Music videos are a tough medium to master. Videos need a striking visual that draws attention to the song in any way possible in the short time of an average pop song. The temptation is to rely on safe methods, but it’s when you get a video that experiments with storytelling that you truly get a classic.
Most music videos feature the band miming to the song, maybe spiced up with a little bit of sexuality, dancing or plot. It’s a safe method, even if the video is terrible:
Often, videos merely are a literal visual representation of the lyrics; a relatively safe option, since the lyrics provide the template for the video:
The most challenging option, however, is to create a music video that tells a different story without cutting to shots of the band miming. This is much more difficult; brains are pattern finding machines, and it’s easy to enjoy a video that plays it safe.
But a non-traditional video not only bucks what the brain expects, but must quickly tell a whole story with a beginning, middle and end with little to know dialogue. The entire story becomes a wordless picture book; every scene has to count. These kinds of videos are uncommon because it’s so difficult, but successful non-traditional videos stand out from the sea of YouTube and Vevo detritus. And Klingande’s “Riva (Restart the Game)” does this — and it’s brilliant.
But first, who is Klingande?
He’s a French producer, specializing in tropical house. His musical idols are Swedish, so he chose the name “Klingande,” — Swedish for “chiming.” Last year he struck gold with the breezy “Jubel”; the song’s summery saxophone perfectly soundtracked many a lazy stoned day at the beach, and it was a hit across Europe (in the U.S., the song was relegated to minor success on dance radio).
But it’s with the new video for “Riva (Restart the Game)” where Klingande and directors Johan Rosell & Michael Johansson up their game.
Riva is Swedish for “seize,” and Klingande does exactly that here. Expanding upon the success of “Jubel,” “Riva” trades the breezy saxophone for dark, spooky organ and harmonica flourishes. Combined with haunting backing vocals weaving in and out, the song has a dark, brooding feel, as if it’s hiding a secret…
The music video brilliantly builds upon the song’s autumnal feel. The lyrics tell a generic “move on from the woman who hurt you” story you’ve heard a million times before. “Riva” could’ve been a straight-forward “you don’t need her!” music video, complete with a boys’ night in Vegas, an orgy in the hotel room and a closing shot of the guy looking longingly at a picture of the girl on his phone.
Instead, we’re treated to something entirely different:
The plot of “Riva” centers around a young girl who discovers an abandoned Volkswagen van (the same one from the “Jubel” video!) in the middle of a Swedish forest. The van’s keys are mysteriously left in the ignition, and Klingande’s symbol (a “K” in a triangle) hangs as a necklace from the mirror. The girl quickly pockets the keys and the necklace and joins the others picking berries.
When the girl and the others return to the village, they present the berries to an old woman dressed in blue: The Matriarch of the cult. Those who do not bring back enough berries are hauled off and presumably killed. However, the child’s bounty warrants a warm touch on the cheek from the Matriarch.
Amidst the daily chores and bizarre rituals (which include drinking a potion from the most-likely-hallucinogenic berries), the girl shows the key to her mother, in the hope that they can escape. However, the mother, horrified at the discovery, rings the alarm, effectively sentencing her child to death. The Matriarch snatches the key, and before you know it, there’s a bonfire with more ritualistic dancing. While not shown, we can assume the girl was burnt alive. A bright, colorful Katy Perry video, this is not.
The music video for “Riva” expertly tells a dialogue-free story whose imagery is completely divorced from the rather-ho-hum lyrics. No words are used, so facial expressions do the heavy lifting. From the look of horror on the girl’s face when her mother rings the alarm, we know something very bad is about to happen. Likewise, the mother’s face at the 3:42 mark is the pained expression of someone devastated by doing the “right” thing. Even the Matriarch’s face at the 3:52 mark betrays the harrowing look of someone who did something unspeakably awful for the good of the whole. In this sense, “Riva” is able to tell a complete, effective story without any words at all.
The music video obviously cribs from a few different sources: It’s basically 75% The Village by M. Night Shyamalan, 20% “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, and 5% “Wake Me Up” by Avicii. But because it tells such a disturbing story so well, without words or obvious lyrical interpretation, the video for “Riva” stays with you long after the last note has faded. The song’s shot at chart glory has passed (it was only a minor hit in Europe), but the striking video suggests that Klingande is a storyteller with a few more tricks up his sleeve.