VIDEO PREMIERE: REL -“NANAGRAMS” ++ Q&A
Focusing on the powerful message of overcoming eating disorders, REL releases the video for her single “Nanagrams”. The track showcases passionate, soulful vocals atop bluesy electric guitars and pulsating drums. With visuals featuring her scrutinizing her body in the mirror, she’s haunted by a purple haired girl. The figure is meant to represent the part of her that is self-conscious and critical of her body image. At one point in the video the girl pulls her corset even tighter providing her with even more self-doubt and insecurity. The video illustrates the dangers of body dysmorphia and the distorted body image that your mind can create. I got the chance to interview REL reveling everything from her video inspiration to her advice for others dealing with the trauma of eating disorders.
How did you come up with the inspiration behind your video and what is the significance of the dancer and the choreography within the visuals?
I came up with the inspiration behind my video in pieces – the first piece was wanting to tell a story of self-love in a fresh way. I decided to tell it in three parts because it gave me a chance to address different phases of healing.
I created my own genre in 2016 called EVOCAPOP, while answering questions in an interview about my genre; I felt genres (and categories) put things in boxes and I didn’t want to fit in just any box out there so I made my own, derived from “evocative” and “pop”. Music that makes you think and feel! In 2017, I decided I wanted to make a visual album, and began developing the story and themes. I decided to call this project, EVOCAPOP.
I developed anorexia at a very young age (7). It permeated my life through my sophomore year of college. The internal struggle I faced affects many. EVOCAPOP Side A is about the first stage of healing – facing the problem, hitting a low. Ideveloped EVOCAPOP in three “sides”, so I can address each phase of healing as its own story and as part of the bigger story. Self love is the first step – towards happiness, towards peace.
In 2017, I went to a “self-love” workshop a friend had organized in downtown LA. During the workshop, a speaker led the group in an electromagnetic healing session. In this short meditative session, he told us we would envision our 3 biggest obstacles. Mine came to mind very visually – a corset, a blue heart and a tornado. I thought about these images that came to my mind and realized how they fit into my life, deciding they would be great symbols to tell Side A of my story.
I wrote a script this year for Side A, built around these symbols. This short film is “episode 1” of the visual album – blending contemporary choreography and a cinematographic journey to tell a continuous musical story. The visual album (EVOCAPOP) is broken into three EPs (“episodes” or “sides”). Each scene in Side A is a song from the project. There is no dialogue in the story, and the songs move fluidly from one to the next. Scene 1 is the first song on Side A, Nanagrams, and it introduces the first symbol, the corset. A corset represents, among other things, restriction (of oneself), social norms and conventional “beauty”. The beginning of the story: A girl at the cusp of womanhood restricts herself to fit in. She does not see herself, truly. This cuts off her breath and turns her heart blue…
The dancer in “Nanagrams” represents the shadow self, the voice inside your head, the inner critic. Sh’s a figment of my character’s imagination and yet very real in the story…She leads my character to the corset, and laces her tightly until she cannot breathe. The choreography signifies (self) restriction, push and pull between the inner critic and body, and the following:
In my character’s eyes, she morphs into a monster – unlovable, undeserving of love. She’s saddened by her reflection, almost angry at herself for being this way.
In the distance a spotlight shines on A CORSET. She’s drawn to it. She studies the corset, touching it, contemplating wearing it, enchanted by the thought.
The dancer encourages her. Once she wears the corset, she looks in the mirror, beginning to like what she sees.
Hands fasten the corset tighter, and tighter until she cannot breathe. Her mouth open. Her eyes wide. She tugs at the corset, trying to loosen or adjust it. Her hands search the corset for space to breathe. She is distraught and frantic; her lips part with shallow breath. She sees her full body in the mirror reflection with the corset and dancer.
Short of breath, she faints, falling backward out of frame until all you see is Black.
I understand your song “Nanagrams” is about overcoming body dysmorphia and other eating disorders and that’s something you’ve dealt with from a young age. How have you managed to cope with that and what advice would you give others who deal with similar issues?
“Nanagrams”, as a song, came very organically in a session with producer, ADHD. He made a track which inspired me; I went into the booth and sang for about 6 minutes straight. We ended up trimming it down and focusing a bit more, but we called the song “Nanagrams” after the word game, Bananagrams, where you get a set of letters and have to make words with them until you’ve used all your letters. It was actually the last song I wrote for Side A, and decided to open the story with it because the lyrics are indicative of the jumbled up mind which can inhabit a body.
I think eating disorders can come from a perceived need to control. There’s chaos in life, and something you can control is your body. Society teaches girls from a young age that beautiful means skinny, and much more. So a lot of girls strive for that cultural ideal of beauty, “perfection”.
I guess I would tell others who deal with similar issues, first, that you are not alone. There are so many people who can relate to what you’re going to if you open up. Second, you are beautiful, no matter what your external appearance, your heart is where beauty starts. Third, there is no real “perfect” body, and the one we’re conditioned to perceive as ideal is hyper-sexualized and photo-shopped. I look back at photos where I was so skinny and I don’t think it looked pretty on me. At the time I did; I thrived on people telling me I was so thin, and girlfriends expressing their wishes to be as skinny, but looking back, I don’t think I looked good. I looked so unhealthy. I feel happy in my body now. I feel strong and beautiful.
What was your writing process like for “Nanagrams” and has getting those emotions out been therapeutic for you?
Getting those emotions out has definitely been therapeutic for me. Coming up with the song in freestyle meant it came from a deep place, subconscious, and I think that process was cathartic. Merrian Webster defines cathartic as “purification or purgation of the emotions (such as pity and fear) primarily through art; purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension; elimination of a complex by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression”.
Filming the music video was a challenge for me; we had a crew working on set and I hadn’t met some of them before. It’s such a vulnerable piece and I felt nervous. I’m proud of myself for being vulnerable, on set, in my art, and more and more, in my daily life. I believe vulnerability is a strength.
Danielle King (the dancer/choreographer), Emilio Guerra (co-director) and Jose Gary-Weichers (producer) did set design the day before the shoot. The whole process has been therapeutic for me, and hopefully in some way for those involved.
Fun fact: Danielle dances in Ariana Grande’s new music video, “Thank U, Next”!
Lastly, you have coined a genre called Evoca-pop, can you explain what that is in more detail?
I created my own genre in 2016 called EVOCAPOP, while answering questions in an interview about my genre; I felt genres (and categories) put things in boxes and I didn’t want to fit in just any box out there so I made my own, derived from “evocative” and “pop”. Music that makes you think and feel! In 2017, I decided I wanted to make a visual album, and began developing the story. I decided to call this project, EVOCAPOP!
Thank you LADYGUNN! I’m excited to be premiering this visual with you.
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