Snails and centipedes crawl over the Welsh singer’s skin in the video for ‘Lion’, the directorial debut of London photographer Maisie Cousins
Pop newcomer Casi has been making music since she was 11 years old. Growing up in the north of Wales, it took her a decade to start speaking English – all of her earliest songs were written in her mother tongue. Now based in East London, the singer is preparing her debut single “Lion”, a rousing piece of arena pop that she describes as being about the feeling of emotional and political paralysis.
Its video is the directorial debut of Dazed 100’s Maisie Cousins, the London-based director/photographer whose work explores the grotesque beauty of the human body. The video pairs images of conventional beauty with skin-crawling closeups of bugs and insects, with snails and centipedes crawling over Casi’s body. “I wanted it to feel almost unpleasant, a situation that you wouldn’t choose to be in,” says Cousins, “But at the same time it had to be beautiful and I think almost sensual, depending on your opinion of bugs crawling over your skin.”
You can watch the video for “Lion” below, and read on for a head-to-head chat between Casi and Cousins about the video’s concept and their own artistic philosophies.
Casi: Last year, before graduating, I was in a performance art piece based on (the topic) ‘How can performance challenge the preconceptions of the body?’, a parallel with the themes depicted in your photography. Your work sheds light on imperfection and femininity, and is re-defining how we perceive beauty and the female body. What draws you to capture nature and beauty in this way?
Maisie Cousins: For me, I often take pictures of things I don’t get to see all the time, and currently an honest depiction of a body is something I have to seek out myself. It stems from being dissatisfied with what imagery is given to me on a daily basis, but it also comes from loving detail and honesty. Do you think these things cross over into the music industry? I find there are a lot of parallels in both.
Casi: In the sense that it’s rare to find mainstream popular music that sounds like it’s coming from an honest place? Honesty in popular culture depends on how we perceive authenticity. And we all perceive authenticity differently. Some of us find meaning in the new Anohni album and some of us prefer Justin Bieber’s Purpose. Lyrically, it’s always exciting to hear something you haven’t experienced before. Generally, I find that a lot of mainstream pop is driven by being in the club, downing shots, living for today, with all of your friends, who are wasted. It can be a bit problematic when you’re more of a pub person, but on the other hand, singing about dancing in the club represents a culture too, and therefore is arguably as authentic as anything else out there. How did ‘Lion’ make you feel when you first listened to it?
“I often take pictures of things I don’t get to see all the time, and currently an honest depiction of a body is something I have to seek out myself” — Maisie Cousins
Maisie Cousins: I think ‘Lion’ is a really emotional song, very powerful – do you ever well up when you perform?
Casi: I cried while writing ‘Lion’. Performing and writing are both exposing. It’s strange, it’s as if writing awakens parts of your soul that you were previously unaware of. We both shared a similar concept for the video – to create a world that is separate from day to day life. From your viewpoint, what did you want the video to convey?
Maisie Cousins: I wanted it to feel almost unpleasant, a situation that you wouldn’t choose to be in, but at the same time it had to be beautiful and I think almost sensual, depending on your opinion of bugs crawling over your skin.
Casi: ...and that’s exactly what the song is about – a sense of feeling emotionally and politically paralysed and not being able to do anything to change the situation you’re in.
Maisie Cousins: A bit like the referendum result.
Casi: Exactly like the referendum result!
Maisie Cousins: There’s something great about being ‘paralysed’, ‘cos when you’re un-paralysed it’s like double the amount of strength. Like when you have a creative block for a while, afterwards it’s amazing.
Casi: Yes, that’s right, it’s the same with a lot of emotions and feelings. Once you’ve experienced one end of the spectrum, the opposite feels even stronger.
Maisie Cousins: Do you think this will set the tone for the feelings in your next songs or will you go the other way?
Casi: I write about a lot of different themes and issues. Lana Del Rey, who I admire greatly, is an example of someone who maintains a consistency in the themes of her writing; the boyfriend in a band, the American dream, youth and beauty. Whereas I find myself more fluid with themes. ‘Lion’ is a song inspired by Shakespeare’s portrayal of a Welsh prince, ‘Valiant as a Lion, / And wondrous affable; and as bountiful / As mines of India’. Magic and myth drives my debut double single, but I don’t want to feel restricted in what I can write about. That’s what I like about Bat For Lashes’ work, her themes are always changing, but each song, as individual entities, are conceptually very strong. Your instagram feels like one beautiful masterpiece, is there an expectancy for photographers to maintain a certain online aesthetic in order for people to ‘get’ your work? Hashtag instaesthetic.
“That’s exactly what the song (‘Lion’) is about – a sense of feeling emotionally and politically paralysed and not being able to do anything to change the situation you’re in” — Casi
Maisie Cousins: I guess, it’s all part of having a ‘brand’ and ultimately that’s what people will pay you for in the end. I don’t mind as my visuals have always tended to stay the same so I feel like it comes naturally to me now, I don’t feel pressure in that respect. I do think there is a crazy importance put on Instagram at the moment, and as someone who’s been an internet nerd for years it’s weird as there is always the next thing round the corner. I think Instagram does translate pretty well into the real world though, particularly advertising.
Casi: Yes, it’s like an online, public mood board, in a way – or a digital art gallery. I wonder what the future holds for conventional art spaces, considering that Instagram is one gigantic, mobile, online gallery in itself.
Maisie Cousins: Do you think you’ll ever do anything in Wales? A video or a recording?
Casi: I only spoke Welsh until I was 10 year old, and therefore my first experience of music and writing music was through the medium of the Welsh language. I’d like to release a Welsh language pop album, one day – and ask Stormzy to feature on one of the songs. Stormzy, if you’re reading, would you be up for that? I love Stormzy’s work, and I love grime culture as a whole. It’s cool. And life’s all about the sharing of cultures. And learning from that.
Maisie Cousins: I love this mash up, I think he needs to run for prime minister.
Casi: He’s very intelligent. I love how passionate he is towards his culture.
Chess Club Records release Lion on July 25th