Listen Up: “What You Know,” Two Door Cinema Club

Two Door Cinema Club is an Irish band that is currently touring the U.S. Their song “What You Know” is lyrically devastating but musically infectious. The singer does a wonderful Ben Gibbard impression with backing from some sparkling guitars.

Life has become unsettled and unfamiliar in the past month. I’m back in school and am preparing for class and teaching. Here are some notes I took while watching this video.

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A woman on white roller skates enters the frame and the camera follows her movement. The woman beats the yellow drums in time with the drum beat, splashing the red dust. The last drum she hits is a white drum with mustard-colored dust. She has dark magenta socks with a matching smock over a white top, white shorts, and her hair is half up, half down. The authoritative way she beats the pails along with her less-revealing outfit demonstrates her agency. She does not have to look at anyone offstage for approval or entertain anyone as a dancer. She has a unique visual identity and does not have to use her body to express the music; she becomes one of the music-makers and creates a visual representation of the sound. Her smock hides the shape of her body, and her roller skates allow her to move without bouncing or flexing. The camera briefly pans down to show the pails and her lower body as she beats the pails.

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There are two pairs of parallel lines in the background. Parallel lines will never meet. The song describes a romance that has failed and gone on too long. These two people will never be able to come to a happy union and become “one”; there will be no convergence.

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The dancers move towards the camera with expressionless eyes and twitchy dance moves. This is not about sexy, sinuous moves, but about acting automatically with emotionless motion. Like how the relationship is just going through the motions without any passion.

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The camera cuts back to a frontal view of the band (with no bright colors in the frame) for the most heartbreaking part of the chorus—the stark truth.

And I can tell just what you want
You don’t want to be alone
You don’t want to be alone

Since the previous shot, the Buddy Holly guitarist and the sweater guitarist have switched sides. They are all moving with more energy; even the sweater guitarist is looking up and bending his knees a little. The singer is looking at the camera full in the face while singing the chorus, calling out the fears of the beloved.

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Then the band members jump forward off of the boxes that they were originally on and the dancers in shorts come forward and dance in formation. Then everyone turns, and in the new shot, it’s the dancers in skirts. Finally the dancers and the band are integrated together in a formation and are moving together. Just as the dancers and the band start to move together with passion and energy, the singer is reinforcing the crumbling state of the relationship in the chorus, about failing to unite.

The band members move forward back onto the boxes. All band members are moving with confidence. Buddy Holly guitarist is rocking out with his feet wide apart and bobbing his head. The sweater guitarist does some nodding head moves and deeper knee bends. The singer is moving his whole body with bouncy energy, swinging his guitar neck up and flicking his guitar strings with a flourish as the scene fades to black.

And I can tell just what you want
You don’t want to be alone
You don’t want to be alone
And I can’t say it’s what you know
But you’ve known it the whole time
Yeah, you’ve known it the whole time

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