The Haim sisters stayed indoors for their 2020 video The Steps
In the series Roadies, actress Imogen Poots talks about how movie characters deal with emotional crises by running. Is walking any different?! Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu was quoted as saying that meandering leads to perfection while essayist Henry David Thoreau felt that an early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.
The walk forms a crucial part of the visual narrative of the Los Angeles band Haim, comprising sisters Danielle, Este and Alana. Apart from articulating the themes and emotions contained in a song through visuals, the music videos of Haim tell a story and sometimes offer a window into their personal lives.
At times the Haim sisters just prefer to walk the talk in their music videos or use the walk as a metaphor, visual statement or as an idea to put out a message.
With Haim’s new album Women In Music Pt.III set to drop in April, The Telegraph did some music video-walking with Haim...
On the road
The signs were there early on. In fact it goes back to 2012, when Haim hit the streets on their bikes in the video for their song Forever. The 2013 video of their song Falling starts off with what seems like the sisters seeking solace in nature. They move through a forest, soak in its sights and sounds, catch fish with their hands and break into a dance in the firelight. The final moments of the video see the sisters standing on a desolate road with their suitcases. A car arrives to pick them up.
The choreographed dance moves were always there — be it in the videos for Forever or If I Could Change Your Mind. But then the walk and the moves came together brilliantly in the Want You Back music video (directed by Jake Schreier) in 2017. Ventura Boulevard (Tom Petty namechecked the place in the classic song Free Fallin’ — ‘Now all the vampires walkin’ through the valley/ Move west down Ventura Boulevard’) is the perfect setting for the sisters to walk down the street and do a choreographed dance in a single take at dawn. The sky brightens up gradually as they walk down the empty street singing, which reminds us of popular music videos like Bon Jovi’s Keep The Faith and The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony.
What makes it visually different are the dance moves and the way the camera follows the sisters... one after the other. It stays on Danielle for a while in the beginning... then focuses on the three sisters as they get together pre-chorus and then moves to Este post-chorus and then goes back to the three for the chorus and then to Alana. Watch out for the moment when Este walks past a restaurant (on the sidewalk) whose board reads, Indian Restaurant; another sign with the letters ‘Bolly...’ are visible.
The walking theme continues in the 2017 video, Little of Your Love (directed by auteur Paul Thomas Anderson), which starts off by showing Danielle walking again. This time the camera is beside her and stays with her in mid-shot for the first few seconds and then cuts to her close-up as the beat kicks in. Soon she walks into a club where she is joined by her sisters; all three then break into a dance in the club, grooving to the music.
The walking theme comes to a stop in the Right Now (Live) video. The mood becomes sombre in this one and the lyrics paint an emotional picture: “Gave you my love thought I could trust you/ You let me down at every turn/You had me hanging on a dream you never believed.” The camera does the moving this time, tracking and framing the band members performing in gorgeous mid-shots.
A different narrative
The narrative takes a heavier turn in 2019 with the Summer Girl and Now I’m In It singles, with Haim addressing conversations around unburdening and mental health but making music and videos that “help you get through that rough time”. For Summer Girl, Danielle took to social media to shed light on the genesis of the song.
“I wrote it around the time my partner was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago while we were making Something To Tell You (he’s in the clear now!). We were touring on and off at this time and every time we were on the phone with each other or when I would come home in between shows, I wanted to be this light that shined on him when he was feeling very dark. I wanted to be his hope when he was feeling hopeless.”
The lyrics give signs of hope (Lightning in your eyes, you can’t speak/ Falling from the sky, down to me/ I see it in your face, I’m relief/ I’m your summer girl) and the girls beam — and walk — in the Summer Girl music video, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, a frequent collaborator .
In the video, they start off by wearing winter clothes, and as they walk down the sidewalks of Los Angeles, they take off the layers of clothing, signifying a need to unburden. The grey-black winterwear is replaced by sunny, colourful summerwear by the end of the video with the girls walking with a spring in their stride.
Another 2019 video, Now I’m In It, directed by PTA, finds Danielle — playing a character — going through the grind at work, walking again and crossing roads before finally fainting out of exhaustion or fatigue. Her sisters stretcher her to a car wash. Rejuvenated again, Danielle, Este and Alana walk out onto the streets at night and enters a bar.
About the song, Danielle wrote on Instagram, “Now I’m In It is about going through it. A depression. Not leaving the house type of shit. For my sisters and I, there have been times in our lives where we have felt like we are stuck in a dark hole. This track speaks to that emotion.”
Staying In the house
In the video for the 2020 song The Steps from their upcoming album, the sisters are shown getting ready and smudging make-up on their clothes. The video finally ends with Danielle channelling her angst and venting out by pounding on the drums. The lyrics? “Every time I think that I’ve been taking the steps/You end up mad at me for making a mess.”
This time though, they do not walk out onto the streets! What will they do in the next video? Let’s wait, watch, listen... and think of the lyrics from Haim’s 2012 song Falling. “They keep saying/ Don’t stop, no one’s ever enough/ I’ll never look back, never give up/And if it gets rough, it’s time to get rough”.