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Sky Ferreira’s “I Blame Myself” Video Subverts the Gender Dynamics of Gang Culture

Look at the image above. One of these things is not like the other. Some may say it’s another example of a pop star “accessorizing with black people,” but hold on a second, there’s something redeeming here. In her new video for “I Blame Myself,” Sky Ferreira plays with gender dynamics in gang culture, a context in which her punky pop has likely never been considered. The juxtaposition, as it turns out, speaks to a larger message about power and vulnerability.

(Watch the Grant Singer-directed video over at the website of fashion retailer SSENSE, where it’s locked for the time being.)

The Compton-shot clip starts with a gang boss taking care of business. We don’t see the head honcho’s face, only the back of his jacket as he walks towards a car to have a chat with an opposing gang. The frame opens wider, at which point Sky’s shape becomes visible. A petite young woman in novelty sunglasses and bedazzled tights is the leader of a gang. There’s the shots of her chilling on the hood of a car with her boys (above), riding along, and ultimately, all of them doing a choreographed dance routine that looks like something of a late-’90s boy-band video.

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As the video goes on, we see that Sky has been arrested, a scene that hits close to home. As Ferreira explained in the behind-the-scenes making-of video (below), “It’s obviously based off of real events… people always ask me questions about certain things, and it’s kind of like my response. I think actions speak louder than words.” She is likely referring to her drug arrest last fall (alongside boyfriend Zachary Cole Smith, of indie band DIIV) just as her debut, Night Time, My Time, was finally getting its release on Capitol Records. Ferreira was doing a lot of press, so it was a topic she couldn’t avoid. (Sidenote: I’m not totally comfortable with the language — “thuggish” — the director uses to describe Ferreira’s co-stars.)

The ultimate twist in the “I Blame Myself” video is that Ferreira strips down to manipulate the policemen questioning her. (If that’s not a metaphor for the music industry, I’m not sure what is.) In a broad sense, sexuality is one of the few forms of power that’s available almost exclusively to women, but it also places them in a vulnerable context simultaneously. “I Blame Myself” is, as I’ve written about before, a song that gets its power from its extreme vulnerability. The lyrics detail the frustration of being a face without a voice, with Ferreira ultimately taking responsibility for the way her actions have been misconstrued over the years. The song speaks to the icky truths we may not want to admit to ourselves, because we know we shouldn’t take the blame and yet we still think that way.

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There’s certainly a different kind of vulnerability to gang activity, the consequences of which are far more extreme: death or prison. By exploring the power of vulnerability in these three contexts — her own world, as described by her lyrics; illegal activity/gang culture; and sexuality — Sky Ferreira shows that not only does she have a voice, but it’s one we should be listening to.

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