It’s often simple laziness that leads writers to discuss Solange through a comparison to her sister Beyonce; the former has been a compelling artist in her own right for some time now, thank you very much. However, Solange’s new video for her single “Losing You” does something that both Knowles sisters do really well and it seems a shame not to mention it. The video strikes a careful balance broadcasting strength, vulnerability and beauty while never seeming excessive. Like Beyonce’s “Countdown” it revels in what would stereotypically be considered female emotion (this time it’s heartbreak as opposed to devotion), but it never comes across as weak or self-pitying.
The video doesn’t flip gender norms or reveal them as ridiculous. Rather, by contrasting the vulnerability of the song with the poise of the visuals, Solange is able to tell the truth about the pain of breaking-up, and sneak in all kinds of clever messages about both race and gender. There’s nothing that feels particularly radical or gimmicky here, and that’s a tribute to Solange’s ability to seamlessly navigate what, for many artists, would be perilous terrain.
The track shares a lot of DNA with Usher’s “Climax” and Robyn’s more plaintive work–the production, done by Dev Hynes, is breathy and atmospheric, and essentially exists to amplify an exquisitely simple vocal. The nexus of Solange’s vulnerability rests within that vocal, in the first lines of the song. “Tell me the truth boy, am I losing you for good?” she sings steadily, letting the emotion rest entirely in the lyrics. “We used to kiss all night but now there’s just no use.”
But the second four lines are defiant: “I know you’re waiting for the rest that you can’t get from me … I’m not the one that you should be making your enemy.” The threat, delivered as calmly as the opening question, never seems histrionic. One would never want an enemy this self-possessed.
That self-possession carries over into the video, directed by the talented (look at this pedigree) Melina Matsoukas. Matsoukas takes the song’s balance, and makes it glow, running Solange and a friendly co-ed group through a group of colorful activities in South Africa. Everyone looks as if they were dressed by Savoy Row’s most colorful personalities and then bustled through a tie-dye carwash–everything is tailored, everything is colorful, everyone is happy. Though the video is, at first, male-dominated (even Solange, suited up and karate kicking, is dressed in a suit) the men soon give way to a group of gorgeous women. This is a nod to the lyrics–these are not the kinds of women you’d want as your enemies because as Confucius says: when your enemies are this breathtaking, you are in a dire state of affairs.
Leaving men in the video while making room for an assortment of beautiful women with an assortment of different color skin tones and hairstyles is an especially bold statement, as it allows for a repadding of the song’s narrative without letting the original become totally irrelevant. Sure, Solange is sad to have her ex leave her behind–but her need is momentary, forgotten after four lines while she celebrates with her friends. And, importantly, the condemnation of her ex doesn’t condemn all men.
Solange doesn’t need a man to be happy–but she’s also not on some “girls rule, boys drool” reductionist bull. She admits that she’s terrifically upset about the death of her relationship, but she uses the video, along with some choice lines in the song, to reassert her strength. And, just to ruffle some feathers, Matsoukas performs the same transfigurative magic upon traditional symbols of colonialism and rasco-sexim–black women’s hair and the british flag are repurposed of objects of beauty and practicality throughout.
I guess it’s worth mentioning that this video could provoke a lot of academic claptrap/backlash about aestheticizing poverty or some such, but those kinds of Foucaltian narratives just don’t translate to the broad mass of people who are going to watch this video (and besides, there are piles of used electronics and nice clothing to pawn, if anyone in the video is feeling the bite). What does translate is a fantastic song, Solange looking fly, and a whole host of beautiful people. The Knowles sisters have mastered the art of balance, and their recent spate of videos, capped off by this stunner, capture that balance in motion.