There’s a pretty good chance that you’ve already seen the video for a-ha’s “Take on Me.” I mean, you’re on the Internet right now, and I’m guessing it’s not for the first time. It’s a pretty famous video, and won a bunch of awards, for good reason. It’s creative, original, and it really illustrated what the then relatively new medium of music videos (or is it a genre?) was capable of.
It’s also a really catchy song, which is why I decided to write a Jam of the Week about it, because one of my co-workers got it stuck in my head.
But I’ve been trying to write this post for like a week, wracking my brain to figure out how to connect this song to writing. It hasn’t been easy, but I think I might have something.
Watch the video, but pay attention to the lyrics. They have nothing to do with each other, do they? Music videos, near as I can tell, come in pretty much two flavors: with a story, and without. The latter is usually just the band performing or the artist dancing or something (take a look at Solange’s “Losing You”). Videos with a story try and tell a story. Sometimes the story is kind of thin, just an excuse to show somebody dancing (most of Michael Jackson’s videos, amazing as they were, fall into this category). Sometimes the story is more coherent, it has a narrative flow, characters, etc. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which is more a short film than a video, and is absolutely amazing, is a great example of this.
So “Take on Me” has a story, but unlike, say, “War,” from the first installment of this column, that story has, well, very little to do with the lyrics. But that’s not really important, because the story has characters, it has a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion (or rising action, a conclusion, and a denouement, if you prefer). Try watching the video with the sound off, and the story still makes sense. It’s a simple story: girl meets boy, boy pulls her into comic book, boy gets in a fight with random bikers (?), girl flees comic book, boy is transported into real world, they live happily ever after.
Maybe there’s something deeper going on here. Maybe the guys in a-ha really love comics, and this is a statement about the depth of the medium, and its ability to draw readers in. Maybe its about the dangers of relying too heavily on escapist literature and the potential for fracturing your grasp on reality. Maybe it’s just a really cool idea.
I think what I’m getting at here, is that stories can, and will be, interpreted in different ways by different audiences. I mean, this is essentially why people study literature. But more than this, it’s possible, with a little thought, to reinterpret your own work for a different medium, or a different audience. If a-ha hadn’t rethought their song as a music video it probably never would have been as popular as it is. Keep your medium in mind, and adjust your story to fit within it.
And as a final note, I give you this, the original “literal version” or a-ha’s “Take on Me,” created by youtuber DustoMcNeato. If you haven’t seen this, you don’t spend enough time on the Internet.