I’ve been obsessed with basic questions ever since I read Sheila Heti’s “novel from life” (a cheap designation? Maybe.) How Should A Person Be? The question haunts me, not just in its simplicity, but in how its simplicity raises other questions. “Who are you?” I ask my boyfriend. “What am I?” I am a person—that much I can agree to, even day to day as my mood changes.
The best and worst thing about feeling like an artist is how other work forces feelings of obsolescence. Why do I keep writing when Arcade Fire keeps making music? Can I ever tell a story about rebellion and love and underground tunnels? Will my ruminating on the falseness of my first romantic relationship ever touch anyone emotionally as deeply as that sax solo in the first powerhouse single off 2013’s upcoming Arcade Fire double album, “Reflektors.”
Among my many claims to maturity is a commitment to no longer tweet song lyrics. But I could go on a tear with “Reflektor”: “I thought I found a way to enter, but it’s just a reflector. I thought I found a connector, but it’s just a reflector.”
What reaches people better is a video—some mix of music and images that matches the evocation of the song, something that both builds and demolishes mysteries.
Arcade Fire is a band that might not have existed without the Internet—something you can say about practically anyone these days. But I remember, living in New York in late 2003 and early 2004, Arcade Fire was a whisper on lips, a name that you were supposed to know if you wanted to be one of those people who knows things, a true Brooklyn Vegan reader and all that.
My sister Erin saw Arcade Fire years before me—in a living room of a bar in Lawrence, Kansas, the college town for KU and historical abolitionist hotspot. The New York shows sold out before I had a chance to see them. I wasn’t there when they set up shop in the 14th street subway station a handful of years ago, just like I wasn’t at their salsa gigs in Montreal last week.
I first saw the YouTube video for “Reflektor,” and was instantly transfixed by the mirror man, the papier mache bobbleheads, even Win Butler’s eye makeup. Feeling stymied by Halloween costume options, I leaned into the obvious: two days after “Reflektors” drops, I’m going to be a reflector. I always like the abstract costumes anyway.
Later that day, I looked up the Google Chrome customized video. I spent the same effort for 2010’s “We Used to Wait” experience—plugging my hometown address into the website for a suburban journey that especially reflected my own.
The two videos for “Reflektor” are vastly different. The YouTube video trades in grayscale, following persona changes and light variations. If you were an Arcade Fire fan—one who has been following along for, say, four or five albums—you got to saw yourself reflected back on the screen.
Not literally. Because if you have been following along with Arcade Fire for several years, they have imprinted on you. Their songs, the lyrics and chord changes, the way they drum on football helmets, the sometimes off-putting otherworldliness of Regine Chassagne’s voice, are as much a part of you as anything else. They are your reflektors.
The second video plays off the familiarity of the first. When you watch the video, allowing webcam access through Google Chrome, you are transported to Haiti. The band does not appear, and we follow a dancer through the streets. The dancer is abstracted by light play, enhanced by digital animation.
The webcam comes up when a tablet is offered to the dancer, and she rejects it. The viewer sees her own image in the broken screen.
The Atlantic discusses the anti-Internet indications of the song, and especially the personalized video. For me, the dual videos are no more performance art than any of Arcade Fire’s projects. Especially with the song “Reflektor,” the band is interrogating the origins of meanings. Who, or what, imprints on you, and why? Did you feel more connected to the band in masks or the Haitian dancer? Which one made you feel more? Which one made you want to dance?