by Laura Fletcher
Last week Queens of the Stone Age released a spooky interactive video for its latest single off …Like Clockwork, “The Vampyre of Time and Memory.” And it is important–but not for the reasons most rock critics and fans seem to think.
Despite a nearly month-long delay (the video was originally slated for a Halloween release, hence the band’s appearance on Conan on October 30), and despite interactivity that’s minimal at best, “Vampyre” is a rock video with women in it who don’t interact with men. With a Black woman who steals the show and has two white women in supporting roles. With Easter eggs featuring her.
First, the facts: The interactive video is set in a haunted ballroom. As the viewer walks in, you’re greeted by two creepy portraits–you know, the kind where the eyes don’t just seem to move–side by side. One is a buzz-cut Joshua Homme scowling, and the other is a slender Black woman with long dramatic earrings and hair over one eye. A white woman in a French maid outfit carrying a black cage of rats glares at you before heading down a hallway, and you follow her.
After a few clicks with a customized metal-sign hand (one of the band’s signature icons), you enter a ballroom and the song finally starts to play. Along with some underwhelming red herrings that open new windows leading to lyrics, merchandise, and collaborators’ websites, you can click between three side rooms with concurrently running lip-sync videos. In one the band plays surrounded by taxidermied animals, and in another they perform in slow-motion in an all-white room.
Then, in the third room-video, the Black woman from the portrait sits at a lace-draped piano, wearing an Elvira wig, lip-syncing for her life.
First of all, this woman is awesome. She chews the scenery, which is no small feat with the Venus fly traps, TV showing devilish Betty Boop, and the rest of the gothic mise en scene in her room. You can’t take your eyes off her. The camera lingers on her dramatic fake lashes and painted-on eyebrows as she mouths each word.
Second of all, she’s waited on by two anonymous white women who fade into the background. Our Elvira rises to dance with them, dramatically dropping into their arms at the line “To be vulnerable is needed most of all, if you intend to truly fall apart.”
Third, if you don’t catch the parallels between Queenie (as the TV seems to indicate is her name, and is echoed in the website credits–the actor is Dolly Boyd, by the way) and Homme, the director’s cut of the video lays it bare. Apart from the paintings, both of them draw two fingers down their face at the same moment in the song, both play the piano, and on their pianos rests a strange spiked book with the band’s name on the spine.
Now, here we go. I could find a gif of Homme doing this, but not one of her. In fact, despite a good romp through tumblr, I found no gifs of her at all. I understand that fans want to flail about the band–but was no other fan struck by Queenie?
The band obviously was. If you install the Chrome extension and visit the band’s Facebook page, you get to see a bonus version of the video with Dolly Boyd actually singing. It’s incredibly done, and her voice is deep and rich.
Perhaps I could learn more about Boyd or the Queenie character on the numerous music sites covering the video’s premiere, I said to myself. Naively. Instead, here are some collected comments about the women of the video, which either ignore Queenie and focus on the white maids or make one of two racist leaps: lumping her in with the maids or assuming she’s a voodoo priestess. Seriously:
Pitchfork: “It stars a group of sinister maids”
Spin: “sinister-looking maids glowering at the camera”
Loudwire: “A menacing maid greets you…”
Consequence of Sound: “two creepy maids and one voodoo priestess”
Uproxx wins the Missing the Point award with this duo: “Sexy French maids as pale as ghosts?” and “Don’t forget the voodoo priestess!”
The few reviews that give Boyd’s role anywhere near its due:
Stereogum: “witchy woman who shares lip-syncing duties”
Under the Radar: “a Norma Desmond-evoking lady-of-the-house and her sinister maids”
Exclaim: “a spooky woman with a bouffant do crooning along near some snapping venus fly traps”
See, how hard was that? Pretty hard, I guess. Not that I’m shocked that minimal inclusion of women of color is ignored or misread by rock critics, just here to give Dolly Boyd props, as I hope the band and their collaborators at The Creators Project do in any future interviews. As innovative and fun as the technology and surprises in the video are, there’s no call for ignoring Boyd’s contribution.