Post by Eunice Shin
Music, literature, and film are often heavily connected, one medium referencing the other and vice versa. As an avid pop music listener and as an English major, I enjoy these connections, especially when they come in the form of allusions in the lyrics or in music videos. While I have to dig a little deeper for the lyrical allusions, with the visual form of the music video, these connections are made all the more obvious, especially when the concept for these music videos seems to come directly from the books. Whether it is because the song references the book itself or because the song mirrors the themes contained within the book, the added narrative element that accompanies each song really adds to the whole experience of the music, video and all. In honor of the retelling prompt for Westwind’s Flash Fiction contest, here are eight pop music videos with striking literary and film connections and contain a version of retelling.
1. Taylor Swift – “Love Story”
Of course, any list of music videos and literature has to contain Swift’s “Love Story” because of how blatantly literary it is. She references Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet directly in both the lyrics and the video, rewriting the tragic love story of young teenagers where Romeo and Juliet meet, marry each other, and die in the span of less than a week. Instead, Romeo somehow convinces Juliet’s father to forget about the longstanding feud between the Montagues and the Capulets and they get a happy ending. The video interestingly has a more Pride and Prejudice feel what with the dancing and the running in fields but the video does get the looking out of windows and love at first meetings part of the play down through the reinterpretation.
Taylor is no stranger to literary allusions. In her new album, she references The Great Gatsby, Kurt Vonnegut, and Dickens’ The Tale of Two Cities. Some other literary-related music Taylor Swift has done are “Blank Space” (with allusions to The Picture of Dorian Gray, Calypso from The Oddysey, and Twilight), “Ready For It” (with its sci-fi-esque imagery), and “You Belong with Me” (with the plot of what is probably a great many YA books).
2. Ariana Grande – “Right There”
Following the Romeo and Juliet train is Ariana Grande’s “Right There” which also seems to focus on the happy first meeting of the fated pair and little else. Reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann’s film Romeo+Juliet (and also his Gatsby coincidentally), Ariana (or Juliet, as the video prefaces with) frolics around a masquerade ball, meets Romeo, sings to him from a balcony, and ends up fully clothed in the pool with him, all while fluttering a fan. The song itself is about faithful and fated love, only one of which have been proven in the actual text, but really captures the feelings of young and impulsive love that the play portrays. Meanwhile, Big Sean (who is labeled as the Priest and not Friar Laurence) raps about the merits of his girl while chilling inside a church. Definitely a more faithful retelling of the iconic love tragedy than “Love Story.”
3. Pink – “Please Don’t Leave Me”
Moving away from the hopeful love and faithful promises that both Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande have portrayed as Juliet, Pink’s “Please Don’t Leave Me” is decidedly darker. For one, Pink moves away from the delicate and traditionally beautiful image of Juliet and Shakespeare altogether, choosing to go the Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery route instead. She locks her man in a room, inflicts various acts of violence on him, and prevents him from leaving through various tactics – just as Annie Wilkes does with Paul Sheldon. There’s also a nice nod to King’s The Shining, when Pink cuts a hole in the door with an ax and looks inside in true Jack fashion. All these horrifying actions take place while Pink apologetically croons to her lover and begs him not to leave her, adding a sinister edge to both the song and the video.
4. Twice – “What Is Love”
Twice’s infectious, bright jam about optimism and the naïve wish to experience love is crammed with all sorts of literary and film references about the different ways of finding love in books and movies. The music video shows the members enacting different parts of movies, taking inspiration from iconic scenes from The Princess Diaries, Ghost, La Boum, Pulp Fiction, Romeo and Juliet, Love Letter, La La Land, and Leon: The Professional. Through all of these references, they ask the question of “What Is Love” and all the feelings that come with it, mostly focusing on the pleasant aspects of it. Through these film references, Twice captures the wide range of what it means to be in love quite well, thus enhancing the video and the song through their reenactments of the films.
5. Iggy Azalea – “Fancy” (feat. Charli XCX)
Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” is an obvious tribute to the film Clueless, from the outfits, the setting, the actions and the people in the video reenact. Just as Clueless is a film about the wealth and status of Cher, Iggy Azalea’s song is similarly about wealth and status, more specifically Iggy’s own credibility. The music video hammers these themes home as it shows reenactments of iconic scenes such as the debate, the car ride on the freeway, the tennis courts, and the party. All that is absent is Josh and Cher’s lawyer father which only adds to the narrative of self-made success and emphasizes the 90’s icon that is Alicia Silverstone’s character. On a side note, Clueless is loosely based off of Jane Austen’s novel Emma which also contains the similar themes of wealth and societal standing.
6. BTS – “Blood Sweat & Tears”
BTS’s “Blood Sweat & Tears” is filled with art, aesthetically pleasing visuals, and bright contrasts of color. Given that Herman Hesse’s novel Demian heavily inspired the video, all of these choices come as no surprise. All of the cracks in the sculptures, the surplus of art, the organ playing, the images of wings and birds, the dialogue of “He too was a tempter,” and countless other images and scenes refer back to Demian and the characters within the novel. The song itself is about wanting and sacrificing everything for the pursuit of want regardless of whether it is wholesome or detrimental. This pursuit of want and the resulting discoveries connect back to Hesse’s novel which makes the song all the more complex and insightful on issues of love, success, and meaning.
7. Lana del Rey – “Tropico”
Lana Del Rey’s work is always brimming with literary allusions, ranging from Lolita to Carmen. In her short film “Tropico,” she performs her songs “Body Electric,” “Gods and Monsters,” and “Bel Air” to convey a Whitmanic ode. Within the short film, she uses figures like John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, and Jesus. Lana herself dresses as both Eve and Mary, using the religious figures to contrast and highlight the division between religion and the pursuit of the self while also combining the concepts of soul and body. Referencing the Bible, Whitman, and others, she creates a complex relationship with the self and spirituality while seeming to celebrate herself and her body as Whitman encourages. The contrast between bright rosy colors and the dark shadows and dimly lit rooms within the video emphasizes the various divides the videos and the songs explore.
8. Michael Jackson – “Thriller”
Easily one of the most iconic videos in music history, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is a culmination of various horror movies and tropes packed into a video that is almost fourteen minutes long. Incorporating sinister monologues, acting bits, and dance sequences, “Thriller” embodies the lyrics that emphasize fright and terror. Borrowing from films like The Wolfman, Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead for the storyline and the scenes and from Citizen Kane for elements of camera movements, staging, montages, and lighting, Michael Jackson creates a compelling video that emphasizes the frightening aspects of his song, one that adds greatly to it.
With all of these retellings, reenactments, and allusions to bolster each song, the intersection of music, film, and literature is made all too obvious. Not only do these allusions add levels of meaning and complexity to each song they are used for, they also embody the creative spirit that comes with retelling and art, thus making them more than trite songs on the radio.