In a fusion of misappropriated global sounds overlaid with posh British pop, sonic discord belies the political dissonance central to Coldplay’s latest album. The single “Trouble in Town” and its new music video manage to condense an LP of problems into six bizarre minutes.
Everyday Life is the band’s first attempt since Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends to really try to say something with their music, and the two albums make an attractive juxtaposition. With its warm and fuzzy guitar tones and grungy French-revolution officer outfits (a la Sgt. Pepper), 2008’s Viva la Vida was the band’s most pointed commentary in their large discography until 2019. But while many of us have radicalized with disillusionment and precarity over the interim decade, the precocious white men of Coldplay have developed their unique synth tones with Brian Eno.
“Trouble in Town” samples a 2013 video of Philadelphia police racially profiling and violently harassing a black man. The video was uploaded to YouTube (and now the top com- ments all praise Coldplay for bringing attention to this apparently little known issue). But the music video doesn’t use this sample. It’s filmed entirely on the streets of Kyiv, which is a weird way to frame American police vio- lence. And all the people are animals, which is a weird way to depict race.
Maybe Kyiv looked like a cyberpunk Neo-Philly, maybe Coldplay thinks we can’t imagine police brutality in a contemporary American city, or maybe it’s an Allegory, Actually. In case you didn’t notice, the video makes sure to tell you that this is all an Animal Farm allegory. And maybe the animals are . . . well, they certainly mean something. Animal/race metaphors have a long, troubled history in our media. The crux of their failure is that in reinforcing essentialism, they present race science-lite to go along with 00’s liberal progressivism. But in Animal Farm, animals represent class. And this carries over in part to the music video’s reinterpretation of pigs.
Pigs represent the Stalinist government of former-leftist revolutionaries turned authoritarians. In “Trouble in Town,” pigs are politicians that have a debate in the background and they start to fight . . . like animals . . . get it? Politicians are all animals and we all have to watch out for ourselves (cops included) is,I guess, the take. It’s a bad one too, when the lone critic of America’s police state in the debates we just lived through was a Jew who the media preferred to cast as white. When in praxis everything is always already political, trying to “be political” the way affluent artists like to isn’t a radical position. Or I don’t know, make the cops pigs instead of snow leopards next time.
It’s this I can’t get over: “Trouble in Town” is ostensibly about American police violence, but the music video transplants America’s unique system of white supremacy into the capital of a war-torn, post-Soviet nation and metaphorizes race away. It’s like blaming rape accusations against the former Vice President on Russian interference instead of admitting that the progressivism of the last decade actually led us here. Actually, so much of Everyday Life’s themes make sense through this decade-long view. A call for some ambiguous sense of global/national/ party unity, with no account of power or circumstance, doesn’t land when there’s blood on the beat.
This essay first appeared in Exploits issue 26 on May 1, 2020. Edited by Ed Coleman. It was written during the 2020 Democratic primaries.