Since the release of Maroon 5’s single “Animals” (from their album V, released in 2014), some controversy has been brewing over the song’s accompanying music video. By itself, “Animals” features a speaker who “laments” over a seemingly dead relationship where the only tie was lust, not love. The speaker reminds his former flame of all the carnal fun they had and hopes she will reconnect with him (lest he go on the “hunt” for her). On that alone, I’ll admit that “Animals” doesn’t sport a very positive relationship message. Musically, it’s catchy but its overall story isn’t noteworthy.
However, it’s the music video that’s been causing a stir. I’ll be honest – I watched it merely for the sake of this post. The video deserves an advisory label as it contains disturbing imagery as well as male and female nudity that, while somewhat obstructed, honestly leaves little to the imagination. To be frank, one watch was more than enough.
If you’ve never seen it, be glad and please don’t.
Seriously – just don’t.
If you have, then this post might be insightful because it bears exploring the controversy behind the video, which showcases Maroon 5’s lead singer, Adam Levine, as the stalker of a pretty lady (who is actually Levine’s real-life wife).
The controversy, then, isn’t so much the imagery in and of itself but the message behind it. For some viewers, the video puts a stamp of approval on stalking and makes a criminal act appear “sexy.” To other viewers, the video is a subtle warning against stalking by depicting it as creepy.
This interpretation views the music video as a negative positive where bad behaviors and actions (in this case stalking) are depicted without a blatant warning that they’re wrong yet, through their depiction, they’re assumed to be wrong in the viewer’s mind. This technique, by way of example, can be found in the 1983 film Scarface where Tony Montana’s materialistic lifestyle isn’t openly condemned within the film but, by proxy, it’s depicted that gaining the whole world ultimately cost Tony his soul; therefore, his actions and mindset weren’t admirable.
I can certainly see that sentiment at play here in the video for “Animals” albeit it’s muddled. Levine’s character is not visually depicted as a heroic figure as he is constantly filmed in shadowy, gloomy light; dons dark clothing; and eerily makes nice with sides of beef in a meat locker. These images align him with darkness and animalistic tendencies. Cinematically and visually, his character isn’t a good guy and his deeds are dark; hence, the video could, on a subtle level, send the message that stalking is a dark, disturbed activity and shouldn’t be emulated. Likewise, the video ends with Levine’s character still staring wistfully up at his potential squeeze’s window: in his head (as discussed in the next section) he’s gotten what he wanted but in reality, he is still alone and deprived. This, too, might send the message that being obsessed with someone purely for carnal reasons is a fruitless endeavor since mere fantasies do not truly satisfy.
To be fair, Maroon 5 has never come out and condoned the criminal activity of stalking, so it’s probably fair to say that the video isn’t openly meant to approve of such actions.
But there is another side to the analytical coin…
Since the bulk of the video’s story is about a man lusting over a woman he doesn’t know, and who doesn’t appear interested in him, the fact he goes to such great lengths to spy on her and fantasize about having sex with her seems to imply that stalking is okay as long as no actual physical harm is done. Again, there is a difference between the band promoting this message and their work containing it. A work of art can stand on its own outside of its creator, yet the creator’s worldview will, inevitably, permeate what’s created. In this case, the video seems to imply there is a certain level of sexiness to stalking as related to a “playing hard to get” philosophy. (In other words, if a woman plays hard to get, then it’s okay to pursue her even if she has no desire to be pursued.)
Granted, other pop music videos have tackled tricky subject matter in veiled ways before. To compare, consider Lady Gaga’s video for “Bad Romance.” On its own, the song “Bad Romance” is akin to “Animals” in that it’s about a loveless relationship. But while “Animals,” lyrically, never calls this out, “Bad Romance,” to its credit, does (its title is, after all, “Bad Romance”). Likewise in its video, “Bad Romance” covertly condemns the sex slave trade by having Gaga be subjected into slavery only to wreck revenge upon her captor. The video’s final images can serve as a subtle message that human trafficking is a crime and those who engage in it are worthy of punishment.
Similarly, Mariah Carey’s cheeky video for her single “Obsessed” openly tackles the subject of stalking by having Carey’s character followed by a crazed fan boy (who was actually Carey in disguise). Her character’s stalker follows her around, amasses a shrine to her in his basement, and works as part of her team on a photo shoot. Yet in the end, the stalker gets his just desserts by [SPOILER WARNING] being hit by a bus. Thus, this ending presents the message that stalking is wrong and those who engage in it will most certainly not be rewarded.
In contrast, the closing frames of Maroon 5’s “Animals” present no such closure, either in an open way like Carey’s “Obsessed” or a subtle way like Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” If anything, in the video for “Animals” the stalker is “rewarded” by having him obtain what he wants from his female interest via a blood-drenched sexual fantasy sequence. Likewise, the parallel between the sensual and the sanguinary is bizarre, at best, and disturbing, at worst, as it openly combines the images of sex and (implied) violence. By depicting the couple’s imaginary act as violent, it carries disturbing overtones regarding the nature of the piece’s story as a whole.
The Final Verdict?
I want to state, first and foremost, that this hasn’t been an attempt to condemn Maroon 5 for their creative choices. Music is an art and art doesn’t always express pristine images or pleasant sentiments. Engaging or choosing not to engage certain forms of art is a choice made by each individual (such as I can perfectly understand why some viewers may want to skip out on this offering by Maroon 5 entirely). But it is fair to say that not every work of art is created under the best or the most informed of intentions.
Do I, personally, believe Maroon 5 is condoning stalking in “Animals”? No. But I do strongly feel that if they were intending to showcase an anti-stalking message, it was lost in the video’s overall execution, a case of the medium overriding the message. If, on the other hand, the band was trying to tell a “sexy” story that ends with a shocking visual twist, then I still stand by my remarks that the execution needed work.
That being said, my own personal verdict is this: “Animals” effectively captures a loveless relationship, one that is not based on mutual respect, genuine concern, or true love but one that is driven by lust and desire for desire’s sake. While the video may not openly condone stalking, it isn’t overtly dismissive about it either.
In summation, does “Animals” promote the notion that stalking is okay or does it condemn it by the way Levine’s character remains deprived at the end? In my opinion, I think the band could have taken a different angle with this song (though its subject matter doesn’t really leave much to work with). Sometimes what seems like a “good” (term used loosely here) idea on paper doesn’t translate well in real life. While the video for “Animals” may not be pro-stalker in intent, its message isn’t exactly a clear warning.