When it comes to the James Bond franchise, there is perhaps nothing more iconic to it than the title themes made for the opening credits of each film. From soulful, instant classics, to 80s pop-rock, to whatever the late 90s were, every Bond song is instantly recognizable. I’m here today to rank them, but not in a boring, how-good-are-they kind of way. I don’t know anything about music theory to do something like that. No, I’m ranking them based purely on how I vibe with them in spur-of-the-moment decisions.
A couple of points before I get started: First, these rankings are not indicative of the quality of the artist performing their respective tracks. And second, as Dr. No does not have its own song, there is no listing for it, but to have the rankings be a clean 25 entries I have included a song that was made for one of these films but was rejected. Which one? Well, you’ll have to read on…
25. “Writing’s on the Wall” – Sam Smith
A song that wishes it could be “Skyfall” but fails at being memorable in any way other than how bad it is. The worst kind of vibes.
24. “The Man with the Golden Gun” – Lulu
Film: The Man with the Golden Gun
This song is not good. At all.
23. “The World Is Not Enough” – Garbage
Film: The World Is Not Enough
This was sung by a band called Garbage and that’s indicative of its quality. The world does not have enough vibes to make this enjoyable.
22. “Die Another Day” – Madonna
Film: Die Another Day
Instead of a Bond song by Madonna, we got a Madonna song being used for a Bond film. That’s a big difference and it leads to the vibes just not being there in this one.
21. “Live and Let Die” – Paul McCartney & Wings
Film: Live and Let Die
The second worst Beatle performs one of the worst Bond songs whose only memorable feature is its opening. Let the vibes die.
20. “Tomorrow Never Dies” – Sheryl Crow
Film: Tomorrow Never Dies
The late 90s, early 2000s were not kind to Bond songs, and unfortunately, Sheryl Crow is not the right kind of singer to make this one work for what it needs to be.
19. “All Time High” – Rita Coolidge
They were cowards for not having this song be named after the film it’s featured on. Defeatist vibes.
18. “You Only Live Twice” – Nancy Sinatra
Film: You Only Live Twice
The most average of Bond songs. That’s all I’ve got. Perfectly average vibes.
17. “Another Way to Die” – Jack White and Alicia Keys
Film: Quantum of Solace
The opening guitar riff helps give this some pretty enjoyable vibes.
16. “Diamonds Are Forever” – Shirley Bassey
Film: Diamonds Are Forever
There’s a personal bias I have to all of Shirley Bassey’s Bond songs thanks to our shared Welsh heritage, but this is her weakest contribution to the series. The vibes were, unlike the diamonds, not forever.
15. “License to Kill” – Gladys Knight
Film: License to Kill
The legend that is Gladys Knight helps the song not come across as a Shirley Bassey clone, giving it a license to vibe all of its own.
14. “GoldenEye” – Tina Turner
It takes nearly a whole minute for Tina Turner to start singing, which means it barely makes its way into the top 15.
13. “Moonraker” – Shirley Bassey
While the song itself is great, this is from a film that sees Bond go to space at the tail end of the 70s. It should have been a disco track, even if disco was in its last days then.
12. “The Living Daylights” – a-ha
Film: The Living Daylights
I unequivocally love a-ha, so of course, I massively vibe with this one.
11. “Spectre” – Radiohead
Film: Spectre (Unreleased)
Here we have the bonus song I mentioned up top. Radiohead submitted this for use in, you guessed it, Spectre, but for whatever reason, the producers went with Sam Smith’s terrible track instead. The most hauntingly beautiful Bond song that never was.
10. “A View to a Kill” – Duran Duran
Film: A View to a Kill
It’s Duran Duran, and at one point they sing the lyrics “dance into the fire”. Shit fucking rules y’all. They should have called it “A View to a Vibe” amirite?
9. “For Your Eyes Only” – Sheena Easton
Film: For Your Eyes Only
Perhaps the hottest a Bond song has ever been. There are some very spicy vibes contained within. Bonus points for Sheena Easton actually appearing in the title sequence.
8. “Thunderball” – Tom Jones
Another Welsh artist means there’s a lot of bias towards this one, but once you learn that Tom Jones actually passed out while holding the astonishing final note, you can’t help but vibe with it.
7. “Goldfinger” – Shirley Bassey
For that brass section alone this gets the biggest possible chef’s kiss I can give. Some truly unbeatable vibes right here, which only reinforces how incredible the remainder of this list is.
6. “Skyfall” – Adele
Despite how frequently this was played on the radio when it was released, to the point of over-saturation, it’s hard to deny just how iconic “Skyfall” is. The vibes, as the kids would say, are lit.
5. “From Russia with Love” – Matt Monro
Film: From Russia with Love
Matt Monro’s voice makes me want to hop in a 1960s convertible Ferrari and drive down the Italian coast. Impeccable vibes.
4. “No Time to Die” – Billie Eilish
Film: No Time to Die
I don’t believe in recency bias, but if there ever was such a thing, then this is the deserving benefactor of it. I vibe so much with “No Time to Die.” Billie Eilish nails every single thing you need to make a Bond song iconic. I can’t wait to see it used in the film itself.
3. “We Have All the Time in the World” – Louis Armstrong
Film: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
One of the most romantic songs ever made. And I mean, how can you go wrong with Louis fuckin’ Armstrong? Great vibes, and based on a couple sneak peeks at Hans Zimmer’s No Time to Die score, seems to be featured quite heavily in the new release.
2. “Nobody Does it Better” – Carly Simon
Film: The Spy Who Loved Me
When they say nobody does it better, they mean it. Carly Simon understands the assignment like few others have. Not just excellent vibes, but one of the greatest Bond songs. The best kind of vibes.
1. “You Know My Name” – Chris Cornell
Film: Casino Royale
And here we come to the top entry, the title theme I vibe the most with. From the collaboration between Chris Cornell and composer David Arnold to its integration in the film itself as a proto-Bond theme, it’s hard to explain just how incredible “You Know My Name” is. 15 years on, this remains unsurpassed.
And lastly, I just want to end by giving a shout-out to Joe Cornish’s excellent parody song made for the release of Quantum of Solace. It never fails to make me laugh.
The music video for Lil Nas X’s “THATS WHAT I WANT,” directed by Stillz, premiered on Friday, September 17 alongside the audio tracks for Lil Nas X’s new album MONTERO. The album (you can find my review on the album here) talks about Lil Nas X’s experiences as a gay man, and the struggle, inner conflict, and ultimate acceptance that come along with it. Each track is so good and the album as a whole, textually and musically, is incredible.
But, the music video for “THAT’S WHAT I WANT” struck me with such ferocity that I knew I had to write about it on its own.
First, this video is hot. It is incredibly and explicitly sexually charged. Lil Nas X, himself, is incredibly attractive, and the scenes he and his creative team crafted are not only steamy, but also so gay. This continues a trend of queer, sexually suggestive videos that we saw in the video premieres of “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” and “INDUSTRY BABY” earlier this year.
The video starts out with Lil Nas X having been injured playing football. After being brought to the locker room, a fellow teammate comes in, and they begin a sexual encounter in a passionate scene. An important shot here is Lil Nas X opening a condom, a blatant endorsement of safer sex practices for queer men. This is an important message to send to his often-younger queer fans.
In the next verse, we are now transported to a new world, reminiscent of one of the first mainstream queer movies, Brokeback Mountain. After another steamy encounter in a tent out in nature, Lil Nas X next goes to the house of this lover with flowers, only to discover that he is married and has a child. He then leaves to go drink away his sorrows in his home, surrounded by his football accolades.
However, this is not the end to his story, as we enter the next scene with the last chorus, a bit slowed down now. We see Lil Nas X walking down the aisle in a wedding dress, meeting Emmy-winning actor Billy Porter at the altar, who hands him a guitar. The music then picks up as Lil Nas X begins performing the guitar part and finishing out the chorus. This high energy performance appears to be a moment of self-acceptance, that he can find happiness in his art. But then at the end, during the last lines of the song, we get a close-up of Lil Nas X’s face. We see his makeup has run down his face from crying and an expression of emotional pain. The video then ends in silence after the music ends.
Compared to the videos for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” and “INDUSTRY BABY,” the video for “THATS WHAT I WANT” feels incredibly personal. While using references to other queer media, Lil Nas X is telling a personal narrative about his need for love. The wedding scene in particular strikes me with an emotional message I won’t be shaking any time soon. Lil Nas X wants love in his life, and his accomplishments aren’t enough to sustain him. Compared to the scene in the locker room and the tent, where he is clearly content from a sexual standpoint, the wedding shows us that more is needed to keep us going. Mutual love and affection are just as important as any physical needs we might have.
There are a lot of important moments in this video. As a gay man, Lil Nas X is telling us he deserves love, just like any straight person. But reaching this moment of love is a complicated journey for queer folk. But we still “want someone to love me” and “need someone who needs me.” Lil Nas X has given us an important piece of music whose accompanying video helps lay out the struggles of queer love. This message is important to share; so many queer people never see their lives on a screen like this. By witnessing someone they know sharing the same relatable problems that they have, they will see that it can be overcome. The music video for “THATS WHAT I WANT” is an ode to queerness in a way that hasn’t been seen very often, and I hope it inspires many more in the future.
The groundbreaking queerness of both MONTERO as a whole, and the “THATS WHAT I WANT” video in particular, is an incredible moment. While it is a shame that it took until 2021 for such a gay musical moment to occur in the mainstream, especially considering the extensive influence queer culture has had on music as an art form, I am happy that this video exists. Straight musicians have long been showing us straight, sexually-charge scenes in their music. It is so refreshing to see a musician stand up and put out something so blatantly gay. To see a version of a romantic journey not too dissimilar from my own, it makes my gay heart so excited.
You can watch the music video for “THATS WHAT I WANT” on Youtube and Vevo. MONTERO is available to stream on all major music streaming platforms and as a digital download.
As a young gay man, I remember the first time I discovered Logo TV. I was home alone after school one day, and I was avoiding homework. As I was scrolling through the TV guide, I came across what could have been a revelation in my queerness: programming created for a queer audience. I turned it on and a music program was just beginning. But this was not your regular MTV or VH1 fare, but actually, blatantly queer music videos. There were guys kissing each other and holding hands and showing their love for one another. I remember sitting there, discovering these music videos and thinking about how upsetting it was that I was seeing a reflection of myself in music, for the first time, hidden away on a single channel up in the 200s. But the worst part is that I have no idea what the names of the songs I listened to that afternoon, nor the artists who poured their hearts into them.
Back in 2010, queerness was just beginning to enter the mainstream in the United States. But openly queer love was not readily accessible in media, and these songs about queer love that played in the mid-afternoon on Logo had so little reach into the cultural consciousness that I never listened to them again. So when Lil Nas X released the music video for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” in March of this year, and everyone was talking about it? It felt unreal. A song by an openly-queer artist about being queer was dominating social media, news organizations, the industry charts, and the minds of music fans everywhere.
Lil Nas X has been here before. “Old Town Road (Remix)” (feat. Billy Ray Cyrus) was pretty objectively the Song of the Summer back in 2019, where it spent a record-breaking 18 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. A runaway hit, everyone was talking about it, playing it at their parties, and adding it to their playlists. But it was not until “Old Town Road (Remix)” was already the Number 1 Song in America when Lil Nas X came out as gay.
This is one of my most anticipated albums ever. It was hard not to be excited for this album. Lil Nas X and his team’s marketing in the lead-up to this release was nothing short of inspired. He posted several videos and photos of himself “pregnant” with baby MONTERO, even posting a hilarious video of himself giving birth to the album on the night of the album’s release. He posted videos of him sending himself to jail in the lead up to the release of the “INDUSTRY BABY” video and as a talk show host in the 80s. The one that killed me the most, though, were a set of billboards that he set up, including one that said “Gay? You might be entitled to financial compensation!” Lil Nas X, if you’re reading this, I want my gay money!
MONTERO, which is Lil Nas X’s debut album following previous EPs and Mixtapes, is the first major music release from Lil Nas X after he came out as gay. “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”, therefore, was one of the first explicitly queer piece of music that Lil Nas X released (following his allusion to queerness on 7 track “C7osure” and more explicit references in the single “HOLIDAY”), and it began an honest-to-God debate on acceptable behavior of queer people in the mainstream by many outside of the LGBTQ community.
It is with all of this in mind that we dive into MONTERO, in what is one of the most personal musical introspective of queerness that I, personally, have had the pleasure of listening to.
MONTERO hits the ground running with its eponymous track, of much notoriety. This song has been running in my mind basically nonstop since it was first released in March. The music video, where Lil Nas X literally leaves the Garden of Eden and descends into Hell to twerk on Satan, naturally made all the wrong waves in all the worst places. But as a gay man myself, this song touches such an important chord with me; it is an open expression of Lil Nas X’s queerness, something that he suppressed for so long due to the heteronormative society that we live in. Upon release of the song, Lil Nas X tweeted: “i wrote a song with our name in it. it’s about a guy i met last summer…i know we promised to die with the secret, but this will open doors for many other queer people to simply exist.” MONTERO, which bears Lil Nas X’s real name as the title, brings us through this personal journey of conflict and ultimate acceptance as a queer man.
“DEAD RIGHT NOW”, the second track, deals with Lil Nas X’s struggle with his parents and others as he was working his way up into stardom. He is still the confident, brazen performer that we see in “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”, but we also see the cracks that give us peeks into his personal struggle.
“INDUSTRY BABY” (feat. Jack Harlow) is one of the best tracks on the album. One of the pre-album singles, the horns and beats keep this track pumping all the way through, with great harmonies and fun lyrics. It immediately gets lodged in your brain, and you find yourself humming along well after you’ve listened. The only fault of this record (and the album in general) is the rather strong “no homo” vibes from Jack Harlow’s verse, which, while well-performed, is a bit out of place on an album with such a queer message.
In “THATS WHAT I WANT”, whose video was released same day as the album, we begin to really start hearing Lil Nas X’s personal journey in queerness. This is the beginning of the exploration into the man, Montero, behind the persona we see on Twitter every day. What’s so beautiful about this song is that it is unabashedly about queer love, wrapped up in a radio-ready country-twinged pop bop. He talks about how he “need a boy”. Not a generic someone special, not an unidentified lover. A boy. Finding love as a gay man can be a minefield, never knowing who might be open to queer relationships or who might beat you up for coming on to them. But while safety is always on our mind, it does not mean that we still don’t long for love, affection, and physical touch. As Lil Nas X says, “I want someone to love me/I need someone who needs me/’Cause it don’t feel right when it’s late at night/And it’s just me in my dreams/So I want someone to love/That’s what I fuckin’ want”. Oh boy… got me right in my pop-loving heart.
“THE ART OF REALIZATION”—Look, I’m a huge slut for audio clips in the middle of an album.
“SCOOP” (feat. Doja Cat) is the start of what feels like a new section of the album, which is broken into two by “THE ART OF REALIZATION”. “SCOOP” is about physical beauty (“I been workin’ on my body”). In the context of the rest of the album, it is hard to separate this song from the other themes about the pressure he has to conform to expectations that society puts on him, in this case an exemplary physique. Doja’s verse is a nice switch-up that keeps this track moving nicely into “ONE OF ME”.
“ONE OF ME” (feat. Elton John) is an incredibly moving moment for me. Elton John, who is undoubtedly queer royalty, is listed as a feature on this track, but never sings. Instead, he played piano for this track, contributing a beautiful backing for Lil Nas X’s lyrics. This feels like a symbolic backing from our elders to the new guard; Lil Nas X’s message is literally being backed by Elton. Lil Nas X’s lyrics concern his artistry and those that felt he should stay with what he is good at. But Elton’s moving piano lines behind Lil Nas X’s rhythmic vocals lead to a genre-bending masterpiece that proves to his haters that Lil Nas X’s talent is bigger than any box you could put him in.
“LOST IN THE CITADEL” continues the under-the-radar sound that began with “ONE OF ME”. This track, similar to “THATS WHAT I WANT”, has a sound that is palatable to the mainstream, but with multilayered lyrics about having to be the one to pick yourself up. A great transition from the last track into the next.
“DOLLA SIGN SLIME” (feat. Megan Thee Stallion) was the track I was most excited for going into this album drop. I felt that any track that had both Lil Nas X and Megan Thee Stallion on it would be an instant homerun, and I was right. A rap song, Megan Thee Stallion’s feature is one of the best on the album. But what’s most intriguing about this track is that on its own, it’s a fun track about being a successful musician, yet, with its placement in the album, it’s changed. You realize that Lil Nas X is not trying to show off to his haters but is maybe just trying to tell himself that he’s made it.
Then “TALES OF DOMINICA” starts. While it could be argued that “DOLLA SIGN SLIME” is a personification of the Lil Nas X public persona, “TALES OF DOMINICA” is the track that first struck me as most honestly Montero. We’ve seen in the earlier tracks who Lil Nas X is (he’s hot, he’s funny, he’s controversial), but that outer layer has broken apart, revealing Montero underneath: “Oh sometimes you’re angry/Sometimes you’re hurting/Sometimes you’re all alone/Sometimes I’m anxious/Sometimes it makes me/Feel like there’s only now”.
“SUN GOES DOWN” continues this journey into showing us Montero. The video, set back in high school, shows us the journey to acceptance that Lil Nas X went through to get to this point. It’s a struggle that I personally went through myself, which he so succinctly puts in the lines, “These gay thoughts would always haunt me/I prayed God would take it from me/It’s hard for you when you’re fightin’/And nobody knows it when you’re silent”. I prayed to God too, begging him to take these thoughts from me, to fix me, to help me in my fight. This is a painful struggle that so many queer people have to fight through every day. And it’s so hard to get to acceptance when you are working alone. Lil Nas X’s lyrics and vocal performance and acoustic backing help communicate these inner demons to those who haven’t had to fight them themselves.
An important note on “SUN GOES DOWN”: Lil Nas X makes a reference to his past life running Nicki Minaj stan accounts. Nicki Minaj is a bit of a wild subject right now, which I do not have the space nor energy to address here, but what is important is the growth and honesty Lil Nas X is showing us here. These stan accounts featured a lot of controversial tweets, which he later apologized for. In this track he includes the line “I’ma make my fans so proud of me”. I think it’s safe to say he has.
“VOID”… oh boy, I thought “TALES OF DOMINICA” was personal??? This track absolutely wrecked me. A beautiful track featuring Lil Nas X’s striking falsetto with beautiful lyrics that I think speak best for themselves:
“See, I’m getting tired for the way I’ve been living
I’d rather die than to live with these feelings
Stuck in the world where there’s so much to prove
Every win gives you more room to lose
It’s too many ups and downs on the ride
I spent inordinate ‘mounts of time
Trapped in a lonely, loner life
Looking for love where I’m denied”
“DONT WANT IT” moves us back to a bit more upbeat mood. The lyrics here show Lil Nas X’s struggle with his own acceptance despite his success, and his ultimate path there. This then transitions into and meshes well with the lyrics of the next track:
“LIFE AFTER SALEM” is an alt rock track featuring driving, grungy power chords that push this song through measured, particular steps of Lil Nas X’s journey, arriving firmly at his acceptance of himself and his art. He has accepted that not everyone will find his work and personality to be their thing. But he will continue driving himself forward as whoever he wants to be.
“AM I DREAMING” (feat. Miley Cyrus) begins: “Every song, every dream filled with hell from beyond/As I’m sinking, I relive the story/Every try, every breakthrough and every cry/As I’m sinking, I relive the story”. These haunting lyrics, sung in Lil Nas X’s unique voice help show the journey we’ve been on with Montero in getting to a point of acceptance. Miley Cyrus’s verse features one of my favorite vocal performances from her yet, as her voice fits so well into the emotion and intention of this track. When we get to the final chorus we are met with the lyrics “Oh, never forget me/And everything I’ve done/Oh, never forget me/Like I’m your favorite song/I’m fading, replaying/These thoughts I thought while sinking down/Oh, never forget me/And everything I’ve done”, followed by a clap of thunder that fades into silence…
This album is a masterpiece. Even on its own, outside of the context into which this album was birthed, there would be no denying that this album has a lot of strengths. However, this album does not exist detached from the world, and, in fact, it is the world that makes this album so beautiful. As a gay man, being able to listen to a mainstream musical journey through queerness where I can see so much of myself in the lyrics is an incredible experience that I never imagined would be possible even five years ago. The marketing and roll-out of this album have been spectacular, but even more incredible is how Lil Nas X has taken these viral moments and directed the energy into a “Baby Registry” for his album: a list of charities, one for each track, that support a number of important works, including support for the trans community, Black queer men, and infertility issues.
Montero pregnant with baby MONTERO (via @LilNasX / Twitter)
Musically, there are many brilliant moments. Highlights for me include Elton John’s piano in “ONE OF ME”, the radio-ready (and personal favorite on the album) “THATS WHAT I WANT”, and the emotional performance in “VOID”. The continued genre bending shows that Lil Nas X is not afraid to challenge the rules of his art, while the form the album takes is reminiscent of Lemonade.
Of course, there are parts of this musical odyssey that I cannot relate to as a White man. Lil Nas X talks about how others will treat him for his complexion and features, and his commentary on queerness exist within the framework of being a Black man. I am not someone who can comment on this aspect of his music.
Another point of note is how important Lil Nas X’s rise to fame is as a talented artist in the genre of hip-hop/rap. As Kid Cudi put it his recent profile of Lil Nas X for Time 100: “To have a gay man in hip-hop doing his thing, crushing records—that is huge for us and for Black excellence. The way he’s unafraid to make people uncomfortable is so rock ‘n’ roll. He’s a true rock star.”
I think a lot about Lil Nas X’s tweet to himself when he released “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”. I wish I could go back to my past self and tell myself just how much better it gets. That people like Lil Nas X will be there, helping shepherd the next generation of queer folk to a life of happiness and acceptance. Montero, you’re helping so many queer people exist, by being who you are best.
MONTERO is available to stream on all major music streaming platforms and as a digital download. You can find the MONTERO Baby Registry on https://welcometomontero.com.
I think we all have a band or an artist that sticks with us through the good times and (specially) the bad times. For me it’s Chvrches. I still remember the day my friend’s brother recommended it to me. I will never forget the first time I listened to them. For me Chvrches is the ultimate form of catharsis. I listen to it in some of my worst depressive episodes, in a rough break up, and when it just feels like the world is against me. Chvrches is the way I let my worst emotions get a hold on me so I can let them go.
So let me get something clear, this is not a review, or at least not a normal one. I’m not a professional music critic, I don’t know anything about music theory. For me a good song is the one that connects to me and makes me feel all sorts of emotions. Read this more like a journey through my emotions as I listen to Screen Violence, more than a judgment of the quality of the album.
The name of this album, some of the titles of the songs, the fact they partnered with John Carpenter for a remix of Good Girls, and the marketing for the whole project left perfectly clear that this album was inspired by horror, especially horror movies. So it’s no surprise that some of the feelings present throughout the album are fear, despair, escapism, and anger… a lot of anger. Lyrics like “And these violent delights/ keep bleeding into the light/ And I’ll never be right” and “Can I forgive if I forget/ All my mistakes and my regrets” really make you feel the state of guit that can push people to the edge.
Screen Violence is a reference to one of the names the band thought about during their beginning, but it also makes reference that part of the album were made through screens (because the band was in different parts of the world), and the need of escapism (which, in a way can also be seen in the art of the album cover). After the shit show that was 2020 it’s hard not to feel the need to escape, and like I said I feel Chvrches is the perfect music to have some sweet sweet catharsis. But this album is as much violence as screen, meaning that no matter how much you try running away reality will catch up to you, and sometimes reality ain’t pretty.
I think the part I relate the most to this album is the way we deal with violence, both external and internal. Aggression is something we all deal with in one way or another, always standing on the edge of the line between existence and non existence. Songs like Violent Delights, How Not to Drown, and Nightmares hit extremely close to home, dealing with things like self hate, violence against yourself, and feeling possessed by anger and despair. It feels like Chvrches have created songs that really capture the feeling of being so angry that you simply disconnect from reality and all you can see is red.
In contrast, songs like He Said She Said, Final Girl and Good Girls really bring the feeling of aggressive oppression. Lauren Mayberry has said in an interview that an important theme of this album is violence against women and this is clearly perceived one you listen to the album. I live in one of the countries with the most violence against women so this feels extremely real and necessary. I don’t dare to talk like I know what women experience in my country, but I believe what I can say is that we have created a narrative that helps exponentiate this violence, and Chvrches bring this into the light in a really strong way.
There are songs like Asking For a Friend, California, Lullabies and Better if You Don’t that invite you to the darkest corner of your mind to truly feel afraid. I recently saw a tweet that said we are so desensitized to actual horror (blood, monsters and killers) that the new kind of horror is emotional horror, because honestly, who isn’t afraid of their own emotions. I don’t know if this is true, but these songs capture that sentiment so well. The feeling of the isolation, the terrifying effects of sadness, the horrible despair of the impotence anger brings, the torture you make yourself go through in your mind.
This album feels a lot like past Chvrches’ albums, but this time it felt like they didn’t hold anything back, for me it was like raw emotions contained in a bottle of red viscous liquid. I tried to search for flaws in this album, I really did, but at the end of the day this album came at just the right time. I really needed an album like this, I needed to feel anger, fear and despair. I needed songs that made me just let go and blasted through the roof. Maybe Screen Violence won’t be for everybody, or maybe this is going to be celebrated as one of the best albums of the year… Honestly, I don’t give a shit, I’m just happy I got an album that pulled me into its deepest reaches and for 43 minutes transformed me into one of those monsters you see in movies.
So to finish this “review” and for you to experience this journey yourself, let me leave you with one of my favorite lyrics of the album:
“Swallowing the seeds of sin we sewed into the ground/ Keeping secrets until everything becomes to loud/ I could wash it down/ I could drown it down/ By filling up the silence with an organ sound/ And by writing sentences I used to think were kind profound”
The clock struck midnight. Instead of worrying that my carriage was about to turn back into a pumpkin, I was planted firmly in front of my computer in the dark of night, a pair of Beats headphones around my ears, as my excitement reached a crescendo. The lead single to Taylor Swift’s surprise 9th studio album, Evermore, was about to premiere.
Willow picks up right where Folklore‘s Cardigan video left us. With Taylor, a water-logged lyrical goddess divine, staring straight into the camera with all the vulnerability of Bambi. The golden dust of the previous video is now a shimmering gold string – a la Folklore‘s Invisible String where Swift sang “One single thread of gold tied me to you“. The string beckons her, and us, back into the world of the magical piano and deposits us through the crack in a willow tree on the banks of an inky lake.
“I’m like the water when your ship rolled in that night. Rough on the surface, but you cut through like a knife.”
Swift slices us lyrically in the opening lines of Willow; setting the stage for her specialty: transportive tales of love, magic, and hopeful optimism in the face of obstacles, real or other-worldly. As the pitch-black lake draws our focus, Swift peers over its edge as a man stares back at her through the watery depths of her memories. As she begs for us to take her hand, she dives in, chasing the golden string, and her man, through time and place.
Prior to the video’s midnight release, Swift participated in a YouTube Q&A, mentioning that Willow‘s video would evoke scenes harkening back to four songs from Folklore: Seven, Mirrorball, Exile, and Mad Woman.
We’re transported presumably to the past, as two children who represent our video’s love interests share some fun in a makeshift tent of blankets with the string of fate that ties them together. This scene most directly reflects the imagery of Folklore‘s Seven, where two children escape their reality with whimsical fantasies and a pure love that stretches “to the Moon and to Saturn“. All too quickly, the boy has disappeared from Taylor’s life. Her younger-self leaves the naïvety of childhood behind, exiting the tent and following the string once more.
She enters an enclosed stage at a fairground in the dead of night. She sings from her pedestal, entertaining the folks of the fair as they pass her by. Swift watches them kiss and laugh, talk and live; paying her little mind. This scene elicits the feeling of Folklore‘s Mirrorball and Swift’s opinion on her own fame. This shouldn’t come as a shock to the fans who expertly spotted her diving into a fishbowl during Lover‘s music video from 2019. As Swift eyes the dusty fairground crowds, they part. Her mystery man has appeared, grown once more, and slowly walks the path toward her. His eyes are locked on her, ignoring all the sights and sounds around him. In Mirrorball, Swift expresses her feelings on being an entertainer, and the appreciation she has for the one person in her life that sees past the performance to the beating heart underneath.
“You are not like the regulars, the masquerade revelers, Drunk as they watch my shattered edges glisten.”
When Swift tries to join him on the ground, she realizes she’s stuck in the glass case of fame. Our lovers are separated once more. Her only out is a trapdoor through the bottom of her gilded cage, with a familiar gold string leading the way. A physical reference perhaps to a line in Folklore‘s Exile, where Taylor sings, “I think I’ve seen this film before, so I’m leaving out the side door“. She takes the exit with a coy wink to the camera, reminding us never to count her out; she’ll “come back stronger than a 90’s trend“.
The glittering rabbit hole drops us on the edge of a snowy clearing at night, where a caped Swift leads a pack of masked followers. They begin to dance in a ritualistic way as she weaves through them while crackling gold strands descend into the night sky and out into the world. I’m suspecting this is her nod to Mad Woman, where she sings: “Women like hunting witches too“. This group, very clearly, are witches working spells. Swift joins them, dancing around the mystical golden fire as she croons, “The more that you say, the less I know. Wherever you stray, I follow“.
Once again, the string beckons, and she follows for the final time. Leaving the glow of the group behind her, she treks off into the snowy night to seek her fate. When the camera pans up, Swift is gone, but the man she pursues was there the whole time, masked and dancing right along with her. She exits through the magic piano in the cabin, seemingly back where it all began, though now she’s dressed as a pioneer woman. Her cardigan is long gone and the golden strands of fate finally come to an end, leading her to a place and time where her love was meant to thrive. Her lover is there, and the smiles on their faces tell us they finally have all the time in the world to just be. They walk out of the cabin into the light of day, hand in hand.
As the screen faded to black, my first thoughts were of the track Daylight on Taylor’s seventh studio album, Lover. In it she says, “I once believed love would be burning red, but it’s golden, like daylight”. The gold string was able to lead her through the long dark night into the morning of peace and contentment in her relationship. Willow‘s music video is a beautiful companion to the raging seas of Cardigan‘s video imagery. They each feel like bookends to the lyrical tales packed within. While Taylor Swift has made a career of being a chameleon, morphing into the the physical representations of her next album era, Evermore, and it’s first single Willow, are a testament to the magic that can happen when she takes off her coat and stays a while. This mad woman never ceases to amaze me.