I lived most of my teen years during the 1980s, which is to say I pretty much grew up during the 80s. Musically speaking, I’ll always think of this as the video era: the MTV generation, the time when image—specifically, what a band or artist looked like and how they presented their music in videos—meant the difference between success and failure. Yes, it was a time of glorious excess.
Because of the reliance on videos, I’m sure some music became popular that never would have gained an audience without the visuals, and probably as a result of poor video choices, some artists failed whose music deserved a better fate. MTV promoted the airing of a new video by a big-name band for weeks ahead of its debut, much like movie releases. Some of the best videos were high-quality mini-movies, with intriguing storylines, special effects, and large casts.
And then that fad faded. MTV got into broadcasting all sorts of content besides music videos. No one really seems to spend much time on videos anymore.
So imagine my surprise when I came upon a music video made just a couple of years ago that took me back to the halcyon days of music videos. The song is called “The Things We Believe In” and the artist is a German band called Orden Ogan. The video, released in September 2012, looks like a dystopian sci-fi tale. Take a look:
In this case, I had heard the song and liked it before seeking out the video. Nonetheless, I believe a well-made video such as this can affect the way you interpret the song, the impression it makes on you, the way it makes you feel. Plus, with the heat of summer coming on us, isn’t it nice to revel a bit in all that snow?
I think video impressions can extend even beyond the individual song to influence how you view the entire album, especially when it’s a first release from the album. There’s clearly an ice theme going on throughout the album (CD) from which this song comes, To the End, as some of the other song titles attest: “The Frozen Few,” “The Ice Kings,” “This World of Ice.” Of course, the CD cover also carries the snow theme:
Clearly, the video is part of the total package. However, if there’s an actual story Orden Ogan is trying to tell, I have yet to suss it out.
A fun, well-made video would mean little if the song itself didn’t hold up, and “The Things We Believe In” has much to recommend it. It’s a song that sounds like it’s selling a very positive message—the music is quick, lively, upbeat, with a chorus that would surely get any arena on its feet. I’m not so sure of the meaning, though, when I look closer at the lyrics.
In line with the video, the lyrics seem to describe a post-apocalyptic world, a probable nuclear holocaust:
The eternal winter is near
A million lives just wiped away without a sound
Leaving a dead world in fear
And while the chorus sounds like a positive anthem, a call to action, the message is a little more ambiguous:
We should die for the things we believe in
But live our lives in the dark, self-deceiving
In the snow, all the world that we knew is ice
. . . and so we are: Cold, Dead and Gone
These lines raise a lot of questions for me. Are there none left but the dead, everyone’s a ghost? Or are those left alive just waiting to die? Is it a mistake that we live on if our beliefs aren’t achieved? What beliefs are worth dying for? Or are they saying that no belief is worth dying for, that to think so is to live in the dark, self-deceiving? It’s a big tangled up pickle, to be sure.
The second verse poses the question
How can we ignite the flame while missing the true spark
Or have we reached the end of things?
We are left with wolves howling and hearts of ice, not a pleasant picture—although it still sounds quite lovely. In the video, at least, there’s something like a positive conclusion: It’s still an ice-bound world, but they’ve come together and seem to have found the spark that restores life and unity.
What do you think? Do you have anything you believe in enough that you would die for it? Family? Career? Would you die to ensure your literary legacy? (It’s happened before.) But if you’re tempted to respond with such easy platitudes as “faith” or “freedom” or “patriotism,” I suggest you try a little harder and uncover the meaning beneath the words—don’t be fooled by the glossy video image. Examine well and don’t live in darkness!
Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins