With all of the shitty things happening in the world in 2016 thus far, let’s appreciate that the year has also offered a welcome reprieve with a renaissance of the ever-popular, ever-awesome trope of “kid with special powers” in film (I see you, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL and STRANGER THINGS!) This gives me an excuse to finally write about M83’s Trilogy, since 2012 didn’t seem long ago enough for me to write an anniversary piece or anything like that. I guess I get off from withholding, a la Lucille Bluth, and adhere to a strict but admittedly arbitrary code and timeline regarding pop culture references and when I'm allowed to write about them.
A music video collaboration with design group Fleur & Manu, the Trilogy consists of three music videos, over which unfolds a tale of the escape, chase, and subsequent freedom of a group supernaturally gifted children. It is awesome.
First, “Midnight City” introduces us to a special children’s institution and our group of protagonists. The new kid gets everyone riled up and they bust out of there, leading to a day of good old-fashioned juvenile debauchery in an abandoned warehouse: kicking bricks around, levitating trailers, and creating a sunset with THEIR MINDS. As the most popular song in M83's repertoire, it's likely this is the video that most people have seen. And since it actually works great as a stand-alone piece, further M83 video exploration may have fallen by the wayside. But there's so much more and I'm here to lay it at your feet.
“Reunion,” the second part of the story, reveals that one poor little girl was left behind. The institution scientists have her hooked up to wires so she can home in on the runaways’ location. Now the kids are in trouble and get cornered by an SUV, which they play mind tug-of-war with (little girl is using her brain power from inside the institution to heave the car at them, rude). The runaways win, breaking her out of her wire trance, so she escapes, presumably putting the pain on her captors first (and rightly so.) The runaways gather in a church and beam themselves up, up, and away from this planet. Honestly this one is the least memorable to me, as the song and story are least compelling. But they do throw in a timely Beastie Boys reference (Adam Yauch Ave, the year of his death) so it has its merits.
If you don’t think “Wait,” the Trilogy’s grand finale, is one of the most beautifully epic things ever, you are wrong and should probably watch it again (and again and again.) The little girl who got left behind has decimated the planet, seeking to get rid of all the bad things on it. She is busy becoming the new Mama Earth and living my fantasy (I too am often tempted to go live in the wilderness with dogs.) Meanwhile, in space, the leader of the runaways channels his inner Dave from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and travels in his pyramid monolith back down to Earth, trippy light show and all. Children- they are our future, and the Trilogy interprets this quite literally as it ends with the kids reclaiming the Earth.
These music videos are the type that I throw in the face of people like my dad, who’s one of those who deplores the idea of the music video and thinks The Replacements’ “Bastards of Young” video – the ultimate fuck-you to MTV video culture – is the best thing ever. To be fair, he grew up without music videos and so finds them to be unnecessary visual decoration for art that should be able to stand alone audibly. While I understand the sentiment, I genuinely believe that the music video can offer further, sometimes even meaningful, exploration of music. When it’s done well, there’s no reason not to give the process as much credit as a composer gets for creating a film soundtrack. It’s just that instead of creating sound to complement a picture, the focus is reversed. In M83's case, their dreamy electronic pop is given visual agency to further invoke the feelings that the songs stir up, as well as allowing us as listeners a chance to view the artist's pictorial interpretation of his/her own work. For every Trilogy there's a hundred decidedly less inspiring or even worthwhile music videos out there, but so it goes with any art form. When a good piece surfaces, it's pretty special.