We Exist

Album: Reflektor (2013)


  • This song was inspired by frontman Win Butler becoming a father, and also by an encounter with a gay teenager in Jamaica. He told The Sun: "Jamaica is a really hard place to be gay. And it made me envisage a conversation with him and his dad and gave me lines like 'I'll lose my heart if I turn away from you. Daddy don't turn away. I'm so scared.'"
  • The acceptance anthem's music video finds The Amazing Spider-Man actor Andrew Garfield playing a blonde-haired transgender woman. The clip was filmed during the Arcade Fire's set at Coachella 2014 weekend two.

    Transgender Against Me! singer Laura Jane Grace criticized the visual, tweeting "Dear Arcade Fire, maybe when making a video for a song called 'We Exist' you should get an actual 'Trans' actor instead of Spider-Man?"

    Win Butler responded to Grace's remark in an interview with The Advocate, in which he claimed the video wouldn't have been made without Garfield. "Once something gets on the Internet, it works its way into people's lives in a way that I think is pretty powerful," said the frontman. "For a gay kid in Jamaica to see the actor who played Spider-Man in that role is pretty damn powerful, in my opinion."
  • Win Butler told The Advocate that the song is a reaction to Jamaica's notoriously antigay culture. "There is a very kind of homophobic undercurrent, even in a lot of popular music and dancehall music, where there is a lot of violence against gay people," said the singer. "And we were in Kingston, and we went to this kind of film event and met some gay Jamaican kids and just kind of talked to them and realized that they were constantly under the threat of violence."

    "For me, I get kind of used to being in this sort of extremely liberal bubble — where we have Whole Foods and people are tolerant," Butler continued. "And you can kind of trick yourself into thinking that the world is that way. For me, it was really eye-opening to hang out with these kids who, if they were going to dress differently or express who they were, there was this real tension."
  • The opening scene was shot in a trailer belonging to Mexican farm workers over a period of three uncomfortable hours. Director David Wilson recalled: "It was all sorts of interesting, ranging from raw meat, rotting, hanging from the ceiling in one corner, to flies flying around our heads constantly in the extreme heat that kind of gathers in the springtime and summer in Coachella."
  • Garfield's head-shaving scene was meant to be captured from two different angles, but the camera malfunctioned, a fact that still bothers Wilson when he watches it. "It still kind of brings a lump to my throat and my heart sinks," he said.
  • Wilson was specific about his vision for Garfield's character, particularly in the bar scene when Garfield is beaten and humiliated by the homophobic patrons. He explained in a video commentary: "To me, I really liked his styling, the fact that it was cowboy shirts and cut-off jeans. I didn't want it to be overly feminine. In fact, our character I wanted to exist in a middle ground between male and female, as I believe in a gender spectrum. Despite there being obvious biological differences between genders, there are so many people that exist in the world between genders, and doing so in an environment that is hostile to anything that isn't black-and-white, like gender, can be very confrontational and can be a very risky thing to do, and you're just doing what you feel is comfortable. And this is important to me because I feel this may be the character's first time in dressing so feminine out in public."

    The dancing sequence represents the character's need to break free and the subsequent acceptance into the LGBT community - an experience close to Wilson's own as a gay man. "I wanted to represent the frustration and anguish that goes on inside of our character's head, so that's very much why Andrew is pushing against walls. It's feeling a restriction from expressing who he is."
  • Ryan Heffington, who also worked on Sia's "Chandelier" and "Elastic Heart," choreographed the video. He told Bullett magazine: "The intention behind David Wilson's video was to visually articulate the meaning behind the song. As a gay man, I do feel that with the support of Arcade Fire along with the message of the song and video, that yes, we have been successful in empowering our queer and transgender communities."

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