As I set “Yo! My Saint!” to repeat for the twenty-eighth consecutive day, I actively suppress perpetuating my inner narcissist who wants to gaze shamelessly into the mirror to catch Karen O and Michael Kiwanuka’s reflections of a past tragically destined to collide with the present.
If this is your first exposure to this song, I recommend infinitely that you experience it in context of the short film directed by Ana Lily Amirpour for Kenzo SS18. This is absolutely necessary to understand the power behind these words that demand to be heard; to understand the complexity of the relationship between Karen O and Michael Kiwanuka’s distinct sounds, how they lend their visual character counterparts a backstory through their respective voices.
He introduces himself to us, but questions:
Don’t you tell another lie,
Don’t you tell another truth
My heart it isn’t bulletproof,
from visions of you.
Don’t you know the way I feel?
Can’t you read my mind?
Don’t you read between the lines for what’s reality?
The collective She sneers the response:
Forget ‘em, ‘get ‘em, ‘get ‘em
I used to rule the streets,
I was young enough to know
There was something to believe in.
Now I’m tired of the lies they tell,
I’m tryna to disguise myself
The perfect crime that I’ll commit
Is loving you despite all of it
Juxtaposed with a deliberate, high contrast palette, O and Kiwanuka’s atypical vocals breed a spectral, almost hypnotic effect that pinpoints an unlikely connection between the three lovers. In the apex of this love triangle is a subtle breakdown. Our starring He sheds a few sniffling tears to the closing verse of the ballad, concluding the perceived narrative with stirring emotion.
Now listen to the song without the visual cues that date this piece to the present: listen while walking down the street, ordering a drink at a lonesome bar — the message is now ubiquitously contextualized. The people passing you on the streets start to resemble signals rather than the object of humans themselves. They become props to further the song into everlasting existence. Stories of love, when described with the correct levels of ambiguity become timeless because of our unrelenting human need to understand through past experience or future desire. The song’s ability to root itself in memory or in aspiration, depending upon your own experience, is what will make it timeless.