Music Videos with Mara: Glass Animals, “Agnes”, and a Human Centrifuge
I’ve been a long time Glass Animals fan. I saw them perform in 2014 and it’s honestly still one of my favorite live music memories. They have a sick cover of Kanye’s “Love Lockdown” and an eagerness to prove themselves. Their sophomore album lived up to my hype, which let me tell you is not an easy feat. I highly reccomend listening to “Season 2 Episode 3” and “[Premade Sandwiches]”. This album is titled How to Be a Human Being and their freshest music video explores just that.
Many music blogs discuss whether or not we’re in a golden age of music videos. I think that the concept of a “music video” is so broad that it’s impossible to fairly assess that. In particular, it’s hard to compare video to video because they can be so vastly different in concept, in scope, and in execution. Traditionally, music videos are meant to market the song, album, or artist. “Agnes” blurs the line between promotion and performance art in a way that is literally breathtaking.
Both in the text about the music video and on the band’s instagram is a brief letter describing exactly what we’re seeing in this video. Frontman Dave Bayley shares that he’s nervous about sharing this, that he filmed himself performing in a human centrifuge and that’s what we’re observing. He describes the stress it has on the body and that they did eighteen takes to get the video just right for us. The video is startling and at times painful to watch. His cute features become distorted from the pressure as we watch him struggle to breathe. In a tweet, Bayley said they cut the worst of it including passing out and bruising. There are sharp cuts between his face and a manikin, unphased by the centrifuge or any of the struggles of life.
In his caption he states, “but the most striking thing is the way that the machine pulls on your heart. you can actually feel it struggling to beat and changing shape…flattening inside of your chest. It’s similar to that horrible sinking, tugging heartache that comes only with complete and overwhelming sadness. and then you pass out.” Everything about this piece is so intentional, so directed. For me it created an intense juxtaposition between how the experience of being human can seem like a massive undertaking; we are all undertaking this herculean task of getting by and how we are tied to these little fragile vessels that can be tortured and manipulated as well. We see a convergence of physical and emotional pain. He holds a bouquet of white flowers to his chest depicting an image not unlike looking into a coffin. The poignant lyrics of “Agnes” evoke loss, isolation, and even despair. We see all this play across Bayley’s face in this hyper-intense way. And the way he shares this is so subtle and so personal, which make the themes of existentialism even more clear.
I applaud Dave Bayley, Glass Animals, and director Eoin Glaister for creating something so unique and so human. It subverts what music videos are meant to do. While it is certainly attention-grabbing, it goes beyond the usual construction of the music video to create something really special. Now I’m not saying every singer should put themselves in a human centrifuge, but this sets the bar for what a music video (and a human) can do.