Meaning in Kimbra's "Settle Down" Music Video
All analysis and interpretation is from Nalini Márquez.Views presented here about the meaning in Kimbra's "Settle Down" music video are not reflective of or affiliated with Kimbra or Kimbra's music team.
If you haven't yet seen the video or heard the song, watch and hear it here.
(This Song) + (This Video)
So let me start off by saying that (this song) + (this music video) = gold. It is so loaded with meaning and is also catchy, lyrical, visual, poetic, and symbolic. Yes. Nice job Kimbra and Guy Franklin (the video director).
Young Girls' Idealization of Marriage, Children, Adulthood, and Woman’s Role/The Idea of “Settling Down”
- Shows plans for the future and what kinds of plans the little girl is making for the future.
- Plans for a child that has elements/traits of his/her parents; “We’ll call her Nebraska, Nebraska Jones. She’ll have your nose. Just so you know.” This part in the lyrics reflects a simplified perspective of what “settling down” is and does not recognize the more complicated aspects. The addition of “just so you know” added after her statement of what the child is going to be named, reflects a disconnect with the idea of how someone else might find settling down to be, and in so reflects solely the little girl’s idea of what settling down is going to be and/or what it’s supposed to be.
- The simplified perspective of "settling down" and the sole reflection of this being the girl's idea of what settling down is going to be is further supported in the video where the girl is opposite the mannequin at the dinner table, mouthing the lyrics "We can settle at a table. A table for two. Won't you wine and dine with me? Settle down." When she poses these lyrics to the mannequin, the mannequin is unresponsive and his face is angled away from hers showing a disconnect from the girl's request and an unspoken refusal or lack of interest.
- The idea of “settling down” is engrained in young girls and women but is not emphasized for young boys and men. The mannequin is completely unaffected by the idea of settling down. Even once married and with a child (seen from when his wife is at a distance in the park with a stroller), he’s still out and about being anything but settled.
The analysis presented in this article is based on the lyrics and on the music video, but a commenter mentioned that the movie "A Place in the Sun" provides background to better understand what this song is about.
I have not seen the movie and am not yet able to do so, but please be advised that the story of the film lends another meaning or layer of meaning to "Angela Vickers," the motives for "settling down," and the wrong reasons and lengths to go to in order to attain it.
"Run From Angela Vickers"
- The threat of other partners and love interests.
- The idea that women are the ones to blame in extramarital relationships or in relationships outside of relationships. “Run from Angela Vickers” automatically makes Angela (the woman; the other woman) the villain, the one to run from, and the “bad guy.” The man is the one who needs warning from the bad, while the woman is the bad; reflects society’s view of who is to blame and who is free of blame. Can be related to ideas of home-wrecker, “the other woman,” who is stigmatized (the woman) and who is let off “Scot-free” (the man).
"Angela Vickers"/The Other Woman
Angela Vickers/the other woman is as equally attractive as her counterpart in the video but is more relaxed and possibly less reserved or conservative than her married counterpart. The angled close up of her features emphasizes these qualities and suggests a sense of seduction. She is wearing pearls, has her hair down, is wearing a dress that shows more skin than her married counterpart, doesn't seem to have a care in the world or obligations, and has a suaveness and confidence in her demeanor. All this put together makes her an alternative to the woman the mannequin married, and reflect what he is looking for in a woman and also in his extramarital affair.
The Married Woman
The married woman completed what was expected of her (cooking, cleaning, having a baby, waiting on her partner, loving her partner, etc.), and in turn, this should have resulted in her getting what was expected in her partner and in her life circumstance, but this is not the case.
“Stars so light, stars so bright. Keep him by my side.”
This chorus first goes over with the married woman cleaning vigorously while the lyrics say “Star so light, stars so bright. Keep him by my side.” This is a poignant part in the video which represents such a perfect combination of adulthood, childhood, and reality. As a woman/adult the wife is doing everything that she can to keep him, and as a child, she is doing everything that she can to keep him (wishing on a star). This part in the video also shows how the insecurities and fears of a child are not that different from one of an adult, and also how being an adult and being a child are not always mutually exclusive (as there is overlap).
This for me is one of the saddest and most poignant parts of the whole video. In the video we see the married woman looking at her reflection and putting on a pearl necklace (like the one worn by “Angela Vickers”) while mouthing the lyrics “keep him by my side.” The mirror, a point of self-reflection and self-evaluation, reveals a point in this woman’s identity, self-realization, and vulnerability. She is changing to be what he wants.
We later see her at the dinner table wearing the pearl necklace facing her husband’s dinner plate and an empty chair, but her change is only so complete.
Her hair is still pulled up, and she is still wearing relatively conservative clothing. So as much as she tries, she cannot be what he wants, partly because she is another person, and partly because changing to be what he wants still won’t keep him by her side. So she finds herself at the dinner table in multiple Limbos. She does not have the life she envisioned she’d have. She does not have her partner. And since she tried to change herself to be what he wanted, she does not have herself. Very sad.
The Use of Two Attractive and Similar-in-Appearance Females
- They are hard to tell apart; and in so, despite their different relationships to the mannequin, they are more similar than they are different.
- They are both affected by the same ideals, society, consequences, and gender expectations and messages.
- The fact that they are both attractive and similar in appearance makes for an “all else being equal” evaluation of the two of them which extends in several ways. All else being equal between the two women, their fates are relatively similar. The married woman did what was expected of her and what she understood to be her role to reach her the idea/ideal of “settling down” and found the reality to be quite different. So it is with the same understanding that the other woman (“Angela Vickers”) may do what is expected of her (be exciting, seductive, engaging, etc.) to reach the idea/ideal and may also find the reality to be quite different. The two different women represent two different messages given to women when it comes to the roles they must fulfill/the things they must do to attain the ideal, “settling down,” or a satisfactory ever after.
The first is represented by the married girl: she cooks, cleans, and keeps house. She is conservative and modest, faithful, stays in the house or within the confines of the sphere expected of her, and bears her husband’s child.
The second is represented by the other woman (“Angela Vickers”). She’s relaxed, seductive, wears and touches her jewelry, and glances with appealing eyes to the mannequin. She’s outside while doing this which contrasts with the wife who’s inside, suggesting that she is willing to explore, be exciting/engaging, and push some boundaries. This is further supported by the lyrics “she’s got a fancy car. She wants to take you far. From the city lights and sounds deep into the dark.”
These are two different messages given at an early age as to how women should behave to attain the idea/ideal of “settling down” and how to be “what he wants” and the reality is that neither of these has guaranteed results/are a recipe for happiness.
The Use of the Male Mannequin
- He serves multiple purposes (while at the same time, literally serving none as a mannequin).
- Represents the “placeholder” of a male companion who is supposed to be a marriage partner.
- The man in that marriage and in his extramarital relationship is pretty much as good as a mannequin and mannequins are not really good for anything except display, maintaining an illusion, convincing you to buy something or buy into something, and/or being pleasing on the surface but devoid of real/true quality below. With this lens, the mannequin can be seen as a man who is only good for display and for maintaining an illusion, as the illusion itself (the idea of “settling down”), and/or as representative of the societal messages that are engrained in girls to convince them to buy into the ideas, but are only good for display and deception as they do not come to fruition in reality.
The Burning of the Dolls and the Dancing Girls (the Wife and “Angela Vickers”)
Towards the end of the video, we see the burning of the dolls as the two girls who played the wife and “Angela Vickers” dance behind Kimbra. The dancing of the little girls is free, childlike, unreserved, and unburdened. The girls are dressed in white, and they have returned to being little girls. The fact that the girls are wearing white are dancing in this way, and are dancing together, represents a return to innocence. The dolls can be said to represent the messages that we give too little girls regarding their roles, life expectations and ideals, and how to attain these (as dolls are given to girls early in life in the same way these messages are). And as such, the burning of the dolls behind them while they dance suggests that in order to return to innocence and allow girls to be little girls, and in order to change the messages that girls internalize and live, we have to change the messages and values we give to them early in life (shown by burning the dolls/messages). The girls are dancing together, and in so they are no longer rivals or threats to each other vying for the same man’s affections and are simply little girls.
The Burning of the Dolls and Kimbra Dancing in Black
Kimbra is dancing in front of the dancing girls who are no longer rivals or threats to each other vying for the same man’s affections but have returned to the innocence of being little girls (demonstrated by their dancing together and wearing white dresses). Kimbra, however, is not a little girl, and she is not wearing white; she is a grown woman and cannot return to the innocence of being a little girl and of growing up without the ideals and values that have been imposed on her by society. In contrast to the little girls in white, she is wearing black, but she is also dancing; suggesting that she although she is no longer a little girl and although she has been influenced by and has grown up with the ideals and messages of society, she is still able to cast off and release some of the strings involved with some of these messages (indicated by her dance movements and her looking up while the dolls burn behind her in the background). The burning of the dolls is behind both Kimbra and the little girls. The dolls burn behind the little girls and the way the little girls dance in white shows a return to innocence and a “clean slate” of sorts that the girls can grow up in; the dolls burn behind Kimbra and the way Kimbra dances in black shows a grown woman who has been marked and molded by these ideals and messages releasing what she can and finding some liberation from them; showing in some ways a bit of catharsis in the process.
The Use of Little Girls as Women
- The sexualization of little girls.
- How girls are given adult messages (about what their roles are, how to attain these goals, and what their ideals/expectations should be—i.e. “settling down”).
- Children/little girls wanting to grow up too fast.
- The idea that a woman should make herself to be what a man wants (seen by both the wife and “Angela Vickers”).
- The idea that a woman has to fend for her romantic/relational interests (seen by both the wife and “Angela Vickers,” as well as by the mannequin’s lack of true involvement with both his wife and “Angela Vickers.” His lack of true involvement is of course, partly due to the fact that he is literally a mannequin. It is also due to the fact that the mannequin is representative of the "placeholder" of the man as a marriage partner, and as a partner he is not actively involved in protecting either of these relationships.)
- The idea of using colors to represent possible links. The wife is primarily in blues and "Angela Vickers" is in white. "Angela Vickers" is wearing white representative of her appeal, allure, innocence, and novelty. While the blue that the wife wears is a more subdued and less contrasting color, representative of the fact that she has lost her appeal, innocence, and novelty. Blue is more of a "fade into the background" color, which would also relate to how the wife may have been viewed as her husband (the mannequin) set his sights elsewhere. When in the park, the mannequin is wearing both white and blue representing his connection to both women.
Food for Thought
- How does this make you view/think about the messages we give to little girls?
- The messages regarding the “type of woman” that a woman has to be to get a man (represented by “Angela Vickers”) are far more subtle than the messages of being a wife, and can easily be overlooked in this video. Why?