Originally I had planned on “Sacrilege” by the Yeah yeah yeahs as my first music video to review on this site. It only changed last minute before I began to make my first post. I personally think that the Yeah yeah yeahs have some of the best music videos of any artist and “Sacrilege” is probably my favorite among them. “Sacrilege” was released in 2013 and the music video is so well done that it might as well be considered a short film.
Now, I’m a sucker for a music video with a story to it, a plot that could show the song in a new light or bring more clarity to it and boy, does “Sacrilege” have a story. The lyrics of the song are really simple with few words, the first verse as follows “Fallen for a guy, fell down from the sky/ Halo round his head/ Feathers in a bed/ In our bed, in our bed,” this repeats twice, followed by the chorus “It’s sacrilege, sacrilege, sacrilege you say!” The chorus repeats several times and the only other verse is basically the same as the first with one minor change, “Asked if I would try/ To leave this all behind/ Halo round his head/ Feathers in a bed/ In our bed, in our bed.” The Yeah yeah yeahs seem to be using angelic imagery in the lyrics as a woman has “fallen for a guy” with a halo who leaves feathers in their bed. While the lyrics are simple the meaning behind them is rather deep and the video to the song is even more complex.
This is a music video that makes you think. Rolling Stone called the video “unsettling” and I can’t help but agree. But it’s unsettling in the same way a psychological thriller can mess with your mind.
The first time I saw the video I thought somebody had added movie clips to the song because it looked just like a movie cut into fractions. The second time I watched it, I realized the plot was not only nonlinear, it was going backwards. This made it more interesting to me and I watched it several more times, each time seeing something new about it.
When the video starts all you see is a large fire and several people walking away from it. The video jumps back in time and you see a young woman, half clothed, sitting next to a man wearing a mask whose been shot dead, surrounded by a murderous mob. Through several more of these time jumps you find out that the woman had been having an affair with a priest, the mob hunts them both down. They duct tape a rather sinister looking mask on the priests face, send him running down the road only to shoot him in the back. They then, take the girl and him (who’s already dead) to be burned in the fire.
While the mob are throwing torches on them, the camera pans over all of their faces and it flashes to the woman having sexual encounters with each person, including one other woman. For the final affair she is shown in a wedding dress, time then jumps to her getting married in a church. The man she is marrying you now see for the first time, he wasn’t in the mob or in any of the sexual encounters shown and of course the man conducting the ceremony is the same man she originally had an affair with. The whole mob is there as well, watching with smiling faces. The video ends with several shots of the church doors closing, flashing a large cross repeatedly as they do so.
Dictionary.com defines sacrilege as “the violation or profanation of anything sacred or that is held sacred.” This is important because the music video revolves around the idea of “sacrilege.” There were times in history when certain sacrilegious practices were punishable by death, much like the characters in this video were. But this video is not set in medieval times, based on the clothes and scenery it appears to be a very modern setting. However, the opening scene of the young women with her hands tied, sitting in the middle of a fire brings to mind the image of a witch being burned at the stake. Obviously, her sin was sleeping with a priest while the priest’s sin was breaking his vows of celibacy. And we can’t forget that the woman was married to a man who had no part in these executions.
This brings me to the flashbacks of her encounters with the people involved. Reading the YouTube comments for the video, there’s some debate as to whether these flashbacks were real occurrences or fantasies each of the people had about her. It’s interesting to me that she seems to be playing a role in each flashback that suits the person involved. She’s the conservatively dressed housewife for the older man, the bored teenager chewing bubble gum in the back of a car for the young man, for the mechanic she’s the tease running naked through his shop in broad daylight. She’s the classy lady drinking wine in the bathtub with the well-dressed gentleman who’s later seen fighting with his wife. The wife is in the next encounter, obviously representing the unhappily married woman with unfulfilled desires. The final flashback is with the town sheriff who, earlier in the video, is seen shooting the priest in the back. Now he’s seen with her in the bathroom on her wedding day in the very dress she was married in, the ultimate betrayal.
The question that plagues my mind when I watch the video and think in terms of this idea of “sacrilege” is, what’s the sacred object being violated here? The literal answer would be the priest since he is a sacred person. This could explain why they hid his face with a mask before they shot him, the mask looking demonic as a symbol of the priest’s sins. The lyrics “Fallen for a guy/ fell from the sky,” could allude to a fallen angel, much like the priest fell from sacrament by violating his vows.
However, since they all coveted the women so, perhaps she is considered sacred in their eyes. Perhaps the sacred object was their very own desires, the fantasies they held onto which were shattered at the realization that their fantasy was someone else’s reality. They then proceeded to destroy the couple as a way of destroying their own unfulfilled perversions.
This music video is the most intriguing I’ve ever witnessed and there are definitely multiple ways of looking at it. Feel free to comment if you have other ideas to add.