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· Culture Notes: Provider

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Culture Notes: Provider
by The Kindly One

N.E.R.D., "Provider"

This is easily one of my favorite videos of all time. It was released around the start of the current war, when the neo-eighties movement had already begun in Europe and had started to make waves in the States. This video gives a nod to the eighties without that obnoxious, smug, self-righteous quality normally associated with its revival, instead referencing the era's recession and large working class. This video is brilliantly shot, the undersaturation recalling the poor photographic standards of the time and the washed-out quality of photographed memories. At the same time, it's also an accurate depiction of color - in the height of summer, colors can't retain their brilliance.

Both the song and video are also deeply honest. Pharrell and company aren't doing anything grand here, just riding their bikes around and around the neighborhood, because when you're poor, what else are you going to do? There isn't the money available for supermodels, Cristal, or even for just getting out. The location shots and imagery are right on target, with no location having too much money or brilliance, and the casting is great. No one falls into the typical Hollywood trap of playing someone down and out while also, amazingly, having gleaming hair and a Pilates body.

The best element of this video is the song itself. Pharrell Williams wrote beautiful, honest music for N.E.R.D.'s In Search Of..., with this song being one of the album's best tracks. Pharrell managed to capture something in this song very rarely seen in popular culture about the working class - striving. The popular media likes to portray the working class generally as being dissolute, stupid, lazy, and criminal, without thought or deeper meaning, or no deeper meaning than as the butt of middle-class jokes. In this song, Pharell speaks to the common working class (really, human) experience of working for something more from life, striving for it, while being haunted by the demon of, "What if?," or, "Will I find my sanity/Where I find my glory?" Pharell's lyrics reveal a level of self-knowledge and experience that, though rarely expressed in the pop world, make for compelling lyrics, expressing the life experiences of millions who are typically spoken for rather than truly heard.

I can't say I'm crazy about the last bit protesting the war. It's not subtle, to say the least, so I console myself with the fact that Pharrell inverts his peace sign into a rude gesture towards the end.

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5/27/2009 [0]

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