by Aubrey Aikens
As some people may know, I personally cannot drive without having music on, and when I was in high school, that music was almost exclusively classic rock (I had a deep love for Boston, Kansas and Journey courtesy of my mother). I thought that driving around in my little old Honda with “Separate Ways” blasting as loud as possible made me seem pretty groovy. Spoiler alert: it did not. Now that I’ve graduated from university with degrees in music and music business, I wish I could say that my tastes have matured, but I think they have ironically gone the opposite direction than one would expect, because now I tend to find myself listening to the Top 40’s station (along with a little bit of Chicago’s Polish/American club music station which, if you haven’t checked out, you should because it’s really something).
I feel pretty confident in saying that today’s Top 40 can be summed up in two words: Post. Malone.
Every second song in a station’s cycle seems to be his recent hit, “Better Now”. At first I was rather underwhelmed, but as it continued to repeat and repeat, the hypnotic rhythm and rather endearing lyrics began to sink into my tender brain like the earworm that it was designed to be. I find myself hooked.
I really didn’t know much about Post Malone before hearing this song, although I had read in an article that he was somewhat of an overnight sensation. Due to my curious nature, I felt compelled to dive into his history a little and consequently discovered a seemingly likeable character with a pleasant personality and an admirable fearlessness. When talking to Jimmy Fallon in an interview, he discussed his rise to fame, saying how it was “fun” to watch his content blow up due to shout outs from Wiz Kalifa and the late Mac Miller, but what I found to be most fascinating was the casual aire with which he addressed his process. He wanted to make something more of his music so he simply “put it out there”.
I come from a background of classical music. I have spent years of my life perfecting and re-visiting and fretting over the minutiae of art songs because if anything was overlooked, I would surely have critics lining up around the block ready to point out every possible misinterpretation and mispronunciation.
Yet amazingly, here stands Post Malone, with the confidence to simply publish his content for the world to see.
And the world did indeed, see.
The lyrics of “Better Now” are simple, yet surprisingly heartfelt. For those of you who might not be as familiar-here is a section of the piece that outlines the love interest, a small narrative describing his struggles with drugs and distractions, and ultimately the end of the relationship.
“I did not believe that it would end, no
Everything came second to the Benzo
You’re not even speaking to my friends, no
You knew all my uncles and my aunts though
Twenty candles, blow ’em out and open your eyes
We were looking forward to the rest of our lives
Used to keep my picture posted by your bedside
Now it’s in your dresser with the socks you don’t like”
Like I said, the lyrics are straightforward and rhythmically appealing when placed in the context of the forward-driving beat and harmonic patterns which makes it a perfect candidate for getting stuck in your head. It wasn’t so much the song that intrigued me, but rather the visuals that were designed to go with it.
After listening to the song about a trillion and a half times on the radio, I decided to pull up the video for the sake of seeing what Mr. Malone was really focused on with this piece. I didn’t feel strongly moved by the words and music alone, so naturally I was curious to see if there was another layer to the work as a whole.
I was not disappointed.
Upon first glance, it seemed to be a basic tour video, acting like a highlight reel of Post Malone’s performances in black and white, with a slightly grainy overlay for texture. I noticed how much I really liked the transitions between the cuts-they were smooth in an almost organic way but eventually emulated the sensation of inebriation with the use of fish-eye lenses and distortion. I attributed the choices made in the cinematography to the lyric “everything came second to the Benzo” because of the way the camera’s motion and discombobulation reinforces the idea of drug use. The use of the “glitch” technique (an idea that Steven Shaviro outlines in his book, Digital Music Videos which if you’re not familiar with, I would recommend becoming so) which is where an image is repeated almost as if by accident in an effort to create a very digital aesthetic (if you are curious about seeing a very clear example of this style of editing, check out Allie X’s video for “Catch” and Cesár Sampson’s “Nobody But You”).
Initially, I thought it to be a rather arrogant display of his success as an artist, but through the cinematic choices, I found that Post Malone might be alluding to all the things that he is in the process of doing in order to forget about the subject of his affection. The drinking, the partying, the performances, the audiences…it all seems to be a distraction from the person that he is unable to bring along with him on this adventure. The black and white filtering suddenly takes on new meaning as well: the world now seems dun and colorless, consequently less enjoyable and empty despite the excitement. Although the blurred faces of the audience are mostly likely the result of preserving privacy, it also can represent the lack of connection that Mr. Malone feels while on stage…it is commonly said that crowds are some of the loneliest places to be, despite the throngs of people.
I will readily admit I did not like this song upon its initial release. It did take a lot of listening for me to find the hidden value behind the piece-not because it was not there, but because it was not “love-at-first-listen”.
All things being said, I have been pleasantly surprised by “Better Now” upon looking into the music video. It adds a lot of value to the narrative that Post Malone is trying to illustrate, which I think the song struggles to achieve on its own. Always be open minded to how other art forms interact with music, fellow Soundscapers.