May 16, 2017
So tells me it took her a month to clean out her tub after the shoot. In the last shot of her new music video, United States of Deprivation, musician So Brown is coated in what looks like an oil slick in a white bathtub filled with the same. The darkness is there, collecting in private places. But if we follow So’s example, can we speak back to it?
It’s So’s birthday today, and to celebrate, she’s released the video that she premiered last month at Brooklyn’s legendary Jalopy Theatre & School of Music. She was looking for a celebratory setting to birth her light/dark vision to the world, and the birthplace was the Jalopy I know and love: old-school, local. I was there, along with many of my neighbors, and it felt like an intimate community ritual before I even learned that my neighbors’ kid is transgender. So doesn’t describe herself as transgender – maybe genderqueer: she sometimes goes by “he” and sometimes “she.” I’m using she/her for this post because I don’t think she really cares. It’s a reality as ordinary as the convivial chatter from Jalopy’s church-like pews intermingling with So’s pre-show playlist: Johnny Cash, Wyclef Jean, Curtis Mayfield, Paul Simon. So opened the evening with a live performance of a few of her own songs. Then the video.
So’s new track is a rap, poised at the intersection of the personal and political. A nature-lover from Texas and Alabama, So was deeply troubled by the gulf oil spill and its ongoing devastation. She is sensitive to poisonings, raised to deny herself, pushed to be more “a girl” than she actually was, and deprived of the emotional and social nourishment ordinary humans need to thrive. Her rap draws loose parallels to a range of similarly deprived states, from her own youth and marine life, to Flint, Michigan, the compromised girls in an Alabama juvenile detention center that she was deeply moved to meet, and the xenophobic political backlash that currently engulfs us all. “I actually wrote the song a couple years ago,” she noted in a recent interview “and it was so raw, no one really knew what to do with it. Then the election happened, and all the sudden, everyone got it.” But it’s not a typical angry protest song. “Someone came up to me at a show,” says So, “a folk guy from the 60’s, and he said ‘this is a true protest song, but with the finger pointed at self.'”
The video is a dark foray into the American underbelly, tapping into an artistic legacy that is equal parts Johnny Cash and Lil Wayne. It paints a map of the United States with multiple characters – seemingly different versions of So – in each setting. Alternately male and female, clean cut and then abused, a unified yet broken whole emerges from these vignettes. But these many images of So, strong images, suggest a kind of answer. She looks like a privileged dapper gent in a suit, tie and eyeglasses, and ready to take it outside in a leather bomber jacket and t-shirt, yet does not eschew competing images of near-femininity. A sweet young boy that seems to represent So as a child strikes me as the innocence and honesty we can all hope to reclaim. At the same time, that darkness sticks – from tiny drops on the young boy’s fingertips to So’s entire nude body in the tub – oily, opaque, suffocating, impossible to totally remove. Her track peaks at an emotional “fuck you,” where she gives us a not-quite-wholeness that does its best despite the missing pieces, or crafts its own wholeness out of that state if not fully healing it.
The video is shot beautifully, with gorgeous pictures and colors in settings back-woods and urban. The track was produced by the Grammy-nominated Jack Mason, and the video directed by Josh Victor Rothstein and Lydia Bottom, with beautiful camera work by Matt Garland and Taylor McIntosh.
But excuse my enthusiastic ramble, when you should just click on the link below and watch it yourself. What sticks? I think So wants you to decide.
Video here: https://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=rwxokYuVX0k Single available here: https://store.cdbaby. com/cd/sobrown4 So Brown United States of Deprivation Music Video Written and Performed by So Brown "United States of Deprivation" produced by Jack Mason http://www.jackmasonrecording. com Directed by Josh Victor Rothstein and Lydia Bottom http://www.joshrothstein.com Starring So Brown and Rafi Rogers Cinematography - Matt Garland and Taylor McIntosh Edited by Zach Isaac Wardrobe Stylist - Basia Zamorska Hair and Make Up Artist - Jenni Shaw and Merideth Haring Graphic Design - Marce Avelar http://sobrownmusic.com https://www.facebook.com/ sweetsobrown/ https://www.instagram.com/ sweetsobrown/