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How is gender represented in The Killer’s video ‘Mr Brightside’?

‘Mr Brightside’ is one of the most successful songs in UK chart history, achieving positions in the US
and UK Top 10 charts after its initial release in 2004 and receiving a Top 100 position in the UK charts
every year since its release, reaching the 93rd position in the summer of this year. The single taken
from The Killer’s debut album, ‘Hot Fuzz’, it has become a club classic, with people across the world
still listening to it regularly thirteen years after it was first released. The song was named ‘Song of
the Decade’ by Absolute Radio with critics stating that its ‘infectious’ and a song that truly ‘bounces,
talks and breathes’.

The music video, starring Izabella Miko and Eric Roberts, was inspired by the film ‘Moulin Rouge!’
(2001), featuring burlesque dancing and costumes suitable for the early twentieth century setting.
The narrative of the music video also closely follows the plot of the film, with a love triangle forming
between the lead singer, Brandon Flowers, and the two main actors, mirroring the relationship
between Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman and Richard Roxburgh’s characters in the film.

Throughout the music video, the female characters, namely Izabella Miko’s character, are sexualised
and become the subject of voyeurism, both within the narrative and through the eyes of the
audience. While this supports Goodwin’s theory of voyeurism being used frequently within music
videos, mainly as a way to increase audience interest, this portrayal of women is regressive and
supports outdated stereotypes. However, it can be argued that it’s appropriate for the narrative,
which is set in the early 1900s when women’s rights were significantly more limited than they are in
today’s society and they were viewed in a very different light. The female characters are sexualised
through both the camerawork and the edit. For example, as the music video opens, there is a
montage of the women acting in a flirtatious manner with their male customers. This dominates the
first pre chorus of the song and constructs the idea that the women have no other purpose than to
please their customers through the objectification of their bodies. Furthermore, as the narrative
develops, the women are forced to stand before the men in the auditorium and flash their
underwear. The fact that they are all forced to do the same things limits their individuality and
suggests that they are all the same in the eyes of Eric Roberts’ character, who assumes the role of
their boss. The costumes worn by the female characters are all distinctly feminine, perhaps implying
that they are only appealing if they dress in a certain way, with skirts being worn seemingly for the
sole purpose of lifting them up. This could support the male gaze theory (Mulvey, 1975) which
suggests that we see all of media through men’s eyes as a result of the power divide between men
and women. This implies that the female characters are lifting up their skirts because it’s what both
the men in the video as well as the men behind the camera want to see them do, instead of it being
an active choice they made themselves. The women, except from Miko’s character, spend the
majority of the video in the background of shots, suggesting that their stories aren’t as important as
the contest between Flowers and Robert’s characters, further emphasising the power divide
between men and women.

The action of lifting up their skirts demeans the women, with the group shot
connecting them as they are forced to humiliate themselves.
Red is featured in both the
female character’s costumes
and the set, connoting passion
and lust, perhaps reflecting the The women’s’ face are partially
feelings of the male customers obscured by their skirts, further
towards the women. dehumanising them and
Alternatively, the use of red reducing their individuality.
could imply danger, suggesting
that the women are unsafe in
their current situation.
During the music video, there is a clear power divide between the men and the women, with the
female characters being trapped and controlled by the men. This division is established in the
opening of the video when Robert’s character throws an apple at Miko, signalling that he wants her
to interact with the customers. When she complies with his wishes immediately, it demonstrates her
lack of power because she is unable to refuse him, which could lead to the audience wondering what
the consequences would be if she denied him. It also highlights the fact that the female characters
have no agency over their lives and instead are dominated by the men.
Additionally, apples are also
Apples carry religious a part of several fairy tales,
connotations as they are the most famous instance
featured in the story of Adam being ‘Snow White’. This
and Eve. This could suggest could imply that Robert
that Miko’s character was poisoned her and that she is
tricked into becoming a dancer now his captive, much like
for Robert’s character and is how Snow White’s evil
not trapped with him because stepmother poisoned her.
of her poor decision. This could be reinforced by
Miko’s pale appearance.

The fact that there is a pile of apples by Miko’s side could imply that
Robert regularly forces her to interact with the customers against her
wishes and that he’s always demanding more from her.

The idea that the women are trapped is supported through the repetition of shots. For example, we
see them presenting themselves to their male audience several times, suggesting that their days are
spent doing the same thing and that it’s inescapable. Furthermore, the constant watch of Robert’s
character implies that his influence is unavoidable and that once he traps the women, there’s no
way out for them.

The use of red could construct


connotations of danger,
perhaps serving as a warning
for Robert’s jealousy as he His face is partially obscured,
watches Miko and Flowers connoting mystery and
interact. His possessive nature emphasising how little we, as
further suggests that he an audience, know about him.
believes the women are under
his control and subsequently
belong to him.

Furthermore, the women’s costumes have the appearance of being pieced together from an
assortment of clothes, implying that they can’t afford to buy clothes that match or that Robert’s
character doesn’t care about them enough as people to provide them with suitable clothes. In
contrast to this, the men are all seen wearing suits, suggesting that they are wealthier than the
women and that is, at least partially, where they gain their power from.

Despite Robert’s character fulfilling the role of the antagonist, Miko’s character is also shown to
have cruel qualities that represent women as being deceitful. For example, on the surface, her
relationship with Flowers appears to be loving and innocent, however, as the video continues we are
shown shots of her repeating interactions that we’ve seen between her and Flowers with other men.
This implies that what she has with Flowers isn’t special and is instead just another part of her job
that she has to do. This could reflect the cyclical nature of the lyrics as the first verse is repeated,
suggesting that the characters are stuck in a loop. While this further emphasises Robert’s cruelty
towards the women because he forces them to do this, it also highlights how dishonest Miko’s
character is because she’s able to get Flowers to trust her and to believe that what they have is real

The deep blue of the background as well as the stars scattered across it could suggest that
when Miko is with Flowers, she feels like she’s dreaming because she’s so happy. Whereas
when she’s with a customer she is pulled away from the blue background, effectively ending
her dream and forcing her to face reality.

The jump cut between these two shots could emphasise all the different directions Miko is being
pulled in and how it becomes difficult to differentiate between what’s real, such as her relationship
with Flowers, and what’s fake. This could imply that her deceitful behaviour isn’t intentional but is
instead a result of Robert’s cruel treatment of her.

before she runs back to Robert every time.

Miko’s innocent appearance also contributes to her untrustworthy nature as it suggests that even
her physical appearance is a lie, making the audience wonder what part of her is real. For example,
her white dress constructs connotations of purity and virtue, contrasting with the way she interacts
with the male customers. Additionally, the bright blue colour of her eyes, which is emphasised in
several close ups, connotes trust and loyalty, which differs significantly from the way she switches
between men, suggesting that she has no real connection to any of them.

Her pale skin is similar to that of a


doll, perhaps suggesting that
working for Robert has
dehumanised her and caused her
to lose a vital part of herself. It
also furthers the connection
between her and the fairy tale of
‘Snow White’

During the music video, men are portrayed as being paranoid. One of the ways this representation is
constructed is through the use of fast paced editing and rapid camera movement. For example, as
the lyrics ‘it was only a kiss’ are sung at 1:51, the camera rapidly pans to Flowers singing the lyric
while sat next to Miko before cutting to a close up of him back on stage. The fast camera movement
could reflect the panicked state of his thoughts as he tries to understand the situation he’s in and
the woman he’s falling in love with. Additionally, the unsettling effect of this could mimic the anxiety
Flower’s feels and the alarm his relationship with Miko is causing him. The cut to Brandon back
onstage when the line is repeated suggests that the thought of Miko and Robert being together is
plaguing his mind and leaving him confused and fearful as his mind becomes obsessed with thoughts
of them.

The empty space in the right third of the shot suggests that there’s something missing in Flower’s
life, perhaps Miko’s companionship. Alternatively, it could also imply that Flower is watching Miko as
he sings and wondering if she’ll betray him again

This representation is further supported by the multitude of close ups of Flowers that are used
throughout the video. These close ups allow the audience to observe the panic and alarm in his eyes
as he struggles to stop himself from watching Miko, as established through the use of shot reverse
shot. An example of this is when Flowers sings ‘I just can’t look, it’s killing me”, with the lyrics being
amplified as he covers his eyes. This close ups demonstrates his conflicting feelings because he
wants to be able to trust Miko but he knows that if he continues to watch her, he’ll see her with
another man. This could reflect the events the song was inspired by, with Flowers writing the song
about a girlfriend that cheated on him. Perhaps the song and the video are suggeting that you can
only turn a blind eye for so long and be ‘Mr Brightside’ by making the best of a bad situation before
you have to face reality and accept the truth. The song could encourage voyerisum by implying that
men should watch their partners instead of simply trusting them to be loyal.

Flowers is placed in the


centre of the shot, making
him the audience’ sole
focus and allowing them
to witness his distress.
To conclude, throughout the music video, a variety of different representations of both men and
women are created, with the majority of them being regressive as the narrative explores a toxic
relationship. In our own music video, we could recreate these representations by using the
techniques from the ‘Mr Brightside’ video as inspiration. For example, to establish the idea that our
protagonist is unstable and panicked, we could use fast paced camerawork, perhaps even using
handheld shots to convey the same nervous energy that is created in this video. Furthermore, we
could recreate shots in order to create the impression that our protagonist is stuck in the past, much
like how Miko is trapped in the same routine.