I belong to a generation that loves America. Or rather, we learnt to love America. It should be said that when I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s the American dream had suffered several scratches or, more accurately, big gaping wounds, with Civil Rights rioting, the war in Vietnam and the first truly visible results from escalating drug abuse in the inner cities. Still, the mostly Caucasian narrative of Apple pie, America and God lived well in the collective consciousness here in Norway. It was strong enough in fact for the former lead singer and guitarist Chris Erichsen of the rock band The Aller Værste to release an EP with the ironic title Eplepaien, Amerika og Gud in 1983.
That was then. Things are truly different in 2020, and it keeps getting harder to preserve the love for America. The fascist tendencies of the ruling president whose name I can barely stand uttering, the rising polarization of American society, the social inequalities; everything seem to rise to the surface, more than suggesting a gross image of a dream threatening to break apart.
So what’s this got to do with «Take On Me»? Well, let me tell you. a-ha wrote musical history in 1985 when as the first Norwegian band ever (and ever since) rose to the very top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in USA with their debut single «Take On Me». They did however get some pull from the big machinery that backed them, and not least by Steve Barron’s epoch defining music video. The mixture of pencil sketch animation and real film where a young woman is brought into a romantic fantasy populated by Morten Harket, Paal Waaktaar and Magne Furuholmen alongside a couple of hoodlums, has received more than a billion viewings on YouTube. Let me also point out that YouTube did not exist until 2005, and that the video was seen by quite a few people in its first 20 years of existence too.
In the late autumn of 2019 Magne Furuholmen released his concept album White Xmas Lies, criticizing the abundance of our modern Christmas celebrations. Among the album highlights is a song that didn’t touch on the subject of Christmas titled «This Is Now America», in which Magne sings:
no bridge across divides
a drunken joyride
with a monkey at the wheel
There are no points given to those who are able to guess who the monkey at the wheel might be, but if somebody should still be curious about the answer they no longer need be. Working with the controversial Norwegian-German theater artists Vegard Vinge and Ida Müller, Magne has created a sensational music video for «This Is Now America» that should eliminate the last remnants of doubt.
– When I was young I grew up in a world full of possibilities and optimism for the future. Young people today grow up in a far more worrying, insecure and complicated world. To me the video is about the loss of innocence and alienation, just like the song, come to think of it, Magne says about it.
Like the music video for «Take On Me», the video for «This Is Now America» is mostly animated, but even though Vinge/Müller/Furuholmen have chosen to use colours in their video it’s still a bit like watching «Take On Me» going to black. The image the video paints of today’s version of the United States of America is as dark and nightmarish as you get this side of Robert Zemeckis’ dystopian blockbuster movie Back To The Future II in which Marty McFly, the character of lead actor Michael J. Fox, finds himself in an alternative reality where the bad guys run the show. Marty manages to stear the course of history back on the right track in the film, but how the situation in modern day America – and the rest of the world – will develop is anyone’s guess. Hollywood is not equipped to save us from fascism, climate crises and bottomless poverty.
Neither Hollywood nor Vinge/Müller/Furuholmen can do much more than comment on our times, but boy, let me tell you that’s exactly what they’re doing with the video for «This Is Now America».
(As an aside it should be mentioned that in Norway there are different kinds of state or government grants for artists, and Vinge/Müller’s work has raised some angry voices – most notably from several profiled politicians – and it has been deemed «scandalous» that the pair receives government funding for it. What raised a lot of criticism recently was the fact that Vegard Vinge blows paint out of his ass on stage. This is not the first time he and partner Ida Müller have played around with excrements or body fluids in their monumental marathon-like plays, and according to their critics’ opinion this should disqualify them from further support.)
Apart from a short scene in which we see an erected penis reaching orgasm, there’s not a lot to do with body fluids in the «This Is Now America» video. It’s more of a strongvoiced commentary on what the American republic is about to become – and following events on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean what we are about to become in Norway and Europe. It’s about how we close our eyes to realities we don’t want to face, and that we, as part of an indifferent, if not apathetic, consumer society, walk towards Doomsday with arms outstretched.
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The music video shows a young boy with The Joker make-up and a Joy Division T-shirt and his bathrobe-clad mother in a partly animated, partly filmed landscape of nightmarish images that at times border on the apocalyptic. There are drawn logos for huge American corporations, pop cultural references aplenty (not from Back To The Future though) and news clips, along with the storyline woven into an artistic expression far above your average promotional video. The fact that Vinge/Müller are the subjects of government support in Norway is just as easily defendable through this piece of work as the disputed methods in other aspects of their art.
As for Magne Furuholmen the video for «This Is Now America» adds to an ever growing and varied portfolio that creates an exciting image of a former teen idol who’s become an artist in his own right. In effect it should tell his skeptics let their criticism rest. This is both a powerful and important piece of art.
Do I still love America? Sure. We have a contract for life, but I don’t like the way I see the country developing.
Here then is the video: