Horror, Art and Adam Levine

Someone told me I was “sick” today. It’s not the first time, but I’ll admit, the accusation was kind of surprising. I thought, “Am I sick?” Probably a little. I mean, this virus I’ve fought for weeks just won’t go away. And then I was all “Oh, they probably meant mentally ill. Like a psycho.” Then I was kind of offended, because I’m hardly chopping up bodies for dinner or masturbating to snuff films. (If that’s your thing, so be it, but let’s all agree it is kind of outside the norm, folks.) Anyway, that spiralled into a total over-analyzing of my likes and dislikes, and I concluded that it all boiled down to my perception of art versus other people’s.

Let me explain.

So, I am in love with Adam Levine, and not just because he’s hot shit. His creative genius and talent are admirable. I’m kind of jealous. Okay, not kind of. Total green monster happening here. Anyway, as many of you know, when I write, I need music. Whether it’s the song’s melody, energy or lyrics, I tend to have a few selected tunes that get the writing mojo flowing . And I play them over and over and over… you get the idea.

My most recent obsession is Animals, by Maroon 5. The lyrics, the melody, every part of this song works for the lizard part of my brain, which is the part that is in charge of the darker bits. I added it to my playlist the second I heard it.

And then I watched the video.

I was breathless. No, it wasn’t Adam’s half-naked meat room scenes, nor was it his disturbingly convincing portrayal of a psychopath. It was both of those things and all the other things. The horror lover inside of me squealed with glee, and the sensible female in me shivered with a tiny bit of fear. (Don’t tell anyone, okay?) The video climbs inside your head and makes you uncomfortable. It makes you sick, excited, angry, and the list goes on. Someone actually said I was sick for loving the video so hard. And I was all “Wha?” because as I watched the video, I never imagined people would be offended by it. But they are. Just read the comments on YouTube. Folks have some VERY strong opinions about the video, which I think makes it 100% successful.

Wait, you’re thinking. These commenters hated the video. They hate Adam Levine and Maroon 5 for making it. They’re disgusted. How is that a success?

Most of them are outraged. And I have theory as to why they’re outraged. But first, let’s look at the video for what it is: art. Only a few commenters on YouTube seem to see the purpose behind the disturbing theme and images. Like me, they smile at the tirades about how it promotes violence or glamorizes evil and unthinkable things like stalking, rape and murder. Why smile? Because we know that’s not the intent behind the video. It is art. It is entertainment. It is horror. And just as horror films and books have done for years, it is serving its purpose by touching the darkest parts of your brain.

Writing songs, films, and even music videos is similar to writing books. Actually, they’re pretty much the same in terms of intent. You want to connect with your audience. You want to touch them in that special place they hide from the rest of the world. You want to affect them so deeply, they think of the piece you created, and have those feelings come flooding back long after they finished watching/listening/reading.

This is why I love horror fiction. I don’t write a lot of horror anymore, but every time I dabble in it, there’s a part of my writer brain that clicks in place, and the world is right again. Of all the genres out there, horror has the greatest capacity for inciting the most powerful of feelings. I mean, the defining characteristic of horror fiction is the intention to evoke fear, revulsion and fascination. Those three emotions are potent and it’s extremely difficult to elicit all of them at the same time. The video does this very well. You’re fearful, because you know damn well the guy Adam portrays in the video is out there, and no one suspects what he does at night in his meat room. You’re repulsed by the images you see, by his behavior (that smile), and a little uncomfortable at the fascination you feel, the thrill that tickles, uninvited and unwanted, up your spine when he follows her to the bar, when he lies next to her while she sleeps… when the blood washes over their naked bodies. Beautiful.

Yes, I said beautiful. The imagination behind the story, the message in the lyrics (which can be interpreted in many ways), the twinkle in Levine’s eyes as he smiles at the camera, most likely fully aware of the people that will be angered by the whole thing, is quite simply, breathtaking. (Insert long, slow clap here.)

If the story told in the video were a book, it’d be sitting on the Horror shelf at your local bookstore, but no one would bat an eye over its existence. Readers would accept what it does. After all, horror fiction questions everything. It doesn’t allow the reader to take anything for granted. It’s not safe, sometimes it’s not fun, and it’s definitely not comfortable. Yet readers enter into the world of horror of their own free will again and again.

Horror is beautiful as long as you know it’s horror. It lets the writer move in many directions. We can shock, educate and thrill. We can disgust, disillusion and seduce. The creators behind this video knew that. Every time a viewer expresses their scorn, the video scores another win, because it’s art and when art touches you deeply enough to elicit a reaction as strong as hate, well the creator knows he’s done his job.

And I think this is why haters of the music video get so bent out of shape. It’s the same reason I get pissed off when people post pictures of abused animals and children on Facebook. I go to Facebook to decompress, to amuse myself. I don’t want to think about reality. Jesus, people. So imagine you’re one of these angry commenters. You’re searching through YouTube, just putting in time, being entertained. Then you spy a Maroon 5 video. “Oh look, it’s new. I haven’t seen this one.” All the while, you might be imagining Adam Levine’s tasty ass or sexy-as-shit smile (Not that shit is sexy. Don’t take that literally. It’s just a figure of speech.) Your fluttery heart is all “Oh, I can’t wait to hear his sweet, sweet voice.” Butterflies surround your brain, and then the video begins. Pretty girl. Normal. Adam as an average Joe. Normal. Butcher shop? Meh. Okay. Photographs… hoody wearing weirdo in the rain… blood?!

What’s happened here? You didn’t expect the horror. You don’t anticipate the depravity. You’re shocked to confront the little truths the images force you to see. Why are you outraged? Because you weren’t willing.

Maybe the video had no artistic intent behind it. Maybe Maroon 5 is surprised that people are offended. Maybe they want people to be offended. Maybe they just thought the story made a cool video and it’s as simple as that. I don’t know. The point of this post is instead of going straight to “OMG, I’m so offended right now I could shit”, I suggest you take a step back the next time you see art that disturbs you (no matter what the form said art takes). Look a little deeper and maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll see the creator’s true message hiding beneath the ugly surface, and it might be beautiful, intelligent or (gasp) enlightening.

6 thoughts on “Horror, Art and Adam Levine

  1. While I agree that horror is definitely art, and videos are art, and horror videos are art, and Marron 5 definitely scored with that one, and while I’m a huge fan of horror and mostly immune to gore, sadism, and a lot of really sick stuff, THIS VIDEO irks me.

    To me, this video is a huge trigger for stalking and rape victims (for any kind of victims to male abuse or psychopathic behavior), and while its artfully executed (absolutely no argument there), it fails on a fundamental level for me — it glorifies the psychotic behavior and the psycho’s reasons through its artsyness, and portrays the victim as seductive and willing. That’s a HUGE problem IMO. It takes a dangerous approach, especially given the prevalence of rape culture and sexual inequality.

    There was a guy once who literally shat paintings. He pumped paint up his ass, and shat it on a canvas. He called it art. He sold it to insane buysers for huge sums of money. Is it art? Is he brilliant for thinking of this, and doing it? Questionable. It certainly caused a shitstorm (heh) of arguments about what art really is, what its purpose should be. In my opinion, if no one gains anything from what’s being created, except money, that’s not art. It’s commerce. I dare to presume that’s the case with this video too. Maroon 5 resuscitated their money-maker machine by pissing people off.


    I’m a Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor fan, and if there are any really creepy-ass videos out there, those two have probably been involved. Or Chris Cunningham (just check out his videos for Come to Daddy or Rubber Johnny and tell me those aren’t disturbing).
    While these guys regularly shock (for multiple reasons, money of course too), and sing about murder, violence, rape and sodomy, torture and cannibalism, etc, and the videos are really inventive and artsy, or just fuck-ass creepy (like this one or this one by Manson, or this one by Trent), they never (to my knowledge) attempt to make the behaviors portrayed appear normal, mainstream, acceptable or beautiful. I think that’s probably what irks me about the Maroon 5 video most.

    1. I disagree with most of what you’ve said, though you’re welcome to your opinions of course. First, to me, singing about cannibalism, torture, violence, rape, or murder is feeding the money machine too. The videos don’t have to glamorize these things if the lyrics already do so. And lyrics are a lot more powerful than a few images.

      Second, what’s beautiful about the Animal video is that it punches you in the gut, and it forces discussion, which is awesome. These behaviors should be discussed. And they’re not making stalking or rape look normal or acceptable at all, nor are they making her look willing. It’s clear his behavior isn’t right or okay, and she doesn’t welcome it. At the end of the video, when they show him opening his eyes, as though dreaming. it indicates her “willingness” is all in his head.

      Finally, I always wonder when we start freaking out over inequality and such, if the same reaction would occur should the roles be reversed. If a female singer portrayed the stalker, the man becoming the victim. Would it seem as outrageous? I doubt it.

      1. The lyrics of Manson & co don’t glamorize any of those things, quite the contrary. They’re usually portraying decay into insanity, remorse, guilt, etc.

        I am quite sure people would be equally outraged at a woman stalker bathing in the blood of her victim, if it were mostly women who stalk and murder men in relaity, causing it to be a general safety issue for all men.

  2. I don’t listen to Manson and co, nor do I watch their videos, so you may be right there. I don’t know. As to the other, there’s no implication that the blood in the video is the victim’s, since she’s alive in his mind. And women DO stalk men, and they murder them. While it’s not considered a safety issue, primarily because most men don’t report it, it still happens and probably more often than we realize. It should be viewed as reprehensible as if a man were doing it, even if the woman isn’t perceived as a threat by the rest of the world.

      1. It wouldn’t be as pleasant to watch, but the message would be the same. Would it be as reprehensible if the model were the aggressor and the man helpless to stop her? We could do that circle all day and get nowhere.

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