Some days, you wake up feeling like a queen of darkness and start searching through your sock drawer for your chandelier earrings and crow companion. On these days, I tend to turn to the music and, more specifically, the music videos of Angel Olsen. One look at the cover of her new album All Mirrors — featuring her severe, eyeliner-caked stare emerging from a halo of black fur — and you know this is not a woman to be trifled with.
All Mirrors emphasizes her eccentric style like never before — it uses sweeping string arrangements to emphasize screeched vocals. The listener is left with an ominous taste in their mouth, but I’m not here to review the album. What really impacts me is the way her music videos for “Lark” and “All Mirrors” correspond so precisely to the music she makes and her overall musical persona. Her music videos are an exact expression of her music (something I’d categorize as “glamorous doom”). They correspond to a very specific mood of mine, or are viewed when I don’t know what mood I’m in. However, according to Spotify, her monthly listener count on their platform is over a million, recognizing that even this niche state of mind finds an enthusiastic following.
In the video, she bathes in noir, 1940s elegance, the drama emphasized through costume switches. She changes from a structured, pleated gown that seems to be made out of white gossamer, to a spartan black dress with a small touch of lace around the waist. Clad in these black folds, she comes face to face with another version of herself dressed in an enveloping black outfit and a dramatic crown with pieces of metal shooting like sun rays from her head. Finally, she slowly spins in a glittery light-colored dress that completely covers her body in shaking, shimmering fringe. She emerges from a crowd of grabbing hands that hide her for a moment with a triumphant air, carrying herself tall and proud.
Yet, her costume changes, from light to dark then back again, seems to reflect something within herself. I’ve always been very attuned to clothing, and attempt to dress in a way that expresses something about myself. As such, watching an emotional transition of hers expressed through clothing strikes a chord with me. As her Spotify bio says, “this record is about owning up to your darkest side.” She can be powerful while accepting both her good and bad sides.
Somehow, this video is sparkly and spectacular while also being goth and dark. But, even though it is severe in its lack of color, it also provides a sense of comfort to the viewer. The brilliant self-confidence and victorious rebirth-type imagery incites similar feelings in the viewer in a forceful empathetic reaction. It is not tailored to any one specific gender, but is an empowerment message to all.
Similarly, her video for “Lark,” an intense, string driven ballad about freeing oneself of a relationship and all the reminders of it, delivers catharsis in droves. It is the musical manifestation of a scream into the void. Though the video begins in a normal little suburban neighborhood, Olsen hauls herself into the back of a pickup truck and soon finds herself sprinting up a bright green grass hill. The camera pans wildly around her as she pins you with her stare against the background of a purple sunrise. Her arms reach out to you with a knowing smile, almost recalling a religious idol. It all turns into a fountain of colliding string arrangements as Olsen howls. Immersing herself in corn fields and swirling around underwater in streams, she gives me the release orchestrated by her music, especially when I’m feeling frustrated and too contained.
Olsen’s acting is also commendable. In a variety of shots, she switches between chillingly apathetic, desperately tragic and conveying an anger that could bake and crack the earth. In both of these videos, Olsen sings the songs to the viewer, using her gestures and tearing facial expressions. Personally, this submerges me in the meaning of the song in a way that couldn’t be done by just listening to a recording.
I always turn to her when I’m in a tumultuous mood. Her music doesn’t really fit into a genre, mirroring my own confusion. Her songs don’t try to push away whatever is clouding my thoughts with major chords and upbeat acoustic picking. They also don’t provide an anchor to facilitate a downward spiral. Instead, watching her videos puts me in her shoes, whether those be high heels spinning on a spotlit platform, or muddied sneakers sprinting up a hill. They allow me to follow a piece of advice I often give my friends: “Feel your feelings.” I can exist entirely as I am when cocooned in her melodies. She lets me revel in my inner darkness, reconciling it with the rest of myself.