Yes, we know. Robin Thicke. Pharrell Williams. Alicia Keys. It’s been a rough year for celebrity one-liners. But just when we thought the jokes couldn’t get any worse, along came Robert Pattinson.
The actor, model, and singer—known for his collaborations with the likes of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift—just dropped a bombshell in the form of a song and accompanying music video. Titled “The Seeker,” the track serves as the lead single from Pattinson’s highly anticipated third solo album, Believe. And you won’t believe what it is you’re hearing. Let’s dive in.
The Man With A Plan
Unlike other celebrity embarrassments that were, at most, teetotaling anecdotes of debauchery, Pattinson appears to have had a grand plan in mind when he released “The Seeker.” That plan was to subvert expectation and garner interest in his music from someone who might not normally give a hoot about it.
“You’d think that someone who is as good-looking as I am would have more success,” Pattinson told the Times of India in March 2017. “But, surprisingly, my music has mostly found an audience with people who don’t even know who I am.”
That sentiment was echoed by Rolling Stone, which dubbed Pattinson a “pop star in waiting” in August 2017, and again by The Guardian in November 2017, when they dubbed him “the most interesting man in music.”
This was a risky gambit for a talented yet relatively anonymous artist, especially since it required him to actually make music that people might want to listen to. And it seems to have worked. Based on the feedback he’s garnered on social media, fans are responding to the “Seeker” with positivity, deeming it an artistic statement that subverts typical masculinity, and even going so far as to defend him against online trolls.
You wouldn’t have known any of this was on the table if you hadn’t watched the music video for “The Seeker.” The clip opens with Pattinson, looking every bit the part of a brooding and mysterious stranger, as he wanders the streets of New York City. As the camera pans across the cityscape, we cut to a shot of him walking alongside what appears to be an ornamental fountain or bubbling brook. Then, in the blink of an eye, he’s surrounded by a swarm of paparazzi, who are desperately trying to get a picture of him. It’s here that we realize this is no ordinary fountain or creek—it’s a manmade lake, presumably stocked with goldfish.
Subverting Gender Norms
In the past, we’ve seen many famous men use their fame for artistic or political causes that subvert gender norms. Take, for example, the inimitable Andy Warhol, who, in addition to his prolific output of art, designed some of the most iconic costumes and makeup looks of the 1960s and ‘70s. Or, take Bob Dylan—known for his activism and social commentaries—who released “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 1962, which was an ode to peace and revolution. It wasn’t long after that he published another song—this time with a political slant—entitled “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” which has been covered by everyone from Joan Baez to Bruce Springsteen.
And then there’s Andy Rourke, the lead singer of The Clockie Pals, an alternative rock band that formed in the late ‘90s. In the early days, they covered songs by the likes of Sonic Youth and Swans, and their music video for “Gangsta Style” was an ode to the glamorous yet dangerous stereotypes of the femme fatale and the male dominator.
So it stands to reason that someone as interesting as Pattinson would have a radical vision for how he wants to engage with his audience. But what is that vision?
An Instance Of ‘Anti-Masculinity’
In “The Seeker,” Pattinson’s vision of masculinity is one that is at odds with the commonly accepted definition. The song itself is an ode to the anti-masculinity movement, which seeks to unsettle the gender norms that persist in our society.
In the chorus, he sings: “I’m not your traditional male/I don’t fit through the door/You don’t know me but you think you love me/Just because I’m beautiful and rich and charming.” It’s here that we realize that even though he is surrounded by women in the music video, it’s not just about being the center of attention. It’s about questioning the very notion of what it means to be a man in 2018—and beyond.
Pattinson has described his third album, Believe, as “partly a celebration of my femininity and partly an insight into my psychology,” adding that its songs are “songs about the dark side of masculinity.” And if “The Seeker” is any indication, it seems like the thespian might be onto something. The song is filled with ambiguous references to toxic masculinity and its effects on society.
Take the chorus: “I’m not your traditional male/I don’t fit through the door/You don’t know me but you think you love me/Just because I’m beautiful and rich and charming.” One would instantly assume that he is talking about the hapless, but handsome, John. However, as the song progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that he’s not talking about anyone in particular. He’s referring, in a more generalized sense, to the sort of toxic masculinity that is ingrained in our society and institutions.
The line about “filing through the door” is a reference to the “Trouble With Men” podcast, which was co-founded by Kate Snow and Hanna Rosin. On this popular podcast, the two journalists interviewed academics, journalists, and psychologists who worked on gender issues. They then applied what they learned to their own lives, discussing what it means to be a man in the 21st century. One of the guests on the podcast was Elizabeth A. Larkin, who described toxic masculinity as “a social structure in which young men are socialized to be competitive, dominant, and unemotional.”
What’s more, Pattinson has described the album as “poetic” and “nightside-esque,” adding that its songs are “about the male psyche, loneliness, and finding love.” The title of the album, Believe, invokes both William Blake and Virginia Woolf. So, it seems that both the song and the album are brimming with references to works by English authors.
Why Is This Important?
This is important because it means that, at the very least, Pattinson is willing to expose his most personal inner workings to the public. It also means that he might be open to collaborations with other musicians. Having spent years keeping his private life hidden from the paparazzi, it’s clear that he’s not afraid to explore new creative frontiers.
This vision of masculinity is something to which we can, and should, pay attention. It’s important to remember that gender norms are not natural binaries; they are socially constructed ideals that have been in place for generations and which continue to influence how we as a society define “man” and “woman.” Toxic masculinity has, for too long, been accepted as “just being a man” and it is high time we started questioning its pernicious effects.