“Conceiving of a Postmodernist Element in Music with the Help of Music Videos: Cat Power and Liars”

* Warning: one of the music videos mentioned in this post contains graphic, even terrifying content of violence, homicide and extreme human malevolence.


I thought postmodernism, to be honest, was a hoax, for a while, finally seeing the light as likening it to the nightly news and the stories “Six Crushed under Bus in South Korea” and “Prince Harry Visits Las Vegas” delivered in a selfsame monotone, adjacently to one another. It’s art designed for the age of information, summarized nicely, of course, in the visuals, by Madonna’s cone-shaped bra. 

Of course, my point here is very paradoxical, as rock and roll and hip-hop, hinging, when they’re at their best, on an undeniable level of earnestness and true emotional connection, are the epitome of modern. It’s arguable as to whether postmodernism is even possible in music — it would probably liken itself to kitsch, in such an event, or “mass-produced pop culture,” specifically, something that would comment on the absurdity of such a thing. In my opinion, Eminem came the closest of anyone to postmodernism in music in the absence of a visual aid, with “Drug Ballad”; whose summer-hit-coddling chorus seems to poke fun at mainstream pop while also, ironically, embodying all of the prized elements thereof. 

Cat Power’s haunting “Lived in Bars” is my first beacon of discussion for this post. On its own, “Lived in Bars” is a solid album track on The Greatest, more subtle, emotionally, than standouts “Willie” and “The Moon”; but proviso of enough gorgeous, stock Cat Power hook to discourage the skip-track button. It’s eye-opening, then, and troubling, to, in beholding the video, find out that the song is basically about being a prostitute, the alarming anecdote of Chan Marshall, herself, having probably been entrenched in such a profession, at some point, making itself apparent with the help of the racy video. 

I think it was on my last trip to Hot Topic that I saw a charming t-shirt reading “Wish You Were Here” and depicting the grim reaper standing over a grave. Already, on 2010’s Sisterworld by Liars, homicide obviously becomes a theme, if nowhere else, certainly on “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” (with the disturbing mantra of “Soooon your little world will fall apart” also coming to mind as a telltale sign of the same sorts of bloodlusting). Honestly, WIXIW (2012), pronounced “wish you” (perhaps in reference to the troubling t-shirt I mention earlier) is about my least-favorite Liars album between They Were Wrong, So We Drowned and their last one. And maybe some of this has to do with what I think is its reliance on the video realm to get its point across, as in the spot for “No. 1 against the Rush”; which depicts a middle-aged man apparently transporting a dead body to some undisclosed location, over hauntingly steady, but ultimately anticlimactic, background music. 

The music, itself, to “No. 1 against the Rush”; which goes for most of the WIXIW album, does little on its own, but seems to cinematically soundtrack the sort of homicidal exploits pictured in the music video, perfectly, like a film soundtrack would. The eerie, tense mood of the background track that Liars lay down here seems to seep through the cracks of the video’s events, reinforcing the postmodernist style of the video with calm, even pretty riffing and instrumentation making the awful outplay of the plot so menacing. In this way, I think, postmodernism has now become more common in music videos than in music itself, with, perhaps, the genre of horror associable with it, again, for its callousness toward things like violence and widespread disaster, which I highlight in my nightly news comparison above. 


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