Maroon 5 – or rather Adam Levine, since the band’s frontman has stepped so far out front that there is no distinction between them anymore – has just released a controversial new single and video that may have done more than just stir the social media pot. It may actually drive fans away.
“Animal” is an urgent pop-rock track that tells the story of a stalker and his pretty prey, played in the video by Levine and his actual wife Behati Prinsloo. It’s reminiscent of The Police’s gargantuan 1983 hit “Every Breath You Take,” often mistakenly considered a romantic ballad (which still never ceases to perplex and amuse its songwriter Sting) – except that the stalker in “Every Breath” is never more than a yearning watcher; the stalker in “Animal” is on the hunt.
In his video, Levine is a scuzzy butcher who shadows Prinsloo, snaps photos of the object of his predatory obsession and pins them in his developing room, and even stands over her while she sleeps unaware. Almost as an erotic release, he smears himself with blood and hangs grinning alongside slabs of beef in a meat locker.
“Baby, I'm preying on you tonight,” he sings. “Hunt you down, eat you alive/Just like animals.” Sure, he’s talking about sex, and who doesn’t like passionately animalistic sex? But there’s a cannibalistic overtone here, and since there is no indication that his desire is reciprocated – indeed, Prinsloo rejects him when he approaches her in a bar – then this is clearly predatory and not consensual (and these days, one practically needs a notarized legal agreement of consensuality in order to proceed with sex): “Maybe you think that you can hide/I can smell your scent from miles.” This isn’t sexy but creepy and potentially violent, and many listeners seem to agree.
In the stalker Levine’s head, the couple has sex while awash in blood. I don’t know who would find this sexy except perhaps fans of True Blood or, in this case, a predator with a fetish for hacking meat. “I get so high when I'm inside you,” the unsubtle lyrics go, but apparently he soars even higher envisioning her as bloody prey he has tracked and killed. As Acculturated’s own Abby W. Schachter points out, the fact that the couple are real-life husband and wife adds an “astoundingly ugly” layer to this already unpleasant video.
It’s hard to follow Levine’s and/or his record company Interscope’s line of thinking here. Perhaps the man who has his own celebrity fragrance, who launched a line of clothing at Kmart, and who sits on the panel of judges on a TV talent competition felt he needed more than just sleeve tattoos to seem edgy. Perhaps he’s trying to reach the sadistic/voyeuristic demographic that enjoys torture porn movies such as the successful Saw and Hostel franchises. Perhaps the music biz demands envelope-pushing videos in order to keep artists relevant. In any case, the result is nothing short of repulsive.
The stalker element aside, “Animal” unabashedly celebrates the purely animalistic side of sex divorced (pun intentional) from any emotional or spiritual connection with your partner. This is hardly uncommon in rock music, which doesn’t deal often enough in the spiritual (but when it does, as with the best of U2, the results are spectacular). “Don't deny the animal that comes alive when I’m inside you,” Levine falsettos. “You can't deny that beast inside.”
But denying the beast inside, or at least maintaining a guarded coexistence with it, is what makes us fully human. The young Renaissance humanist Pico della Mirandella noted, in his Oration on the Dignity of Man, that mankind hangs between heaven and earth, and by our own actions we either allow ourselves to sink to the level of beasts or ascend among the angels. The tragic quality of human nature is our never-ending struggle to overcome that beast inside, not surrender to it, and to ascend, even – or perhaps especially – during sex. How much more compelling and less off-putting “Animal” might have been if Adam Levine had explored that direction.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 10/2/14)