Thursday, February 21, 2013

Watch This: Shane Koyczan - "To This Day"

Watch This is a new feature highlighting the intersection between music and film. Not only will we be taking a look at some of the best new music videos around, we'll also be looking around us to see the many ways in which music can bring people together in everyday life.

Anybody who's ever been bullied knows how hard it is to deal with the cruelty that comes with adolescence; what is even harder to deal with is the repercussions it can have on your life. That doesn't mean, however, that you're in this alone. Spoken-word poet Shake Koyczan, whose poem "To This Day" was shaped by his own experiences with bullying, collaborated with a litany of animators and motion artists to create this moving video for it.

On its own, the poem is an absolutely haunting piece. With a voice that grows more emphatic by the moment, Koyczan weaves together the stories of a lifelong friend he met in third grace, whose birthmark provoked comparisons to "a wrong answer that somebody tried to erase but couldn't quite get the job done; a young boy inundated with a flood of pills and abandonment issues; and his own story, where an innocent mistake involving pork chops and karate chops spins out of control into a nickname that would haunt him well into his adult life. He wields rhythm and dynamic powerfully: when he declares in a show of defiant independence that the definition of beauty starts with the word "Mom," every syllable of the statement is a bullet. But later on, that same voice only yields a painful rasp as Koyczan asks an equally painful question: "If a kid breaks in a school and nobody around chooses to hear, do they make a sound?"

The music video, however, amplifies the Koyczan's visceral words tenfold. The visuals make us complicit in his abstract stories. We witness shamed kids dissipating into clouds of spitball dust. We see one victim throwing himself off of a cliff, only to be washed away with a tidal wave of antidepressants, which later rise up as a crowd of bullies pointing and laughing. The same guy is later a faceless mannequin drowning in a crowd of people he wishes he could call friends, dehumanized and incomprehensible. The music doesn't let up on the heartstrings: Short Story Long's soundtrack for the video, vaudeville sentiments full of tragedy but equally full of grace, is seamless. It soars with the poem's highs and leaves room for Koyczan to dig his heels into the lows.

All of these elements--music, visuals, and words--come together in an unforgettable ending, in which the themes of "To This Day" melt into a grand metaphor, a circus hierarchy starting with acrobats and ending with the freaks, shadowy figures balancing on telephone wires in the dark. But Koyczan concludes with a testimony to survival: "You built a cast around your broken heart and signed it yourself," he declares. "You signed it--they were wrong!" The moment of catharsis is evidence of just how powerful we all can be when we come together to share in our pain--and make something good out of it.

You can see the video embedded above and find more information about the To This Day project here.

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