For all the hype surrounding them, the winners and performers at award ceremonies are forgotten pretty quickly and it’s hard to recall who was involved year-to-year. The 2013 YouTube Music Awards managed something special though, something that transcends mere morning-after viral viewing.
When the ceremony cut to a wistful shot of Greta Gerwig standing in small apartment looking wistfully at a lover, we assumed we were seeing the beginning of a short film or music video. As Arcade Fire’s ‘Afterlife’ begins to play in the background, her character can’t believe it’s goodbye- the pair kiss, and then kiss again, knowing it’s probably they last time they’ll get to.
As the man leaves, Greta, dressed very ‘I just got home from work’, stands awkwardly near the kitchen in her apartment, fraught, before letting her emotions manifest in her movement. Throwing her hair back with resolve, she strides down the hallway, dancing as though she’s trying to expel the pain from her body and opening a door to a wintery forest.
It’s at this point, when a couple of yelps from the audience become audible, that you realise this is no ordinary music video and that it’s taking place inside the ceremony itself.
Singing into an invisible mic like a teen practicing moves in front of a mirror, Greta stays in character as Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler casually wanders into the back of the shot to sing the second verse like an angel watching over her. Then comes the fourth wall break, as Greta leaps off stage and dances across the stage (live performance one this time, as opposed to the film stage) backed by a team of young girls.
Her moves are silly, embarrassing, and movingly so – she is letting go and doing what feels good, whatever exorcises the demons, as Win sings: “Can we just work it out? Scream and shout till we work it out?”
The song itself might elude to the myth of Orpheus, but the Spike Jonze-directed live video is so effective in its interpretation of it as a post-break-up empowerer. Greta joins the band in their celebration of life and living in the moment, noticeably pleased to have successfully made it through the one-take performance, and it’s hard not to well up at the sheer joy of it all, the joy of creating, and of dancing, because what else are you going to do?