Lesson one: English degrees are highly dangerous things, because, at least in my experience, I find it impossible to switch off and enjoy art for its own sake. Everything demands analysis. The only way to keep ‘switching off’ is to literally do so, by falling asleep (shout out to Baz Lurhmann’s Gatsby adaptation, you succeeded where many had failed). The following is the first part of what might be a series, in which I read or watch something mindless, and apply English-degree levels of analysis to something that certainly does not demand it.
Up first, the ingenius, and in my opinion, the greatest YouTube troll currently operating: Three Beat Slide. Three Beat Slide is a blindingly white father-son-daughter musical group whose sole drive is to garner as much hatred as possible. This is achieved through a scintillating combination of awful songwriting and totally un-ironic, deadpan delivery, which of course invites questions as to whether it actually is serious or not. Ultimately it’s down to interpretation. Three Beat Slide, however, are the first target in my What English Degrees Do To Me series. Without further ado, the surefire holiday classic, We Need Some Snow:
IT’S ABOUT COCAINE ADDICTION.
The chorus makes it plain enough, but both the lyrics and the visual metaphors on show in the video beg further interrogation.
‘We need some snow, some beautiful snow
To brighten up our day’
Huge warning sign right from the off. Real snowfall is of course impossible without clouds, so there’s no way that the process of snowing could possibly make your day brighter. It therefore has to be a reference to cocaine. Boom.
Later on we hear from the son that ‘Christmas time is my favourite time of year.’ This also raises concerns. Any true Three Beat Slider worth their salt will tell you that in the group’s first smash hit, Summertime Is Great, this same child stated that Summertime was in fact his favourite time of year. What could have caused this shift in loyalties to the polar opposite of his initial seasonal preference? Obviously drug addiction. I suppose it does make sense- during the summer, friends are all out of school, but I’d say that a greater proportion of the Christmas holidays are spent with family at home. The cold weather is another excuse to stay inside with your strange family and your ‘beautiful snow’.
These facial expressions tell a story of their own:
It seems that the daughter has been hit hardest by the addiction; she looks less manically euphoric about the mere prospect of ‘snow’ than the other two. In fact she’s been so crippled by her dependency on the drug, it seems that her family have taken to knitting the respective name of each item of clothing on her clothes themselves, in case she forgets:
The story of the video is simple enough to follow. The trio have run out of ‘snow’, pray fervently to their strange and wondrous cocaine deity, which appears to be the baby Jesus, the omniscient supplier, and set out into the woods, ostensibly to cut down a Christmas tree, but most likely to carve out a new deal. Santa, it must be noted, acts as courier, delivering the ‘snow’ later on at the end of the video.
Observe the faces of withdrawal as the trio ventures into the woods:
Contrast with their apparent delight as they dash back, having agreed upon the deal:
We then see a rather touching scene of the entire family, mother included (which I think might be the only appearance of the mother in the entire Three Beat Slide canon) decorating the tree, one of the few scenes where they are doing something normal. One could argue that the shots of them cutting down the tree are also viable examples, but as that was all a ruse, possibly to fool the mother, to agree a deal for more ‘snow’, it loses some of its earnestness. However, the predominance of the colour white, and what it probably represents, undercuts the shot with a mood of futility:
This motif is seen again in the blurred shot of the clock towards the beginning, illustrating the trio’s succumbing to addiction and inability to keep track of time:
This dark underbelly of the trio’s love of ‘snow’ is seen again in the shot of the model train, a toy that brings childlike happiness, just like the drug. On the other hand, no matter how elaborate the track, or shall we say, the ‘trip’, continues, it will always ultimately be a circle. The trio is trapped by their own love. Also, doesn’t that sign above the toy controller’s office look at first sight, perhaps intentionally, like ‘Lonelyville’?
As the song comes to a close, we see Santa, or the ‘courier’ delivering suspiciously drug-sized packages in the living room:
However, now we get a horrifying revelation. The trio is hiding in wait for the courier, as if planning to steal his entire inventory. The deal they made in the woods, it seems, is not enough:
There’s no doubt, based on those expressions, what they want. The question is, do they get it? The ‘courier’ is most likely armed, but on the other hand, he is outnumbered. But we never find out. We cut to a shot of a candy cane, surrounded by bloody red light, symbolising a violent confrontation, and then, with the same blurring effect used on that shot of the clock at the beginning of the video, we fade to black.
If you can bear to listen to it, We Need Snow is a seminal song about addiction, up there with Heroin by the Velvet Underground, or The Needle and the Damage Done by Neil Young. The genius of it is that its ostensibly awful surface expertly disguises the poignancy and complexity beneath it. It’s a bit like Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A., a song rolled out for presidential campaigns every four years, but it’s actually a deeply disillusioned song, rather than the impassioned patriotic one for which it is often mistaken. The reason We Need Snow uses such simplistic and arguably childlike melodies is because the group of people in the song, the speakers, have almost emotionally and intellectually regressed due to their crippling and compulsive need for more ‘snow’. This is supported by the labelling of clothing to remind them what it is, how it functions. The wishes of cheer for all those watching in this context could just as well be a goodbye to the world of Christian morality that they have now left behind. It’s a cry for help. But when a song is so…basic, so melodically discordant, so raw and primal, it’s something much more disturbing. It’s a scream of unhinged terror into the night, a scream that never leaves them, as the only people left to hear it instead humiliate them based on the mere surface of the song, while ignoring the tragic subtleties of their songwriting. So there we have it. Three Beat Slide may be a group of idiots. They may be professional trolls. But there is something special in their art, for an English student.
However, the curse of being an English student is that we get brainwashed into thinking there is something special in all art.
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