The song “Radioactive” is a very popular song over the last year, and most people have seen the music video. People that I have spoken to about the music video had interesting reactions to it, so it seemed like a rich source for analysis by reader-response criticism. I’ll be focusing mainly on transactional reader-response and affective stylistics in my analysis of the music video.
Watch the first video (lyrics only) first, or at least read through the lyrics, to get a feel of the song and it’s message, and then watch the music video and go ahead and feel confused. I did too. A link to the lyrics is here.
Transactional reader-response, according to Tyson, focuses on how a reader and a text interact, and the significance or meaning of the text is the poem, which is found in the transaction that occurs between the two. In order for a meaningful transaction to occur, the text must be read in aesthetic mode, with attention to emotional subtleties, and not focused solely on the facts. Affective stylistics centers on the idea that a text is an event that occurs as it is read, and it analyzes the cognitive processes that occur to the reader as they read.
My analysis will incorporate these two perspectives, focusing on the cognitive processes and subsequent emotional transactions that I experienced while watching the music video, and then evaluate what the text accomplished overall by scrutinizing the “poem” I experienced and analyzing my response to that interpretation.
The music video starts off with a shot of a girl walking down a wood path. There is a crow cawing, and the leaves are blowing across the ground. The sky is gray, and there is no music. The natural drama of this scene excited me and made me a little nervous. It reminded me of the eerie, twilit pathway in Jane Eyre, right before she meets Rochester. There’s a feeling of imminent action. The shot is also shown from far away at ground level, which resists my idea of my normal position in my world, subverting my feeling of normalcy, solidity, and self. As the music begins to play, scenes of the girl with shocking blue eyes, carrying a covered case, are interspersed with shots of the band members in a jail, and eventually some scenes of a group of men betting on something. I felt disappointed at the direction the video was taking. The camera repeatedly paused for close-ups on the girl’s eyes; this combined with the theatrical scenes of the men felt a little overboard. I had interpreted the song to be very meaningful, and (at this point) I wanted to take the video very seriously as well. But it seemed like the music video was taking itself too seriously – predictable and overly dramatic.
Then comes the unexpected.
The rest of the music video is about a puppet monster that brutally fights and kills other puppets in a ring surrounded by angry, betting men. The monster is undefeated, until the girl brings in her teddy bear to fight in the ring. The teddy bear uses its power-punch and laser-vision to destroy the monster and several cronies as well. The girl takes the key from the head honcho and frees the band from jail. Hooray! The head honcho is then presumably killed by the angry horde of puppets.
When I first saw the music video, I was honestly incredibly uncomfortable with it. The transition from what I thought was an artsy, classy, albeit predictably melodramatic music video to a startlingly violent puppet massacre really took me by surprise and put me on edge. My viewing of the rest of the movie was strongly colored by my disapproval of the sudden, uncontrolled direction change. I’ve never been a fan of puppets (the Muppets so frightened me as a child that I hated every one of them, sans lovable Kermit, of course) so I wasn’t exactly thrilled with that plot choice. Scenes such as the beheading of a puppet, a puppet in a noose, and a horde of puppets surrounding the bad guy as he screams in terror to presumably maul him to death, I found disturbing, out of context of the song, and confusing. However, I found myself (a little against my will) smiling at the (darkly) uplifting plot of the music video. Good (fluffy pink teddy bear) triumphs over evil (puppet monster that mutilates other puppets). It was unexpected, and maybe a little refreshing. It felt good to see the plot sort itself out, and I had to admit that it seemed to fit with the lyrics of the song, which reference a revolution and reform- a new age or awakening (“I raise my flags … it’s a revolution I suppose” and “I’m waking up, I feel it in my bones … welcome to the New Age”).
As I looked back to analyze my response, I began to appreciate more what the music video had accomplished. The way the video had made me feel when it subverted all of my norms expectations and spun around in a completely different and unexpectedly positive direction (uncomfortable, confused, disapproving, even a little scared) mirrored the subject of the song itself: a revolution. The video had shaken me up, as revolution usually does, but had given an uplifting, positive message of new life, reform, transformation, and renewal in the end.