The promotion of the MV for Dean’s December comeback “Instagram” has been strange. The song has been in rotation for a month along with enigmatic teasers referencing the Daniel Defoe novel, Robinson Crusoe. It’s been allowed to gather momentum, with the help of a number of high profile covers but without a lot of overt promotion.
Dean, meanwhile, regularly updated his own Instagram page with pictures of international trips and 90’s video games. The entire process seemed antagonistic to the traditional build-up and release of a song. It’s reminiscent of the anti-promotion of Frank Ocean’s visual album Endless, this similarity was lampshaded by the set for the “Instagram” MV.
The approach to the promotion of “Instagram” is relevant because it thematically expands the track’s concept. The song addresses loneliness, preoccupation with social media, and alienation but the promotion and visuals add a sense of hostility to the mood. Dean’s frustration with the online cycle of feedback is more keenly felt in the periphery of the release while the song sounds more melancholic than ticked off.
The MV is dense with symbolism, from the manner in which it is shot to the choice of images used. Dean is first pictured in an extreme close-up, peeking from beneath a cap, the camera pans out to an extreme wide-shot. The movement of the camera mirrors the lyrical progression of the song: Dean first sings about his trouble sleeping and insecurities; once he begins addressing the larger ideas, the camera moves further away.
There are significant pauses in the music, extended to illustrate the overwhelming influence of the internet. Before the second verse, still in wide shot, images are projected over Dean’s seated form. The figures are there for a split second, sometimes distorted or cut-up and collaged with others. Some of the projected figures are Marilyn Monroe, Salvador Dali, a skeleton, Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, and the Sorrowing Old Man from the Vincent Van Gogh painting At Eternity’s Gate. The choice of figures is interesting in that many of them are references to fine art.
Marilyn Monroe was the subject of a series of prints by Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali made his eccentric personality part of his mystique and promotion as an artist, and even the projection of Thom Yorke isn’t a photograph but an illustration. The montage is punctuated with a hashtag #dean and a number of Instagram posts below it. It may mean that Dean views himself as a piece of art: his online presence adds to a collage of images creating an identity meant to be consumed. In an Instagram post following the release of the song, Dean said:
When you think: ‘I need to do something tomorrow too, I need to improve too, I need to step it up’,
when you feel like you’re becoming a nobody among all those people,
when you feel lonely even in the midst of all your acquaintances and friends,
when you feel that all the people that click “like,” leave you comments, send you direct messages, or like just half of you [the half that they see] do not truly know you,
then listen to this song.
His feelings about embodying this role are conflicted, this can be seen by his body language and after the clip ends, the lyrics “It’s complicated/changing it up so often/I don’t wanna do this” are sung.
As soon as Dean begins singing about the misery of knowing more about the world, a black liquid drips from the ceiling of the warehouse and flickering images are projected on to it. The images range from Charlie Chaplin clips to Barack Obama speeches. There’s no connection between them, to illustrate how bewildering all the assault of information can be, although many portray warlike scenes. The quick dissolve to show breaking waves at the moment the lyrics say “I’m sinking right now into a square ocean” is a clever, lighter moment. The room filling with information builds until almost everything is covered with projections, visually showing Dean’s state of mind.
The use of light, space, and camera work to punctuate the lyrics are executed with careful intention. The lights go out when as the lyrics say “I’m useless” and Dean kneels on the ground, representing his despair. The entire warehouse dissolves with his scream to a black screen with subtitles referencing feelings of isolation. The intention behind this blankness is so people watching the video on their screens could see their reflections when the visuals are cut and Dean’s distorted voice becomes their own.
Another Instagram post, explaining this has a caption reading “starring deantrbl and you/ the story of me and you/ what are you going to do on that screen?” As much as Dean allows himself to be viewed and consumed, he forces his audience to share in his loneliness and poses a challenging question. If we all experience these feelings of inadequacy and anxiety due to the deluge of information we can access, what are we going to do about it? How do we handle this phenomenon? He doesn’t give us any answers but through the song, we understand he shares a similar experience. Dean explains this himself, saying, “Actually, this song does not give any comfort or provide a solution, but I’d like for it to be with you like a friend who is crying with you, having an equally hard time with this overwhelming life.”
The final scenes of the empty warehouse as Dean addresses an ex-lover, whose pictures he has seen, brings the story back to the individual. The camera again moves closer to him as he laughs, then becomes serious and leaves the frame. Perhaps he’s laughing at the seeming futility of it all but can’t allow us to finish watching him without seeing his frustration. It’s a dizzying range of emotions and information without a simple explanation.
Dean has a reputation for pushing boundaries with his approach to promotion and the creativity he applies to his music. This release is no different. “Instagram” can be appreciated alone but with the mood of Dean’s online presence and the MV, it’s a conceptual masterclass. The sound is made infinitely more interesting by the visuals and the way the package has been presented. It’s challenging, experimental, and piques interest for the rest of the RVNG album.