Here are what went streaking through my head while watching Vampire Weekend’s video for the song “Cousins”:
1. Are Vampire Weekend channelling their inner Bappi Lahiri with that “Eh-eh-ooh-aah!” bit in the beginning of the song? (The link is just an example, by the way. Those who have know Mr. Lahiri’s discography will know that he’s done this stuff in an alarming number of songs.)
2. Shooting pigeons is on Ezra’s list of things to do in 2006. Along with “learn french”, “write a novel” and “steal gold”. This could be my 2009 list of things to do.
3. Despite being reasonably fluent in English and accustomed to a variety of American accents, I understood exactly 14 words of that song. Which is actually more than how much I understood of “A-Punk” or misunderstood of “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” so go me!
4. Where have I seen that fluorescent tape thing before?
It turns out I haven’t seen precisely what’s in the “Cousins” video but I have seen pictures of something remarkably similar when I came across the work of a guy called Aakash Nihalani. Of course, long before my sluggish brain got its act together others had picked up on this resemblance. In the comments to Stereogum’s post announcing “Cousins”, someone jubilantly said Nihalani had worked on the video and then someone by the handle “m” corrected them: “this tape art was definitely NOT done by aakash nihalani. Vampire Weekend totally ripped him off (poorly) without consent or compensation. how’s that for supporting the arts?” From the sound of things, Nihalani isn’t particularly amused by this ripping off either. Do I hear a chant of “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” in the distance? (Probably not but hey, it could happen.)
Street art is a tough thing for which to claim provenance. It’s out there in public, often without any signature other than the style in which it’s been done. If the production of crew didn’t exactly copy one of his shapes, then there’s nothing technically wrong with having stretches of luminous pink, green and yellow tape stretching across walls and roads. As someone said to me, “What was the crew supposed to do? Call Nihalani and ask his permission to go out and buy bright pink tape?” Yeah well, I bet everyone thinks a hundred times before showing sliced livestock or sharks in formaldehyde, especially since Damien Hirst decided to sue Cartrain. So if Nihalani is feeling miffed, I think he has every reason to sulk. I’d like to believe that if they were asked about that tape art, then the crew of the film would have doffed their hats to Nihalani but it doesn’t seem like they did. All that is said about the tape in this behind-the-scenes thingie by MTV is that the tape stuff are supposed to be “little signifiers” (I mean, really. Signifiers? We’re going to drag Levi-Strauss into a music video?). And the chap saying this keeps his bandanna on. Tsk tsk tsk.