The Curious Case of Cake
Music Video Analysis: “feel away” by Slowthai
by Colin Hodgson
Slowthai’s most recent music video for “feel away” featuring James Blake and Mount Kimbe is an odd one. Set in a maternity ward, Slowthai proposes to his girlfriend, then suddenly becomes pregnant and gives birth. This all happens while his fiancé marries the doctor and holds an afterparty in the room as Slowthai is giving birth.
Although the image of a pregnant Slowthai is strange and watching his fiancé marrying the doctor is depressingly funny, the most iconic images come towards the end of the video. During the celebration, his ex-fiancé cuts a slice out of his arm, which happens to be cake, and the rest of the party guests are served other body parts. Finally, the last shot shows someone rip the baby’s face off, which also turns out to be cake, and eat it. Not exactly what you’d expect, although you never get the expected from Slowthai.
Cake disguised as objects has been one of the largest memes of 2020 thanks to the surge of fake-cake themed TikToks. From pizza to crocs to lettuce, you can never really tell what may reveal itself as cake. (In a world where deepfakes and disinformation are becoming more and more prevalent, it is perfectly situated as a meme that is innocuous yet critical of a world in which we can no longer trust our eyes to tell us the truth. But this is a music video analysis, not a meme analysis.) Slowthai and the director, Oscar Hudson, undoubtedly had this meme in mind as they created the video. When it comes to hyper-realistic cake, however, specifically the cannibalism cake, there is an earlier piece that the video directly references: “Don’t Come Around Here No More” by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.
The video, which premiered on MTV in 1985, was based on Alice in Wonderland and emphasized its psychedelic themes. The video was directed by Jeff Stein and follows Alice as she runs into a hookah-smoking caterpillar (Dave Stewert) and becomes trapped in a distorted room with the Mad Hatter (Tom Petty) and other strange people. The video ends as Alice’s body turns into a cake and all the party guests eat her.
The video caused a good deal of controversy when it was released, mainly because of this cake scene. Not only did people think it would scare children (in fairness, it did), but some felt it glorified perverted or predatory sex acts and drug use. MTV even forced Petty to edit out a shot because he looked like he was enjoying himself too much.
Despite the similar use of cake-cannibalism, “feel away” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” are quite different. Whereas Tom Petty used cake partly to continue the theme of consumption present in Alice in Wonderland and to shock his audience, Slowthai uses it more deliberately. The song was dedicated to his deceased brother (who died as an infant) and was released the day after the anniversary of his passing. The use of cake in the final sequence can therefore be seen as a visualization of how Slowthai feels during celebrations or significant events such as this wedding. While everyone else is happy and celebrating, he is sad and lonely because he misses his brother, and it feels as though these events literally eat away at him.
The final shot, in which a stranger eats the baby’s face, depicts the cruel reality of life; time (as represented by this stranger) will make Slowthai forget his brother’s face, and will eventually erase him from history. Paradoxically, by creating the video Slowthai has immortalized this memory by including it in his art.
One thing the two videos do have in common is that they both seem to exist only within the protagonists’ minds. The beginning of “feel away” is reality — Slowthai’s girlfriend is pregnant, not him. Notably, he is eating cake here, which seems to be the trigger for all the hallucinatory events that follow. The final shot shows them back to normal after all the craziness, with her in bed and him asleep in a chair. The baby is shown as cake, but this detail could be attributed to the final spurt of the dream-like reality since he is still asleep.
This aspect of both videos finally leads back to the meme. Both videos use cake to signify a false reality just like the meme, albeit for different reasons. Perhaps it’s fitting that cake has become the signifier of false reality. After all, cake has always been used to celebrate birthdays, which are merely byproducts of the false human construct of linear time.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe cake is just cake.
“feel away” made it on my list of the 6 best music videos of 2020. Check it out here.