Clean Bandit’s “Mama” Takes A Stand On Toxic Masculinity

Heard out of context, you might pass it by, noting this song’s place as another one of Clean Bandit’s snappy collaborations with popular indie artists. That’s what I did, placing it on a background tab as I went about other internet browsing. It was only when I clicked back on it accidentally that I noticed the YouTube frame, filled with an arrogant, under-qualified orange face. 

Video gained prominence as a complimentary medium to music in the 1980s with the rise of MTV. But what I have been delighted to witness in the past few months is a multi-modal composition in which art tackles the difficult issues of our time head-on. “Mama,” featuring Ellie Goulding, is not only an honest questioning of current events, but a deep psychological journey into how what we teach our children affects the rest of their lives—and, on occasion, impacts the world. 

Peppy with steady beats, “Mama” opens with a young boy falling by a lake with a disapproving father onlooking. This dysfunctional father-son relationship and the following toxic masculinity are at the heart of the story. As a small child, the boy builds a wall out of bricks. Following bullying in school, this boy goes from victim to victimizer in the military. The video also explores the boy’s mistreatment of women, which stems from his father’s own lack of respect for women. Throughout these key experiences, we cut to see an older, angry man seated in the Oval Office. 

Like those before them, from Bruce Springsteen to Barbra Streisand to Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Clean Bandit and Ellie Goulding have courageously criticized the President. But what is so fantastic about this stand is that it goes deeper than just recent events. The song and video reach into societal concerns about relationships, gender, fear, and respect. All are crucial to our development as humans and if we treat them as insignificant, they can seriously affect who we become. We have a responsibility to one another to ensure we no longer perpetuate this toxic cycle because that’s what’s in power today. 

Three and a half minutes in, the lyrics and rhythm fades as the image focuses on the grown Trump-like figure dancing with a woman with a likeness to Melania. As they waltz, he points out key childhood moments we saw earlier. Zooming out on them, reveals a seal with the phrase “Damaging our Children Can Damage the Entire World.” The whole thing closes with the image of the boy and his wall. I wonder, what video would we have if he had chosen, instead, to build bridges? 

“Mama” is available now. Watch the video today—your inner activist will thank you

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