Johanna Warren – True Colors (Music Video) (NSFW)

by Steven Spoerl

Johanna Warren I

It’s been about a week since a regular post ran on here, which mostly just means there’s a lot of content to come. A lot of great songs and albums have managed to appear in a very short window of time. All of those will be put on pause as this post gives sole focus to the more visually-inclined main category of this site (though plans are still in motion for film to factor into coverage): music videos.

Fucked Up’s fearlessly experimental multimedia experience for “Year of the Hare“, FIDLAR’s endearing, homage-heavy “40oz. on repeat“, Liza Anne’s absolutely gorgeous “Lost“, Braids’ stunning visual accompaniment to their career highlight “Miniskirt“, and Blur’s immensely enjoyable “Ong Ong” all proved to be notable highlights. Joining them were Pleistocene’s playfully shambolic “Pulp“, Swervedriver’s multicolor, kaleidoscopic “I Wonder?“, Izzy True’s tantalizingly bare-bones lyric clip for “Swole“, Demons’ skate spree in “Radical Cure“, Eternal Summers’ color-bled “Gold And Stone“, and We Were Promised Jetpacks’ beautiful, arresting “A Part Of It“.

Then, there was Johanna Warren’s “True Colors”.

Before diving into the blisteringly intense content of the video itself, it’s worth taking a step back to take a look at the history of the video- one that’s intrinsically intertwined with this site. At some point late last year, I’d latched onto Warren’s music thanks to her tour with site favorite Mitski. At some point during that time, Warren and I began talking and she eventually agreed to contribute a piece to the diaristic year-end segment A Year’s Worth of MemoriesHer piece stood out immediately, primarily because it was about something that hadn’t ever materialized.

When I caught up with Warren in Menasha- a small town in the middle of Wisconsin- to profile her for Consequence of Sound, I was eager to discuss the video. I’d been listening to nūmūn religiously in preparation and had a very distinct idea for what I thought the clip- initially intended for “Black Moss”- would be if it was ever resuscitated. Warren assured me it hadn’t escaped her mind (not surprising considering her initial levels of unease- feelings which would return leading up to the record’s premiere) and was still hoping to return to the concept for a future release.

Somewhere along the way, the song shifted and- during filming- took on a new life. Originally envisioned to be something far more gentle, the concept was adjusted into something much rawer (and, likely, much more important). To go into further details at this point would be relatively pointless as Warren provided an eloquent analysis of its mechanics in a statement issued to Stereogum, where the video premiered. That statement can also be read below.

This song is about traversing and transgressing boundaries: the tenuous lines that separate physical and metaphysical, waking and dreaming, and our moral categories of right and wrong. It’s about walking barefoot down the fertile coastline where binaries touch and exploring what hidden, buried parts of your soul might stir awake and flourish if you free yourself from the shackles of what society deems appropriate. It’s about surrendering to the wild — specifically the wild feminine, which has been so oppressed and forgotten — and communing in a primal, magical way with the powerful forces of nature.

The scene depicted in this video is an initiation rite. Throughout human history, spiritual practices have involved elements of bondage, flagellation, and submission as a means of entering altered states of consciousness/getting close to God. These days, most of us feel like we don’t have access to visionary experiences, largely because organized religions have convinced us they are the gatekeepers to spirituality. But there is a basic evolutionary human need for the expansion of consciousness, and that drives some of us to engage in activities that have been scorned, demonized and/or criminalized by our puritanical society, such as exploring psychedelics, magick, and BDSM—all of which, when done safely and consentually, can be effective keys in unlocking altered/ecstatic states (and all of which, I believe, are the subject of increased mainstream interest right now specifically because of our culture’s gaping spiritual deficit).

The making of this video was an experience I curated for myself with the support and guidance of two trusted, beloved collaborators: Gretchen Heinel, a radical feminist genius whose evocative body of work explores BDSM, body modification, and ritual; and Damon Stang, a highly gifted and learned Witch and practitioner of queer urban folk magic. In light of important ongoing discussions and valid sensitivities around issues of consent and violence towards women, let me clearly state my stance as an empowered creative woman who believes every human has the right to do with his or her body exactly what he or she chooses, short of infringing the rights of a fellow being. The struggle to reclaim that right is at the heart of so many key social issues right now: gay marriage, abortion rights, legalizing marijuana and other controlled substances, etc. For me, making this video felt like a radical reclaiming of my right to do with my body exactly what I want.

On my drive home from the shoot, a critical little voice in my head asked me why the hell I did this, and I happily replied, “Because I fucking wanted to.” It was fun and empowering and sexy and beautiful and deep and magical, I learned so much about myself and I have no regrets. It’s crazy, though, how even knowing all that, watching the video and thinking of others watching it, I find myself judging myself SO HARD and feeling a lot of fear. But just as my anxiety reaches a peak, I hear my own voice sing, “Forget the duality of wrong and right,” and I’m like… “Oh yeah, good point.”

It’s at once a spellbinding look at the psyche of one of the more interesting artists of the moment and an incredibly charged statement. Genuinely unsettling and superbly directed by the team of Gretchen Heinel and Damon Stang, it verges on being an extremely difficult watch but it soon becomes impossible to look away. As a representation of one of Warren’s most successful dichotomies (an inexplicable- and often light- gentleness paired with a searing- and frequently dark- intensity). Operating on the fringes of both dream and nightmare, “True Colors” is one of 2015’s boldest visual works to date.   

Watch “True Colors” below and pick up nūmūn from Team Love here.