Swedish vocal duo Max Elto, made up of Alexander Ryberg and Tom Liljegren, have just released a moody interactive video for their soaring new single, “Citylights.” (The pair is perhaps best known for their vocals on David Guetta’s techno-pop track “Just One Last Time.“) “It’s sort of like a picture book–simple words, bold imagery,” says Institute creative director Nathaniel Brown, who works closely with the likes of Kanye West, Jay Z, and Beyonce. But it’s a dark picture book, soundtracked by ambient downbeats and angelically high-pitched vocals, filled with out-of-focus shots of severed heads on stakes in the pouring rain.
Both the song and the video start out in an understated fashion–with a muted blue and black color palette, soft-focus shots of gently falling rain, and a voiceless ambient buildup. But their haunting power creeps up on you as the song intensifies.
As you scroll down, words pop up and disappear on the screen and a poem-story of sorts unfolds. Bold typography and poetic line breaks give visual pop to otherwise abstract words. (Users can choose to clear the text and simply watch the video story-free.) When the vocals come in, we see Ryberg’s severed head on a stick, singing in near-falsetto.
“The video depicts a man who has failed, however in his failure, he finds pride in trying and giving it his all,” Ryberg tells Co.Design. When the beat drops, gentle rain becomes a downpour, and Ryberg now has what appears to be a bullet wound in his forehead. Blood drips down his face as he wails “just pick me up somehow.” Behind him, a haunting Ivan the Terrible-esque scene emerges: silhouettes of severed heads on stakes in a field.
“The song itself tells a story about feeling out of place and not quite knowing what you’re looking for, yet still feeling strength, beauty and comfort in that ever-evolving search,” Ryberg says. “The symbolic idea behind the video is essentially to make peace with what you cannot control and to do your best with what you can.”
Interactive online music videos are quickly replacing traditional videos as the visual accompaniment to new tracks and albums: Ty Segall’s Manipulator–which lets the user play with a trillion trippy image combinations–and Panda Bear’s interactive website–a digital rabbit hole of psychedelic animations and video art–are some standout examples.
“I’m totally uninterested in traditional music videos as a practice,” Brown says. “Music videos have fallen into the background since the ’90s. I cut my teeth in fashion and music, and the fashion industry is always thinking about what’s next, the next season, the next trends. I try to apply that ethos to the music-visual world.”
Check out the interactive video here.