This strange videoclip comes from Sweden. It’a a good way for us who don’t live the country to understand the mixity in the swedish society.
“Pass This On” is a single from the Swedish electronic duo The Knife, released in 2003. It is the third track on The Knife’s second studio album, Deep Cuts. In Knife’s work we can obviously see their signature aesthetics: the blurring of gender and sexuality in their music.
The music video for the song was directed by Johan Renck and features female impersonator Rickard Engfors in a room lip-synching to the song. Both members of The Knife, Karin (also known as Fever Ray)(2) and Olof Dreijer, are visible in the video: Olof is seen dancing next to Engfors and flirting with him, and Karin appears at the end of the video, sitting at a table and looking at Engfors and Olof.
The narrative depicts a glamorous blonde singer — in real life, one of Sweden’s most well known female impersonators named Rickard Engfors — performing in what looks like a shabby community centre, to an initially disinterested audience. By the end of the song, however, the slinky diva has mesmerised not only one particular young man (Olof Dreijer from The Knife), who dances around her as though hypnotised, but also well and truly ‘owned’ the rest of the crowd whom similarly succumb to her charms.
The Knife is of particular interest to watch and analyse because of their tendency to overcome gender by either overtly playing with it or by disguising it. By using “seemingly-heterosexual” we are witnessing in the short and usually dialogue-free context of a music video that sexuality is only hazily legible through gestures, postures, styling, and stylizations that reference cultural and genre-specific norms outside the frame of the music video.
The knife in their songs alternate between both male and female perspectives in their perspective, crafting a space in which not only gender is in flux but sexuality as well. The Knife mostly does this by altering singer Karin Dreijer Andersson’s voice to sound like a man with fancy recording technology; but not all of the Knife’s gender politics occur from voice modification, as seen the in video for the Knife’s “Pass This On,” which happens to be a good launching point for exploring how these paradigms are subverted.
An analyst of this video, Louis-Manuel Garcia, on the “iaspm” website,who studied Ethnomusic for his Phd studies, tried and gave a very good, i could say also, ethnological analyse of this video and explains us why the director put that scenery and these characters on this video:
This music video, directed by Johan Renck, begins with a close shot of a hand adjusting an amplifier and using a laptop to start a recording. The hand’s nails are painted, and its wrist carries a pair of beaded bracelets; and yet, its arm has a wiry, veined musculature to it. Framing this collision of gender-embodiments, long and shiny blond hair hangs just inside the frame. A procession of wider shots from varying angles reveals a blonde drag performer with strikingly angular features swaying gently to her music as she prepares to perform for a small audience.
The small audience before her sits in an uncanny caricature of a Scandinavian football club or cultural club: small, wood paneling everywhere, dark landscape artwork on the walls, a stuffed bird, over-bright fluorescent lighting, minimalist wooden furniture, and tacky table settings. This club, however, is populated by an improbable mix of characters, nearly all of them legible—in the context of a Northern-European setting—as stereotypes associated with homophobia and genderphobia: several middle-aged men, with Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern appearances, referencing Europe’s primary “guest-worker” immigrant demographics; a few pairs of younger men of varying African and Mediterranean hues and mostly sporting casual or athletic street-wear, representing second-generation immigrant male youths; an older white woman and a man, both of whose attire and grooming index lower class status (read: culturally conservative); a young white woman with dark hair, leaning forward in her chair and staring intently (and note: unblinkingly) at the performance, whose identity does not necessarily index hostility, although her intense glare remains unsettling; and, leaning against a wall, a pair of very young-looking white men, whose appearances reference right-wing “thugs” (bomber jacket and military-style buzz-cut; white athletic jacket and a shaved head).
It is, by all appearances, a tough crowd. Most of the faces in the crowd are entirely flat, legible alternately as apprehensive, uncertain, hostile, uncomfortable, or simply impassive. But something changes when the performer sings, “I’m in love with your brother” (c. 1:47), looking over at the young white man in the blue bomber jacket, leaning against the wall. There’s a telescoping zoom on him and his companion as he returns her gaze. Cut to the performer touching her thighs provocatively. Cut back to the zoom on him, intercut with brief shots of the drag artist performing to/for him. His gaze is as fixed and unblinking as the young woman sitting and staring from the audience, who also appears increasingly in this montage. Still staring deeply at the performer, the young man in the blue jacket leaves his spot against the wall, passes his friend—who looks after him sullenly—and approaches her, dancing slowly. His eyes remain fixed on her, as if he were aware of nothing else in the room, and there begins a montage of (non-)reaction shots from those sitting in the audience, featuring a range of tense, awkward, and impassive expressions. One of the middle-aged, dark-featured men begins to move his hands to the music. A young man in a basketball jersey pulls himself out of his chair in a pop-locking move reminiscent of breakdancing. Another young man closes his eyes briefly, as if he were succumbing to some sort of internal pressure. Over the next ninety seconds or so, everyone else in the room follows suit and joins in the dancing—everyone except the younger white woman sitting at the table, still staring unblinkingly and motionlessly.
Once nearly everyone has joined in dancing, the music begins to fade out (3:40); it’s a sort of “sonic telescoping” fade-out, as the bass and treble ranges of the music are increasingly cut away, leaving a thin, tinny, middle-range remainder of the music. This last layer of sound disappears to reveal the quiet sound of the ceiling fan spinning. This lends a somewhat surreal feeling to the whole affair, as one now hears some diegetic sound (i.e., sound created by action taking place in the frame of the video), but other diegetic sound sources are silent (e.g., the dancing crowd, the performer). The final seconds of the video cut to a close-up of the young, non-participating woman, still sitting and staring intently at the action taking place in front of her. Her eyes finally begin to blink, and when her eyelids meet, the screen fades to black; in other words, the video stops only when she closes her eyes.
The director or “metteur en scène” Renck works to build an aesthetics of discomfort here. The film finds the painful, rumpus room décor, the apathetic-to-the-point-of-aggressive blank faces of the audience. Through the first half of “Pass This On,” much of the discomfort comes from the juxtaposition of a drag queen performer with an unsympathetic audience.
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