Is it fair to ask for artistic depth from a music video? Maybe not—maybe it’s only reasonable to demand entertainment. When you think about it, music videos are a strange genre that comes with a loaded question: How do you interpret a song? Most modern songs don’t tell a linear story, so it’s not like the musician or director can follow a script. Instead, it’s more of an abstract connection—the director translates the emotions of the song, rather than the lyrics. And while most finished products are fairly forgettable, it’s always gratifying when something beautiful is created.
The video for Tame Impala’s “Let It Happen,” directed by David Wilson, is the year’s best example of an artistic music video. Immediately, Wilson establishes an atmosphere of deep anxiety as a man in a suit sprints through an airport to catch his plane. The camera hones in on the actor’s face, which is a mask of panic—a visceral, sweaty kind of discomfort native to air travel. The setting is dominated by gray, from the ugly carpets to the monotonous chairs to the industrial windows separating us from the freedom of the outside world. It’s a feeling of unhappy claustrophobia that’s somehow related to bodily death, which is the next theme to emerge.
The man collapses with a heart attack, and my interpretation of the video is that everything that follows can be seen as the hallucinations of a dying man. The ensuing visuals, at least initially, serve to heighten the unease. The man sits on an airplane, but doesn’t know how he got there; the man wakes up to an alarm clock in a depressing hotel, puzzled; the man plunges his face in water and takes his pills, but he doesn’t feel better.
The scene of his collapse returns, and gives way to more bizarre hallucinations—a talking sandwich, a plane crash that none of the other passengers seem to notice, and finally a free-fall through the sky. Only when the paddles on the airport floor fail to revive him, and he slips closer to death, does he slowly begin to accept his fate. Finally, there’s a sense of tranquility as he falls through the sky, and he realizes that he’s not truly falling, but flying toward a source of light—a portal in the clouds.
My guess is that the interpretation for this video came from the song title itself, “Let It Happen.” Wilson stops short of guessing what happens on the other side of the portal, and is instead telling a story of acceptance, and the way the horrible anxieties that define our waking lives can slip away in an instant—and that when we relent, we might find peace.