Saturday, May 12, 2018

Classic Music Videos: Sting, "Fortress Around Your Heart"

Different eras have different color palettes. I read a New Yorker article about this once, and it fascinated me. All of a sudden designers of clothing and consumer products will decide that certain colors are "in." This is what gave us that avacado green and sunflower yellow refrigerators of my early childhood memories.

After the earth tone explosion of the late 70s and early 80s, pastels came back hard, but so did gray. Don't believe me? Just check out the original NES system.

The use of neutral colors, especially gray, saturated so much at the time, from suits to appliances. It even extended to the world of music videos. The dayglo fantasia of 80s MTV coexisted with vids that were much more self-consciously "serious." These tended to be made by artists who were both popular and trying to "say something."  (Just think of the U2 video for "With Or Without You.")

Sting, of course, fit that bill perfectly. It is difficult to remember, but at this time he was one of the top pop stars, not yet an avatar for the lamest middle of the road. And to drive that point home, the video for "Fortress Around Your Heart" starts in color, but when he starts to perform, it goes to black and white. But it is a washed out, gray black and white. During the part in color he is cajoled by an oily guy in a bad suit to perform in front a video camera, perhaps Sting's commentary on MTV. Like all serious 80s artists, he must communicate that he is above the machinery of the music biz. It's a thoroughly gentrified version of punk rock values.

Now I must admit that I still like the song alright. It has a haunting feeling to it and the chorus is super catchy. This is not the joyously stupid 80s of partying while capitalism runs amok. It is a relic of the 80s of fears of nuclear war, of fretting over what is being lost in the Reagan/Thatcher onslaught. As tame as the implicit critique is, the pop music world today still mostly churns out hymns of self-affirmation or materialistic party music. The threat of annihilation persists, but now it is the earth itself we fear, and not nukes, and we all know, deep down, this time the apocalypse will not be averted.

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