Naughty Boy - La La La

by Anja Freiberg


The video which will be analysed in the following is the video for Naughty Boy's song "La La La" (feat. Sam Smith), which was released in April 2013. First, general facts and information about the video are introduced. Then, the narrative will be presented and analysed - also in terms of references to other stories. Afterwards, the techniques used in the video are introduced and their function discussed. In the following analysis, there will not be much information about the meaning of the song as such, nor on any of the artists in particular.

General facts and information about the video:               

The video for Naughty Boy's song "La La La" was directed by Ian Pons Jewell and was released on 19th April 2013. Jewell directed some other music videos in the past, but he also did advertisements. Furthermore, he directed the video for Naughty Boy's new song "Home". The video for "La La La" was filmed in and around La Paz in Bolivia and was nominated for "Best Urban Video" in the UK Music Video Awards in 2013.[1] The fact that the video was filmed in Bolivia leads back to Jewell's interest in the country. He happened to be in Bolivia directing another music video when he was asked to direct the video for Naughty Boy as well. Since Jewell felt really inspired in the country and by its mystery, he decided to film the video for "La La La" while he was there anyway. So, he only had a couple of days to get the cast for the video and for filming. In an interview, Jewell says about Bolivia that "[i]t's got such a vast, varied landscape and a surreal edge to it"[2] and that "[he] wanted to show an almost alien and epic journey"[3], which, in his opinion could not have been created in another place in England such as London. In the "Making Of" of the video[4] he even said that Bolivia offered places and scenery to create an "alternative reality"[5] through mysteries and the separate logic offered by them. Furthermore, he thought that the locations were well-suited for the short amount of time they had to finish the video, also they are "essential for the story"[6], which will be looked at closer when analysing the narrative of the video.

The narrative (summary)              

In summary, the video tells the story about a little boy who leaves his home because of (verbal) abuse by his father. On his way, he makes friends with several characters, such as a stray dog, a cement man without a heart and a weirdly dressed traffic policeman. The little boy manages somehow to get them out of their (bad) environment and their routine by sticking his fingers into his ears and repeatedly singing "La La La". And so they make their way to a mine where the boy is left with a demoniac figure. The audience does not get to know what happens after the boy is left in the mine or why he is left there. There is no indication of what is going to happen next about him or about any of the other characters.

On watching the video the first time, the viewer is immediately reminded of the story of "The Wizard of Oz". It is most obvious in terms of the characters. The boy seems to represent Dorothy, who is also away from home finding company in a lion, a tin man and a scarecrow. The tin man, who was cursed by the wicked witch and lost his heart, finds his equivalent in the cement man, who in the video gets a new heart after meeting the boy. Also, the weirdly dressed policeman seems to be a representation of the scarecrow, and the dog represents Dorothy's dog Toto and the lion. Not only are the characters very similar, also, the story shows some parallels. While Dorothy and her friends are on their way to meet the Wizard in the "Emerald City", the boy and his companions are on their way to a mine outside La Paz to meet a demoniac figure, however it is not explained why they are going there. When watching the video repeatedly, one asks whether the video is just an adaption of "The Wizard of Oz", which should clearly be answered no.    
According to Jewell, the video also refers to Bolivian legends.
[7] On the one hand, it refers to the legend of "El Tío", and at the same time it includes elements of the Bolivian legend of the deaf boy. In the legend of "El Tío", there is a ruler over the mines, residing in the dark caves. "According to their traditions, he rules over the mines, simultaneously offering protection and destruction."[8] He is in good mood when he is given gifts and offerings, and the miners and their families can live in wealth. When he is not given enough offerings, he can get in a very bad mood and ruin the miners' lives by making them very poor or even kill them, so they are trying to keep him happy. "If El Tío is not fed, he will take matters into his own hands and feed on human flesh."[9] On the other hand, the video refers to the legend of the deaf boy, which is a 19th century legend in which a deaf boy suffers from abuse by his dad and thus runs away from home. On his way, he finds a stray dog and after living in the streets for a couple of months, he finds out that he has a special talent and that he can heal people and relieve them through his screams when they are suffering. They hear that there is a demon in the town, who is cursing the habitants, so he and his dog are on their way to him, and the boy is supposed to calm him down and relieve his mind. Also, the boy cannot be cursed by the demon because he is deaf.[10]           
At the end, it is not entirely clear what the message of the video's narrative is and Naughty Boy as well as Jewell say that the video's message is up to the audience. In an interview, Jewell once said: "It's "The Wizard of Oz" for sure, but twisted into Bolivian mythology and urban legends. It also has other para-political, high weirdness themes not as apparent, but I prefer to let audiences read it as they wish."


With regards to the techniques used in the video, the use of light and darkness and the points of synchresis will be discussed as they both contribute to the content and general understanding of the video.

The use of light and darkness

During the video, there are a few scenes where light and darkness play an important role. There are three scenes in which darkness is most prominent. It is the first scene, where the door (in a hotel) opens and the audience gets to see the room where the father shouts at the little boy. The room is almost in total darkness, which could be analysed as the darkest place for the little boy. It is also during this scene when the boy is leaving his home. The next scene in which we can see darkness (or at least no natural light) is when the boy enters the gym/sport studio, where he meets the "tin man", who is bossed around by a lady in dark make up and black hair. The last scene, in which darkness is prominent is the last scene when the boy is left with the demoniac figure in the mine. Altogether, one could argue that the scenes in which darkness is used most prominently are the scenes where bad and evil is represented. In contrast to that, there are also scenes where light and brightness are predominant. Most other shots during their journey are landscape shots, such as when they walk across the salt flats. These are wide views with natural (day-)light. Also, the scenes in the city of La Paz and on the train tracks are in daylight, so that one could say that light and brightness represent the good and positive in the video.[12] In contrast to this theory of darkness representing the bad and evil parts of the boy's life and light representing the good or hopeful parts of his life, one could say that darkness represents the boy's reality, which he is trying to escape. The fact that all the scenes that are in darkness are scenes where the boy enters a 'different world' or reality adds to this theory. Additionally, the scenes in light and brightness could then represent the journey to a better reality (during all scenes in brightness, the characters are walking - either in the city, on the salt flats or the old train tracks) or the dreams, fantasies and an idealised world, which the boy and the other characters escape to by singing "La La La".

Points of Synchresis

Another important part of the techniques used in the video are the points of synchresis, which are defined as "(...) salient moment[s] of an audiovisual sequence during which a sound event and a visual event meet in synchrony"[13]. In the video, there are several scenes, in which the sound and the video come together. This is commonly used in filming and music videos as this makes the sound and the picture more understandable and intertwined.[14]      
The points of synchresis in the video are in those scenes when the boy either does not want to hear something or when he is helping the other characters to get out of whatever uncomfortable situation they are in. Then, the lyrics say

"I'm covering my ears like a kid When your words mean nothing,I go la la la"[15]

Whenever these lyrics appear in the song, the visuals show the same, namely the boy and/or the other characters covering their ears and singing "la la la". Those points of synchresis "naturally signify relation to the content of the scene and the film's overall dynamics."[16] In the case of the presented video, these points of synchresis emphasise the importance of the action of covering one's ears and singing "la la la" to get out of whatever uncomfortable situation people are in. It stresses the psychological interpretation of the video where the boy is suppressing his feelings and fears caused by abuse and manages to escape reality by his singing. It shows that singing "la la la" (and music in general) is creating a secure space for the boy as well as the other characters, which shows what a powerful tool music seems to be. Especially this could be interpreted as a call for 'the power of music' and the importance of pop culture in our lives. There are many people who use music as an escape tool because "listeners are distracted from the demands of reality by entertainment which does not demand attention either."[17]
What kind of music video is it?

Analysing the music video - and therefore watching it numerous times - made me wonder what kind of music video it is. One the one hand, it can be seen as an urban fairytale, which is also suggested by Jewell in his interview. It has definitely got some fairytale-like features by adapting elements of "Wizard of Oz", its characters, its story. However, it can also be seen as an representation of Bolivian culture and legend reinforced through the story of "The Wizard of Oz" and therefore also be a travel video, bringing us closer to the beauty and culture of Bolivia. After all, Jewell decided to film the video during one of his stays because he thought it would be nice if people would get to know some more of Bolivia, especially since he himself feels very inspired by the country.
Altogether, it can be all of the above. A music video - especially these days - does not necessarily have to fulfil any other purpose than ensuring that the song sells. But as it has been pointed out by Naughty Boy as well as Jewell, the video is left fairly open to interpretation, so whether the video is one with a positive message or not is left up to the audience, who can decide themselves what they want to see in it. Naughty Boy said in an interview on the message behind the "La La La"-video that "it means a lot of things in different ways"[19] and that it is different for everyone[20].

First of all, I would like to point out that the music video as such is so much more than I had imagined when I started with the analysis. I chose the video in the first place because I knew that I would have to listen to the song over and over again and watch the video again and again, so I thought it was important to have a look at something that I could actually put up with for a while. The second reason why I chose this video (over a wide variety of other options) was that when I had first watched the video, it did not seem like 'just another "Wizard of Oz" music video' picking up the themes and characters of the novel/movie. There were so many other things in the focus that I wanted to have a closer look at because in the beginning I could not quite seem to be able to grasp all other interpretations and references.
Before I will conclude on the analysis of the music video, I wanted to briefly focus on the song and its relation to the video. When I had a look at the lyrics, it turned out that the lyrics, in a way, stand out. They are fairly serious describing a situation where someone cannot see a "silver lining" anymore and needs to get away from this. Whilst this is rather dark and serious, the music and the melody (and especially the chorus with its "la la la") seem at first quite light-hearted in contrast to the rest of the lyrics. However, the video seems to bridge the gap by connecting the seriousness of the lyrics with the light-hearted sound of the song.     At the same time, the video can be seen as a bridge between dream and reality. The boy is in his 'real' world with his problems and therefore could function as a 'connector' between the real world and the legends told within the video. So basically, there could be four separate storylines: reality - Wizard of Oz - legend of El Tío - legend of the deaf boy. Within those four worlds, the boy seems to enter the other worlds in order to escape his own reality.
Altogether, the video is a very interesting one, allowing the audience to still put some thought into what it is actually about. The more often I watched the video, the more details I realised and the video got more and more interesting. When I first read that the video was left open for interpretation on purpose, I thought that this was just 'typical' when they could not think about an overall interpretation, but having read a lot about Jewell, his love to Bolivia and the background on the "Hotel Cabana" album, it really seems to make sense to leave it open to the audience because there are so many aspects to look into. Also, having looked at the different techniques used in the video and how much they can contribute to a video's meaning and interpretation was very impressive.

[1] (12.09.2014)
[2] (12.09.2014)
[3] ibid.
[4] (08.10.2014)
[5] ibid.
[6] (12.09.2014)
[7] ibid.
[8] Roesch, Aaron. "Unearthing Potosi: The Enduring Plight of Bolivian Minors." on (12.09.2014)
[9] ibid.
[10] (12.09.2014)
[11] (12.09.2014)
[12] (24.09.2014)
[13] Chion, M.; Gorbman, C.; Murch, W. (1994): Audio-vision. Sound on screen. New York: Columbia University Press. 58.
[14] ibid.
[15] (12.09.2014)
[16] Chion, M.; Gorbman, C.; Murch, W. (1994): Audio-vision. Sound on screen. New York: Columbia University Press. 59.
[17] Adorno, T. "Music and Mass Culture" In: Adorno, T.; Leppert, R. (2002) Essays on Music. Berkeley: University of California. 458.
[18] (24.09.2014)
[19] Naughty Boy on his inspiration: (24.09.2014)
[20] ibid.