This week’s B-sides is in the flavor of “sad,” unfortunately, in the way that finding out a band I loved last year has taken some missteps since then. I first wrote about Warpaint last November (see the previous link), where I caught a little flak about thinking they’re pretty (heads up: still do) and also generated a thoughtful conversation about Native appropriation in the band’s name and aesthetic style. That discussion stayed with me, and the video NPR just released for Warpaint’s self-titled new single warrants further critical analysis.
The sticking point readers pointed out last year was that Warpaint has been flippant to the point of ignorance about the influence of American Indian cultures in the formation and styling of their band. In a 2010 interview for SXSW, Theresa, Jen, Stella and Emily were asked how they came up with the name Warpaint. Their response? “Stabs in the Dark, our Indian chief.” Totes clever with the double entendre, ladies, but cleverness and good looks are not a get-out-of-Orientalism-free card. Jessica Yee wrote a scathing indictment of Native appropriation by hipsters specifically in April of last year, which asks that those who invoke Indigenous cultures do so with an eye to history and the invoker’s specific placement in it. Considering that none of the band members quantified their Stabs in the Dark comment, or have ever commented publicly, to my knowledge, about their feathers-and-scarves heavy wardrobe, it’s worth questioning Warpaint’s engagement with racial posturing.
Now we come to the newly released video for the song “Warpaint.” It doesn’t deal with American Indian heritage, but it does highlight this band’s potential propensity for imagery sans consideration.
On the surface (har har), this video keeps with previous videos by Warpaint: dreamy, magical in a relatable, I-know-how-they-did-that way, soaked (I can’t help it!) in Southern California haze. But it gets real suicidal (literally) real quick. All of the characters in the video choose to go underwater, where they become fantastical versions of themselves. One in particular, though, holds just her head underwater in a bizarre basin in the middle of the woods, and when she emerges she has flowing red scarves tied around her wrists. Her land-based character has almost no back story, so whether or not she was trying to drown herself isn’t really explored. The blatant visual cue of bleeding from her wrists underwater, though, lends the few seconds we saw of her early in the video a disturbing undertone.
I’m NOT arguing here that images related to self-mutilation or suicide should not exist in art. But I am wary, after Warpaint’s demonstrated preference for creating aesthetics before doing their research, that their integrity and compassion in regards to an incredibly painful topic might not be as deep as their metaphor-laden ocean.
What are your thoughts on Warpaint’s choices? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section.