“We aren’t platinum selling artists yet, so a hot girl in a body bag will do.” – Lee Newell, lead singer of Lovelife, to MTV (2013)
Yes, you read that correctly.
Spotify introduced me to this wonderful synth-pop band under a week ago with this track. I instantly gravitated toward the deep electronic waves – a sumptuous blend of vocals reminiscent of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” and a hauntingly tribal backbone. Taking the next step toward enjoying the song most fully, I called up its lyrics.
A type-2 composition: a break-up song. Nothing out of the ordinary, yet profound in itself.
Wanting more, I next sought out its music video. Since Lovelife isn’t well-known, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a music video indeed existed for this entrancing composition. And then I watched it. I loved how the video reflected the haunting emptiness of the post-break-up bliss.
Until I saw the body bag.
I wanted to believe that the band’s intentions could be sublimated over what the video suggested; I wanted to move beyond the most obvious implication – that an unfaithful woman should be punished by death – to preserve how I imagined a break-up song should go; I wanted to believe the death of the femme fatale (a notion misogynistic in itself) symbolized the denouement of their relationship.
But the body bag remained a red flag. I returned to the lyrics:
Remember staying up all weekend
Didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, yeah
But what’s the point when you’re breathless?
You said that you would never stop loving me
Well do you lie through your back teeth
To your new beloved?
This time, I couldn’t move past the malice seeping into the last half of this verse. I hadn’t thought of the lover’s “breathless[ness]” in terms of her death but in terms of some shock, awe, or exhilaration. Now it became clear. Lovelife has a death-wish for his ex-beloved.
The song upgraded itself to a level-3 composition: that of malice.
And I’m running away, I’m running away
I’m changing my name
I never want to be seen again, oh no, or heard again
The vocalist’s teenage-angsty vengeance magnifies and takes on sadomasochistic tones as the refrains pile up in the latter half of the song (the repetition of woes creates a melancholic experience for the singer, and he seems to take pleasure in the woman’s suffocation under the body bag), but this in no way atones for the clearest meaning arising from (and featured as the focal point of) the music video.
The two main visuals we get are Newell and the man looming over his left shoulder (the man is presumably the woman’s new lover, as indicated by their parallel and superior positioning in relation to the adulteress in a later shot, pictured above) and the beloved, statuesque and nearly frozen in time. While the lyrics clearly put forward the lover’s devastation and his assumption of the beloved’s intrinsic infidelity, Newell sides with his beloved’s new lover: “Well do you lie through your back teeth / To your new beloved?” As the two stand powerfully above the woman, she is doomed to struggle and squirm, alive within the body bag.
Like the sole decaying rose decorating her plastic sheeting, the beloved’s hair is tinged red – the vocalist’s affections are dying out as is his love for her as the reality sets in. Her struggle is fetishized through her gaping, gasping rouged mouth beneath and her grappling hand against the body bag. Her hand is reminiscent of the love scene in Titanic when Jack and Rose are in the car below deck, thus adding to the overarching sadomasochistic tone, as if in ecstasy (but in reality a symbol of struggle).
The two men, united in this punishment, stand strong until the beloved has suffered her punishment. Dead and cold, she is disrobed and a mere body in all subsequent death scenes (save for the ethereal reappearance before the dancing static on the television set).
This video reminds us that misogyny is alive and well in every aspect of our lives. We should be beyond this.
While the beloved is clearly in the wrong for her infidelity, we don’t see men being punished in any capacity as extreme as death. In most music videos, infidelity (especially that perpetrated by men) is celebrated via displays of machismo and through alarmingly triumphant lyrics. The worst on-screen punishment might be the destruction of his car or material possessions. But never death. Never.
The obvious explanation for such barbaric retribution is the fact that society condones, and even champions, male infidelity. Society also continually argues that women deserves to be objectified.
There is no “difficult” explanation. This music video is the direct result of this flawed logic.
Unfortunately, this music video is the progeny of a long line of misogynistic music videos. The last one I was this mad about was Justin Timberlake’s music video for “What Goes Around…Comes Around.” This video was less veiled in its misogyny. You simply cannot refute the fact that the overarching message is that the adulteress (this time a dancer/entertainer portrayed by Scarlett Johansson) is getting what she deserves. Her car does not accidentally fly into a flaming wreck as Timberlake sings: “You got what you deserve.” The misogyny is indubitably intentional. But this music video deserves an entire post of its own. A matter for another time.
I would like to submit that Leonard Newell isn’t quite aware of the misogyny that pumps through the veins of this piece. I would like to think that the beloved’s death symbolizes the way in which one embalms a dead body until one makes his peace with the death of a loved one. But last lines suggest, once in dialogue with the music video’s narrative, that it is not the vocalist and beloved who reconcile, but he and the man with whom his beloved cheated: “One day we will meet after everything / We will drink and make amends / Raise a toast to your old beloved.”
Now, to return to Newell’s comment regarding the place of this music video in Lovelife‘s public image. The idea that “a hot girl in a body bag” is a stand-in trophy until their band goes platinum underscores the troubling nature of how the world still views women and their bodies. While the band never took off the ground, even after the release of this music video, Newell’s sentiment speaks to women’s depiction in the music industry.
Lovelife draws on Edgar Allen Poe’s entombed sisters and lovers and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s dead-yet-perfect wives to keep alive the tradition of misogyny that should have died long ago. To bring us full circle: Newell’s assertion that “a hot girl in a body bag will do” implies that a woman’s body – even if she’s just only apparently dead – is something to own and take pride in, as if it were a trophy or a status symbol.
How do you feel about “Your New Beloved” now?