Daniel Oore (IICSI, MUN) analysis of Anderson .Paak’s “Tints”

Independent contribution to: “‘Tints’: Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar, and Colin Tilley ‘Get Up in Our Rearview Mirror’,” w/ Carol Vernallis (Stanford), Steven Shaviro (Wayne State), Lauren Cramer (U of T), Jonathan Leal (USC), Anders Aktor Liljedahl (U of Copenhagen), Eduardo Viñuela (U of Oviedo); accepted to Quarterly Review of Film and Video journal, Routledge, Taylor & Francis.

This article explores tensions created between four narrative oppositions: public/private, exposing/masking, individual/human, and realism/fantasy.

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For me, Tints explores the tension between public and private, by exposing and masking the individual and human selves. Tints then, explores three interrelated tensions: public and private, exposing and masking, and individuality and humanness. These tensions function connectively, they tell stories… and in telling stories, a fourth opposition, between realism and fantasy, is blurred.[1] How do these stories make me feel?

The video begins with a quote attributed to Edgar Allen Poe: “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.” Fittingly (and ironically), this is a modified wording of the sentence published in Poe’s “The System of Dr. Tarr and Mr. Fether,”: “Believe nothing you hear, and only one-half that you see.” Poe’s story explores issues of madness, institutionalization, and curing through a “soothing system” in which the patients are allowed and, in fact, encouraged to live their fantasies of how they fancy themselves, in costume and disguise.[2] In Tilley’s Tints, we see .Paak imprisonned and also continuously re-disguised in different costumes, including as a physician… like in Poe’s original story, where patients and doctors switch roles. Is .Paak, too, living out a series of mad fantasies? The fantasies are book-ended by a realist depiction of an argument between .Paak and his female companion.

The Poe quote also asks us to consider how we perceive the world, as consumers of the music video: it instructs us how to perceive the music video itself (e.g. skepticism towards its visuals and dismissal of the music and lyrics?). The tension between the music video’s thematic oppositions asks us to reflect on perspective and truth… “I don’t think you [sic] ready for that type of honesty” replies .Paak (at the very end of the music video) to the woman imploring (at the beginning of the music video) that she wants to live in an “unmasked world.” [3] Does she mean she wants to be unmasked as a unique individual (she remains an anonymous character) or as a common human? [4] The song’s lyrics continually reference various states of unmaskedness (e.g.: look at, showin-out, fish bowlin’, ghost ridin’, phantom, blackout, won’t see me coming). For a Black man (e.g. in the context of racial profiling), the implication of being unmasked as an individual or human, is a matter of life and death… “way too much to lose.”

Tints expresses the tension of public and private. The privacy of moments in bedrooms, in closing shop, cam girl and peep shows, in a motel (that refuge of anonymity), a physician’s office, a group counseling session, is disrupted in the middle of the music video with the publicness of spinning cars. Tinted windows simultaneously hide individuality (e.g. from “paparazzi” or police), while drawing singular attention to themselves (a phenomenon with many names and manifestations, from psychological reactance to the Streisand effect).

Cars in Black music and culture (their customizations, including tints, and manner of use) are a means of expressing identity and style through financial and aesthetic power transcending oppressive contexts, and this identity, with cars, is policed.[5] Tints signifies on this transcendence by juxtaposing scenes of .Paak imprisoned and bloodied in a car trunk with .Paak car spinning, a motorsport that originated as a funerary ritual in racially oppressed conditions of Soweto gang culture. References to “tint,” in music (in song title or lyrics) are numerous. In Black music idioms (including rap, hip-hop, R&B), “tints” usually refers to tinted car windows, and signifies on status, wealth, aesthetics, privacy and fame, and/or taboo activities (e.g. sex, drugs).[6] (There’s also a conceptual association between tint and pigment and melanin.) .Paak’s Tints signifies on this musical trope. In his vehicle of expression, the Black man in America is a caged victim… hidden in the trunk, gagged with tape, and bound with jumper cables —a tool meant to revive technology and liberate us.

The first spoken words in the music video’s realist opening, emphasize perspective and misunderstanding: “I thought you said you didn’t want to talk about it anymore,” “No, that’s not what I said, I just don’t want to argue about it anymore.” Misunderstanding and perspective are built-in to the visual language of the music video. Virtually every scene in Tints contains windows, doors, and mirrors that clarify or obfuscate the camera’s perspective. Furthermore, these window and door ‘portals’ and their perspectives amplify the tension among the music video’s four thematic oppositions: private/public, exposing/masking, human/individual, and realism/fantasy (see Image Collection 1 and Table 1). These opposing tensions are magnified through a combination of techniques that ground or disorient the viewer’s perspective (confirming, thwarting, or confusing the viewer’s guesses about what they believe they see), e.g.:

  • embedded portals (peering through windows, doorways, and mirrors toward more windows, doorways, and screens),
  • match cut portals (where, through video editing, one doorway suddenly becomes a different one in a new scene),
  • reflections (confusing or distorting reflections in mirrors, windows, blood, metal, and symmetrical-axis image compositions which are then de-centered with shifting video frames or doors), and
  • camera motion (e.g. panning, tilting, dolly-ing, spinning, etc. to reveal or obfuscate new frames: doors, doorways, mirrors, windows, as well as TV, phone and computer screens).

A theme is common (human) and its particular manifestations are idiosyncratic (individual). In Tints we find ourselves in halls of mirrors (including a mirror-walled hall with peep show performers), filled with opportunity or horror. The embedding of doorways, windows, and mirrors, in combination with other techniques mentioned above, produces a chain of nested stories, at times almost mise en abyme, where we are challenged to know with certainty which is the real .Paak.[7] When we cannot distinguish the original individual from its reflection, can we believe even half of what we see?

Image Collection 1

Believe only half of what you see… Tension in oppositions of public/private, exposing/masking, and individual/human, through repeating and obscured framings and reflections: windows within doors and doors within windows (doorways, peep hole, blinds, curtains, screens, cameras, eyes, drapery, etc.), and reflective surfaces (mirrors, blood, metal, windows, and recurring symmetrical-axis image compositions).

[images coming]

Table 1

A chronology of scenes in Tints with thematic annotations of some of the windows and doors (blinds, drapery, etc.), and reflective surfaces (mirrors):

  • bedroom (closed vertical blinds, light, shadows)
  • fridge (opening to light… and background fabric shoji? blinds… and close-ups on eyes/eyelids)
  • victim and predators (reflective pool of blood, long shadow on road, open road versus inside car trunk, open window flashlight)
  • diner (initially from reflection in car window, then horizontal blinds are closed)
  • open road (long shadow)
  • diner (horizontal blinds)
  • motel to bathroom (pool of blood outside, horizontal blinds allowing light in, bathroom mirror, reflective faucet, mirror on left, eyes when sitting with dog)
  • .Paak (slit of bright light)
  • television screen
  • Lamar with oxygen and Grim Reaper with scythe (mise en abyme like visual echoing, in mirror or through a hole?, horizontal blinds and darkness, also in bathroom, with light and water)
  • peep/strip show (drapes on walls, reflections in windows and mirrors)
  • cars (windows becoming tinted, side and back view mirrors)
  • BDSM (sunglasses, brief window, open door, dark/void)
  • daughter of preacher-turned-online strip show (curtained window, darkness/void, mirror revealing preacher father)
  • physician (facing horizontal blinds, light, shadows)
  • drummer (through distorted peep hole of door, clouds of dust, and luminescent door from inside)
  • back to daughter (curtained window behind, dark/void, computer screen)
  • back to physician (horizontal blinds behind, light, reference to vision with anatomical model eyeball on desk)
  • back to daughter (curtained, dark/void)
  • back to drummer (door/peep, light)
  • back to physician (horizontal)
  • man and woman (curtained window and pixilated genitals, door opens… and match cut to…)
  • back to physician (closing office door with frosted window opens and horizontal blinds)
  • back to daughter’s computer screen and camera…through window
  • preacher looking at TV (seen through a window or peephole or some other framing)
  • back to physician (curtained window)
  • back to daughter (through curtained window)
  • gambler/banker (large curtains/drapes)
  • addict in group and then alone (brown horizontal blinds and ambiguous framing and reflective mirror, shadows)
  • back to road (long shadow and reflective pool of blood)
  • back to addict (shadows and moving camera reveals new perspective)
  • then rapidly:
    • back to holding dog (from multiple mirrors)
    • back to Lamar (horizontal blinds)
    • back to gambler/banker (drapes)
    • back to drummer (white door closed and opening with peep hole)
    • back to road (long shadow and reflective pool of blood)
    • back to peep show (mirrors out the framing door)
    • back to diner (windows with blinds)
  • home fridge scene (fridge door to inside light… and horizontal blinds in background)

The tension between individuality and humanness may be seen and heard in the use of familiar, generic visual and sonic elements: are we experiencing the strands of one individual or the humanity in us all? The music, visual settings, and archetypal characters feel at once generic and striking (striking, for example, in production quality, and in the unique and particular combination of generic elements). Does a lot of pop sound and look like this? Musical conventions include a familiar backbeat and ubiquitous harmonic motions (i-VI-iv-v type motion through the verse, with a distinctive minor v chord followed occasionally by a brief passing bII to loop back to i).[8] The many generic character roles are compellingly acted (often straightforwardly, sometimes with charm) by one individual. Are we experiencing .Paak’s individuality through the combination of these elements, or are we experiencing .Paak’s common humanity that is expressed in any path he chooses? Archetypes, when combined as facets of one complex individual, reveal our humanity, and may engender compassion. .Paak’s use of a period —the smallest punctuation mark— before his common Korean name, is a deliberate way for him to further distinguish his individuality within his already uniquely diverse family, clans, and communities: it’s easy to overlook the great power in the smallest act of agency.[9]

Kendrick Lamar’s presence is also fitting in that his music regularly explores the tension between his success (individuality) and his temptations (humanness). Lamar juxtaposes sacred (human-communal) and secular (individualistic) worlds in Alright, another music video also directed by Tilley. This tension between individuality and humanness is explored in Tints. Visuals of cash and the theme of sensual pleasures and fluids (sexual, narcotic, and other), further emphasizes value systems, their rigidity or fluidity, and their connection to anxieties about individual and human worth. [10] (It’s the same contrasting value systems that St. Augustine explores with two cities, the earthly and heavenly one). Here too, the use of generic elements supports the opening instruction from Poe not to believe everything or anything that we perceive.

In Tints we experience tensions between four oppositions: public/private, exposing/masking, individual/human and realism/fantasy. The opening paraphrase from Edgar Allen Poe references the madness, imprisonment, institutionalization, fantasy, and disguises that run through Tints, while instructing us to reconsider how we perceive and interpret the world, as consumers of the music video. In referencing cars and tints, Tints signifies on a trope in music and particularly in Black music and culture. But while the video contains only a brief and understated visual of actual tinted car windows, virtually every scene of the music video contains visuals of windows, doors, and reflections which expose and obscure, frame and reframe. These perspectives magnify the tension between oppositions like private/public and exposing/masking, and reflect to the viewer, their own limitations to perceive what the music video appears to be. Finally, the use of generic or archetypal elements in Tints evokes common humanity, while the distinctive combination of these elements evokes complexity that feels individual and also human, further echoing the instruction to question our beliefs. The tensions of Tints’ conceptual oppositions tell stories, and while these stories may be layered in madness and fantasy, they reflect real truths. Maybe the goal is not for me to believe that the fantasy is real, but for me to unmask my real feelings about the story.

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[1] Cf. Steve Shaviro, Jonathan Leal, and Lauren Cramer’s respective analyses of narrative connection in Tints.
[2] Cf. Wendy Morgan’s music video for Janelle Monáe’s Tightrope, using an asylum setting.
[3] Cf. Steve Shaviro’s analysis of this honesty in Tints.
[4] Cf. Lauren Cramer’s analysis of uncredited anonymity of Black women in Tints.
[5] Cf. Carol Vernallis, Eduardo Viñuela, Anders Liljedahl, and Lauren Cramer’s respective analyses of cars in Tints.
[6] A sample of familiar artists and tracks that mention “tint/s”, includes: Lauren Hill (Superstar), Kendrick Lamar (King Kunta, Outrageous), Drake (Blue Tints, Pop Style), Cardie B (Bartier Cardi), Kanye (Clique), Post Malone (Paranoid, Sugar, Wraith), Migos (Migos Origin, Pull Up, Get Right Witcha, .Wav Radio Freestyle), Eminem (Criminal, I’m Back, ShadyXV, We as Americans, Hell Breaks Loose, 3 Verses, 4 Verses, Greg), Nicki Minaj (Danny Glover), Meek Mill (Tony Story 3, Real Niggas Come First, Freestyle Part 1, Gasoline), Jay-Z (BBC, Hollywood), Jay Cole (Rise and Shine), Usher (No Limit), Dr. Dre (Genocide, 2Nite), Nas (Street Dreams, You Wouldn’t Understand, Shoot ‘Em Up, Life Is What You Make It), Solange (F.U.B.U., Binz), Wiz Khalifa (Rooftops, Pacc Talk), Lil Wayne (Yes, Sick), Ludacris (Southern Hospitality, Rollout), Nipsey Hussle (Status Symbol), 2Pac (Fuck Friendz), Run-D.M.C. (It’s Tricky), Chris Brown (Started from the Bottom, Flashbacks), Rick Ross (Rich Nigga Lifestyle, Summer Reign, Live Fast Die Young, Usual Suspects), Lupe Fiasco’s Emperor’s Soundtrack), Young Thug (2 Bitches, With Them, Up, No No No, Picacho, Sub Zero, Exacty Pill, Slimed In, Birds, She Notice), Young M.A. (Car Confessions), Frank Ocean (Swim Good, Lens).
[7] Cf. Lauren Cramer’s analysis comparing Tints with Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Thriller too, contains nested stories and fantasy bookended by realism (e.g. movie within a dream). Note, too, the similar backbeat groove, tempo, and descending melodic phrases in both songs. An example in Tints of mise en abyme like composition, is when, peering through a hole in a wall we see Kendrick Lamar seated with another door behind him where the Grim Reaper is similarly positioned, each with a hook-shaped tool of life and death, respectively. See Image Collection 1.
[8] See earlier footnote referencing the backbeat rhythm in Tints.
[9] Cf. Lauren Cramer’s analysis of uncredited anonymity of Black women in Tints.
[10] Cf. Lauren Cramer’s analysis of liquidity in Tints.