Behind the Video: "Breathe Again" by Pop Evil

by Carl Wiser

Director Johan Carlén breaks down the video for "Breathe Again" by Pop Evil.

If you set an episode of Black Mirror to a potent rock song and compressed it to 3:24, you'd get something like Pop Evil's "Breathe Again" video. Directed by Johan Carlén, it finds a woman with a flashing cube on her head entering a strange world and trying to escape.

The song was released in November 2020, with with video appearing in February 2021. "Breathe Again" is the "Evil" side of the band, a full-tilt rocker that's a kind of catharsis. "There was something special about the song," lead singer Leigh Kakaty told Songfacts. "I knew it was going to connect with our fans." Kakaty added, "We wanted to let our metal roots shine."

Carlén, from Sweden, has directed several Pop Evil videos, including "Behind Closed Doors" and "Trenches." Here, he goes behind the video to explain the concept and execution of "Breathe Again."
George Cappellini, the band's manager, approached me with the song last year. He's also the manager for Avatar, that I work with, by the way. The song is very Pop Evil. Strong and with a chorus that stays in your head.

When I sat down to come up with a video I looked for certain things in the song's lyrics to build upon. "Breathe Again" is saying that you once could breathe free, something happened that stifled that, but you managed to break free to be able to breathe again. So that's how I came up with the concept of a person being trapped inside what is clearly not a place of her own choosing. And the cube on her head being both a symbol of something forced onto her but also serving as a visual hook. "It's the video with the cube-head girl." And a cubical world is easy to create, but still visually interesting if done right. It also ties into the theme I decided for the video, that is "think outside the box." Box = cube. George and the band loved the idea and I started creating the story.

The song has a strong sense of forward motion so I wanted the story of the video to have that too, first introducing the world and the character, then having something happen that changes the situation for the character. She accidentally breaks a small part of the cube and can't open the doors anymore. She tries to but fails.

To raise the stakes and tension I introduce what is called a "ticking clock element." In this case the world is starting to collapse and being sucked into a black hole. This forces the character to try out new solutions for her problem. Her first attempt, to replace the broken part of the cube with something that has the same but not the correct function, fails, raising the tension even more. And this is where the theme of the video comes in. During the entire video there are these narrow paths in the walls. With the cube on her head she would never fit through them, though, and that made her only see them as design details. So by breaking the entire head cube, and visualizing her very clearly putting her state of mind from inside the box to outside the box, she comes up with a way to escape. A way that was there from the start but she couldn't see it because at that point in time she only thought doors could be exits.

Johan CarlénJohan Carlén
This idea also comes from the fact that I really love video games and thought of this as a puzzle in, for example, a Zelda game. To use an example from a game in that series, to light a torch that is out of reach you have to think outside the box and use a reachable torch to light an arrow and fire onto the torch that is out of reach to light it. I wanted that for the video. When you finally see it you go, "Oh, of course."

Shooting this video was a bit tricky because of the pandemic, so we shot all parts with the cube-head girl here in Sweden in a green-screen studio. The band was shot by other teams in England and the United States. I was present for the band shoots on Zoom to direct and overlook photography. In my original idea I wanted the shots of the band to be in black and white to contrast against the colorful story part, but Leigh came up with the idea to have parts of the lyrics shown as text and the band parts being in color. Looking at the end product I think that was the correct call and a good idea. To shake the band parts up even more I came up with the effect that breaks them down to pixels. Since the 3D version of a pixel is, you guessed it, a box/cube.

May 24, 2021
See more of Johan's work at johancarlen.nu

Further reading:
Behind the Video: "Morrigan" by Children of Bodom
Behind the Video: "Amerika" by Wintersleep
Mike Pecci on Making Music Videos

More Song Writing

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