For the Record: A love letter to the “Savior Complex” music video

Audrey Morrison and Eva Williams

record player
In For The Record, Audrey Morrison talks new albums, concerts, and more. (Graphic by Ellen Chadwick)

In the latest installment of For The Record, Audrey Morrison and Eva Williams talk all about Phoebe Bridgers’s most recent music video. Before reading, check out the video:

Audrey: When I heard about the collaborational music video between Phoebe Bridgers and Phoebe Waller-Bridge I started crying. Just like flat-out, tears running down my face, bawling. This is the moment that all of us Pharbs (a moniker that plays on the nicknames of fans of Nicki Minaj – “Barbs”) have dreamt of but never dared to say aloud. I have loved Phoebe Bridgers ever since I first listened to “Motion Sickness” in January 2018 (I have the receipts). I came across Fleabag on Amazon Prime last year and I felt so incredibly seen. For ages in cinematic history, women have had to appear immaculate and perfect in every sense – or else they would be crowned the “hag” or the villain. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s portrayal of the main character who we know only as “Fleabag” is brash, and promiscuous, and stone-cold, and incredibly emotionally inept. It’s refreshing. Similarly, Phoebe Bridgers sings about guilt, emotional manipulation, murder, and anxiety. It’s a perspective on women that is self-effacing, while also remaining incredibly flawed and human.

Eva: Okay, when I heard about the music video, I did not start crying. Being a Phoebe Bridgers fan but having not seen Fleabag, which Phoebe Waller-Bridge is most known for, their collaboration wasn’t front page news to me. However, over the summer, I watched the miniseries Normal People, starring Paul Mescal, who the music video is centered around. Mescal brought an incredible intimacy to his character, Connell, and was nominated for an Emmy for his work on the show. So, I had high expectations for him in the music video. (Plus, I heard that Mescal and Bridgers were dating. Gotta keep up on the celebrity gossip, right?) 

Audrey: The video opens, I can barely see the screen because my eyes are clouded by my tears. Just kidding. By this time the shock had almost worn off. Anyways, the video opens: a dog. I’m thinking maybe a chihuahua or something but that’s beside the point. Immediately I think of the line from Phoebe Bridgers’ song “Moon Song” (my personal favorite) that goes, “so I will wait for the next time you want me like a dog with a bird at your door.” There wasn’t a bird, but there was a little dog with a little cape. (cute!) The little dog follows a ruddy, bruised up Paul Mescal (swoon) wherever he goes. 

Eva: The first thing I noticed was that Mescal was sitting in wet sand in a full suit, which seemed uncomfortable. But he was crying! And his face was covered with cuts! So I told myself not to be too judgmental. Mescal immediately seemed to bring the emotion I expected to the video. He runs from the dog, sneering at its innocent face. He stumbles through the sand before reaching a tall-grassed hill. 

Audrey: On his journey, Paul Mescal’s character passes by a woman driving a tractor one-handed (portrayed by Phoebe Bridgers). The specificity of this image is no doubt an allusion to the lines from the song “Call me when you land, I’ll drive around again. One hand on the wheel, one in your mouth… turn me on and turn me down.”  He doesn’t pay her a single glance, while Phoebe slows her tractor to watch him walk away. Phoebe realizes that this relationship is one-sided and her partner will wind her up just to let her down, but she can’t help but to follow them wherever they go and adore them. Classic unrequited love story. Much like my love for Phoebe that will never be returned. What a Pharb move.

Eva: Soon after Bridgers graces across the screen, Mescal fakes an injury to attract the attention of a passing driver, kicks the driver in the stomach, and steals his car. His character is soon revealed to be malevolent, a con-artist with no moral compass. When Mescal arrives at a hotel, he peels off the cuts that had plagued his face and stomach. This goes hand in hand with the line “Crocodile tears, run the tap ‘til it’s clear.” I’ve got to be honest, I lost all respect for him at this point. Who kicks a random stranger to the ground and steals their car! The rest of the video allots time to Mescal finally treating the dog with kindness. Before, plot twist, the dog and Phoebe steal the car and all of his belongings. 

Audrey: To be honest, I’ve watched this music video a ton of times and I still can’t form one coherent theme. It feels like a ton of feelings and experiences all meshed together. I think that the music video’s use of black & white frames also plays into this idea of complexity and the impossibility of a relationship without grey areas or nuance. Or I could have completely misinterpreted the video. Regardless, I feel like while also obviously revealing her partner’s emotional manipulation – Phoebe acknowledges her own emotional manipulation. The superhero cape that the dog wears (indicative of her “savior complex”) was actually a dracula-type costume the whole time! The imagery plays off of first appearances and assumptions. At the end of the music video, the dog and Phoebe pair together to rob Paul Mescal of all his worldly possessions (which oddly – he doesn’t seem to own many: just like a couple keys and a wallet). This big reveal was likely an allusion to the lyrics “Baby, you’re a vampire you want blood and I promised I’m a bad liar with a savior complex.” 

There’s also this veneer of sentimentality and anguish – with Paul’s character pretending to be hurt and through Phoebe’s lyricism. She has trouble being truly vulnerable and her inability to be honest is inescapable in her relationship with this person. “Overly sincere, Smoking in the car, Windows up, Crocodile tears, Run the tap ’til it’s clear.” I think that “Savior Complex” is all about false impressions, false sincerity, and false idolatry. Phoebe believes that no one in the relationship is being honest to one another, but by doing this they are saving each other from truly knowing each other’s flawed characters. But also in this way, they stay tethered to each other – each of them wanting something from the other that they can never have. Or I could be completely wrong. I’m probably completely wrong.

Eva: I read multiple theories for the meaning behind the video, but one stood out to me. Bridgers and the dog are one and the same, and Mescal’s character plays an unhealthy partner, constantly disrespecting and treating the dog with unkindness. By the time he comes to his senses and embraces his relationship with the dog, it’s too late, the dog has left him and his toxicity behind. Another theory I discovered was that this was a more general ode to society, not to a specific relationship Bridgers has experienced. This theory is solidified by Bridger’s nametag, reading “woman,” when she brings Mescal the dog bone and drink. Could the video be alluding to societal manipulation of women, and the inequality they face in relationships? 

Only the genius that is Phoebe Bridgers knows.