart, the sandwich-making places it on a broader context. The choice of slow-motion filming looks like an attempt to calm things down, to escape the freneticism of the contemporary life, to diminish the intensity of feelings coming from everywhere. But this is a fast-food meal, a rushed preparation, made with industrial products, inhabited by the unimaginable number of machines, and beings involved in the fabrication process. Similarly, love has become frantic, the face-to-face situation is only one piece of the relationship, one will be affected by the number of texts the other will send or not, the pictures posted on social media come with a knot of emotions, of comments, of memories, of opinions. "Stay Home, don’t you try and go out and start risking it all" sings Charlie Strange, but even at home your meal-for-one seems to be done for everyone else, the ones waiting for you at your job, the ones that you think are pointing out how lonesome you feel–and the one you would like to meet, and ask a few questions, but who is probably trying to deal with the same Millennial anxiety, and who decided to stay home as well.
Listen to Charlie Strange here.