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If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power

Posted on 31 August 2021 by

Spoilers ahead!

It’s a rare thing to watch and classify music videos at the Classification Office so the opportunity to view the ‘visual album’ If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power by Halsey was intriguing. Due to our legislation when anything has a cinematic release in Aotearoa we classify it and this visual album was set to come out at IMAX on the 26th of August, unfortunately due to lockdown this was cancelled.

Due to Covid-19 it makes sense that artists are having to think outside the box and work out new ways to reach their fans. Both free and ticketed concerts have been streamed online, and there has been an increase in documentaries about bands and musicians. Now it looks like there might be an increase in visual albums. 

A visual album is a hybrid of film and music. It tells a story in a cinematic and artistic way but relies on music and visuals instead of dialogue.

Famous visual albums include Pink Floyd with The Wall in 1982, Daft Punk with Interstellar in 2003 and more recently Beyoncé with Lemonade in 2016. 

Pop singer and songwriter Halsey is joining the mix with If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power. 

While we don’t classify music videos generally they can include content that would be classifiable under our criteria - meaning content and themes that can be linked to sex, horror, crime, cruelty and violence

The Classification Advisor who analysed Halsey’s visual album for us described it this way: “[It is] set in medieval times where young Queen Lila (Halsey) is widowed by the sudden and unexplained death of her cruel husband - the king. Lila is revealed to be pregnant and this unlocks her sense of the supernatural including an apparition that appears to be her alter ego.”

The advisor highlighted the main themes of the visual album as sex, horror, cruelty and violence, paying particular attention to a scene where Halsey is executed by a guillotine. Other notable scenes include full frontal female nudity, Halsey eating her placenta post birth and satanic rituals.

They also noted Halsey’s popularity and the impact this visual album might have on a younger audience. Let’s unpack this a bit further.

Halsey’s fan base age demographic ranges from 13-17 years old as well as a strong millennial following. She is very artistic, clever and pushes pop boundaries with her indie influences. She sings about her personal experiences which makes her easy to relate to, especially for young females and those in the rainbow community. 

This visual album could attract a lot of younger viewers who might find some of the content confusing and unsettling. 

It has been classified RP13 with a descriptive note that includes violence, sexual themes, nudity, offensive language and content that may disturb. But what does this mean? Read about RP ratings here.

The Advisor said: An RP classification gives the opportunity for interested younger viewers to view the film in the company of their parents or guardians who will be able to mitigate the potential harms by appropriately contextualising it for them. We want to encourage younger viewers to watch this with an adult they trust. Although the scenes aren’t overtly strong they do require critical thinking and the ability to unpack exactly what is going on. They are likely to seek out the visual album on their own given how popular Halsey is so we think it would be better to watch it with them to help unpack the challenging content.

In our workshops and presentations we actually encourage parents and caregivers to use music videos to talk with their whānau about challenging themes and content. Watching a music video together and encouraging tamariki to think critically about what they see allows them to use those same skills if they ever see things like pornography. More info here.

So if your young person is a big fan of Halsey this could be a good place to start and have that conversation about challenging content.

The trailer states “[t]he film is about the lifelong social labyrinth of sexuality and birth” and “[t]he greatest horror stories never told were buried with the bodies of those who died in that labyrinth”.

Maybe before you watch it together ask what that statement makes them think of. Have a conversation about what you both think will be in the visual album. This will help them get into that critical thinking space and prepare them for watching it. Don’t forget to reflect on these ideas afterwards. 

During and after you have watched it together here are some other great questions to ask.

  • Talk about healthy relationships. Ask them what makes a good friend or partner and then talk about how these sorts of relationships aren't shown in the visual album. 
  • You could then talk about what impacts music videos might have on a viewer – topics you can cover are body image, gender stereotypes (how men and women are expected to behave), relationships and consent.
  • Ask them if they think the story was realistic. Let them identify what was and what wasn’t.
  • Talk about the violence and ask if they think there was a better way to handle conflict.

TIP: If it feels like the conversation is a bit difficult ask them to imagine the viewer is a younger sibling or family friend. It can make talking about media harms and challenging content a bit easier. 

ADVISE: You might be surprised how much you agree with each other but if not don’t sweat it! Critical thinking is something we have to help rangatahi and tamariki with. The more you do it the easier it gets.

Image from If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power


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