Pin It
Caroline Polachek, “Billions” (BTS)
Photography Terrence O'Connor

Goblets, grapes and bad mothers: Caroline Polachek’s cerebral dreamworld

‘Billions’ is the latest instalment of Polachek’s myth-like videos – here, the singer and her creative team talk about how glassware, Carl Jung, and surrealist cinema came to inspire the visual

When Caroline Polachek and co-director Matt Copson put together the brief for their “Billions” video, the PDF they sent round to the team simply read, ‘In which Caroline makes wine and serves it to children.’ “That was the entire pitch for video,” the singer says. “And I remember, on first glance everyone’s reaction was like, ‘Okay…?’ But once we saw it on camera, there was this magical ripple of understanding that went through all of us on set.”

‘Magical’ is a good adjective to begin describing the Caroline Polachek visual universe, as are ‘surreal’, ‘cerebral’ and ‘fantastical’. Or, as she described her vision for debut solo album Pang: “expressionist storybook goth”. Her videos for “Door”, So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” and “Bunny Is A Rider have an otherworldly and apocalyptic quality; taking influence from the hyper-modern shapes of old Disney movies and 90s Versace ad campaigns. In “Billions”, an extension of this world she’s built, Polachek picks and squashes dewy grapes, cleans off the debris in a copper bath, before decanting the liquid into ornate glassware and giving it to an audience of children.

Speaking to Dazed from Nashville, where she’s currently touring with Dua Lipa, Polachek explains how the track came after feeling “frozen” for the first half of 2020. “I think we’d all turned our senses towards listening rather than creating, in an almost wartime mode, because the news cycle was just so dramatic and new information was changing our perspective.”

Around that time, a friend of hers in Italy begged her and her boyfriend (co-director Matt Copson) to come and join him on a road trip. “Those two weeks completely rewired my emotional and mental DNA,” she says. Returning to London, the producer Danny L Harle “sent me this beat that was actually rejected by a another artist. It was just a beat, but I was like, ‘I’m obsessed with this, could we work on it?’ The chords and structure poured out of me in like 15 minutes. I felt like I had the sunshine still on my body, and it was just flowing out through this song.”

As well as sparking this creative defrosting, the Mediterranean country set the tone for the video in other ways: “Being in somewhere as both politically and geologically volatile as Italy, where there are active volcanoes, and people’s relationship with government and society is so fiery and individualistic in a way that’s very different from America. I was just so inspired and energised.” Liam Moore, the video’s art director, included discreet Italian details in the visuals, inspired by both 90s Italy and Ancient Rome. Below, Caroline Polachek, Matt Copson, Liam Moore, stylist Kat Typaldos and director of photography Alex Gvojic break down the visual references, inspiration and symbolism of “Billions”.


Caroline Polachek: When I was younger my mom would take me and my sister up to Vermont every summer to this country house that had no TV or video player, no radio, or anything. And she would always bring these big volumes of illustrated myths. There were Greek myths and Arthurian legends and then of course, like the house was filled with hundreds of volumes of National Geographic so I remember as a kid just completely losing track of time, sitting on the couch with the crickets outside and just completely becoming absorbed by the stories.

Over the course of the pandemic, I started adopting a mythological perspective on our contemporary situation, in terms of politicians lying, disease, fires, volcanoes erupting. Rather than looking at these as necessarily contemporary conditions, I started realising that humans have been dealing with this for forever. And I felt very connected with people living in ancient civilisations. It helped humanise the whole experience of being alive in a chaotic time. And so I wanted to bring that feeling of connection with the past and the future into the video.

Alex Gvojic: Caroline and Matt came to me with a really strong visual treatment. They are really good at crafting a world that feels both familiar and foreign at the same time. We were interested in creating a theatrical world that still felt alive, and were inspired by surrealist cinema. And Björk’s “Venus As A Boy”.


Matt Copson: We took an illustrative approach with flat, single colours for each different scene, the black voids and Caroline glowing really bright inside them. We’re always trying to make something that feels really tangible and physical. Digital spaces are alienating and boring, I want to feel the material.

Liam Moore: I heavily looked at the sets from the film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) as a large influence for the surrealist void, especially for the bathroom scene. Sigmund Freud’s apartment was a big influence on the rug room as he had this rug bed in his office, and we were very into the idea of expanding upon that. The artist Rudolf Stingel had an interpretation of it that we heavily referenced as well. We really loved the idea of this very interior, heady space that punctuated the video.

Matt Copson: The song always felt very angular to me and I kept thinking about how cubism was this attempt to capture an object or scene from many perspectives and tried to approach the shots and edit like that, hence all the moving angles in the vineyard and the distortions of Caroline through the glasses.


Kat Typaldos: The visual vernancular and references ranged from the natural landscape of supple grapes to artisnal craft reminiscent of 90s coffee shop Pacific North West font, to an Almodovarian theatricality doused in red and sex. I wanted the wardrobe to interweave these visual vibes but feel contemporary and a little nasty. We aimed to balance it a way that would serve a Lilith Fair crunchy outdoors energy with a side of subversion – like using white aprons paired with a normcore baseball cap and white lace garter hosiery from a sex shop, strapping in her foot with Alterita jewlery and vintage anklets and clogs spray-painted by my husband to stomp the grapes. The wardrobe veers towards the dramatic and performativeness, with flirtatious nods to classicism and mythology.


Caroline Polachek: I stumbled upon Tim Drier, the glassworker, because I follow this Instagram account I’m obsessed with called Secret Goblet Society. It posts a lot of contemporary and ancient glassware. I love how musical and decadent and gorgeous goblets are in general, but when I saw Tim’s work, I was like, ‘Oh my god, it looks like music.’ Frankly, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to incorporate those shapes for a while. The feeling of flowing forward in time was something we thought about in the cinematography and keeping things very twisty and fluid.

Liam Moore: For the pouring scene, Caroline and I couldn’t find anything that quite replicated the magic of [Drier’s] glasses. So I decided to reach out and he very generously sent us his glasses to use in the video, which was a true thrill. They’re such stunning objects that we really wanted those to be the star of that scene.


Kat Typaldos: It’s one of my favourite moments because we decided to have Caroline ‘dressed’ while bathing – the one-of-a-kind crochet bikini and headpiece by Paula Nadal really made the moment sensual and textural and earthy, but added an element of surrealism. We also worked really closely with amazing jewellers like Plutonia Blue, Sophie Buhai and Brooke Callahan to adorn her ears, hands and feet during these really performative moments. 


Caroline Polachek: The video is fun as a comment on pop culture, which is, you know, intoxicating the youth. But it also plays into one of the last remaining taboos that we have in society, which is the bad mother. Women are expected to be caregiving and responsible. And we expect this from women on a very, very deep level. With men you have all kinds of clichés, like criminal urges, being badly behaved – a bad boy is an icon, and so is a bad girl, but the bad mother figure is something that is still very repellent. I was interested in dipping a toe into it. It won’t be the first time that I play with it either, because I find it to be very interesting.

Kat Typaldos: It felt to me like an irreverent Mother Goose moment, reading to these children who are drinking the wine from the grapes she carefully harvested. I think we wanted the look to feel sensual and a little irresponsible – naturally Vivienne Westwood made sense! We paired it with Caroline’s grandma’s net headscarf and the magical Capezio shiny hosiery and nude fishnets to mirror the top half. My favourite detail is the olive green silk undies that  were underneath that would flash in a more subtle Basic Instinct moment.

Caroline Polachek: Oneohtrix Point Never put me on to reading Carl Jung earlier this year. [The words I read the children from the book] are my interpretation of Jung. He talks about our contemporary condition as being defined by being cut off from nature, and the cord with nature has been cut in a way that we can never repair. Our sense of symbols used to be so related to nature: the idea of power being defined by lightning, or wisdom being defined by snakes or spiders. Our archetypes are shifting away from natural symbols and towards either human or synthetic or virtual ones. It's so interesting to get to be an artist during a time when we have control over what the new symbols become.

But it's also very sad, because I grew up around a lot of plants and animals, and my inner sense of symbolism is still so connected to nature. It's sad to feel like I’m one of the final generations for whom that will have a deeper emotional significance. Me reading to the children was describing to them the world that they're being born into a world in which the symbols are shifting away from nature and towards the synthetic.