Crushing on… “Bad Liar”
My song of the summer is Bad Liar, by Selena Gomez. It’s not a summer anthem. It’s not even that easy to dance to. What it does is get into your footsteps and prickle up the back of your neck. Bad Liar has the close, humid feeling of this last month in Berlin. Bad Liar is claustrophobic. Bad Liar is like the sex you have on the days it’s so hot you shouldn’t: bewildered, dazed, not sure who has talked who into what. It’s a good song. It has an extremely bizarre music video. It has soundtracked most of my head for the last six weeks.
Bad Liar makes a good soundtrack for heads, if that’s what you’re after. Here’s some things it made me believe and accompanied with great proficiency:
That I was a new widow standing at a dirty gravesite, watching a shiny black coffin be lowered into the ground. Reflected in that gleaming slanted side of the coffin was a girl. She was leaning against a powder blue convertible and looking at me.
That I was waiting at a bar for someone, and that someone drove a fast car and also me mad, and that I was furious, and the ice in my drink was melting, and that I was wearing lots of rings, and maybe the someone was a werewolf or something.
That I was heterosexual.
For a little while I would listen to the two new Disney alumni releases of the summer, Bad Liar and then Miley Cyrus’s Malibu back to back. I liked to pretend that they countered each other in some way: all of Bad Liar’s slinking beats, its twisting pathways, its crooked returning melodies, its breathy computer voice vs all of Malibu’s surface honesty, its rawness, its gentle acoustic guitars. Malibu’s excessive narration vs. Bad Liar’s obsessive focus on a mood and moment. All of Selena Gomez’s openness and laughing admission that she isn’t sure if she has an album or a collection of random songs vs. Cyrus’s blatant neo-liberal-courting backpedalling on her appropriation of Black culture the moment it might seem like she has to do something about it. But mostly now I just listen to Bad Liar. When it’s over I say, “Put it on again.”
In the first shot of the extremely bizarre music video for Bad Liar, Selena Gomez’s silhouette dips easily down a hill on a bike. She is not pedalling. All of this is highly significant and just as smooth as you would hope.
The moment when Selena Gomez first gives into desperation and snarls, “and oh baby, let’s make…” I always, without fail, imagine a line of forearms falling forward and clicking their fingers, both grotesque and charmingly camp. Bad Liar invites something oddly corporeal. There’s another music video for the song, released only on Spotify, filmed as though on an iPhone, the same dimensions as an Instagram story. It’s all very carefully calculated. In it Selena Gomez frowns on a bed. Her wrists are tied together with a big cheesy bow. There’s probably a thinkpiece to be written along the lines that Selena Gomez is both FIRST: a fresh faced young girl whose looks are being exploited in the typical “sexy virgin” narrative, one that is used to sell records at both a highly cynical and highly misogynistic pace, and SECOND: a 24 year old woman who shouldn’t be penalised for a sweetly round face, who shouldn’t be forced into an eternal childhood because of her good skin, who should be allowed to acknowledge that she has sex, and enjoys it. In any case I’m not here to write it. I watched that video and someone leaned over my shoulder and said, “Mm, but she’s moving too much,” and grinned. I saw her grin in the reflected laptop screen, the black sides of the iPhone video. I grinned back.
Obviously the lyrics are not very good. Or — the chorus is good, hits on the perfect plea, the perfect verb, I’m trying hissed over and over until I found myself chanting it absently as I wandered from room to room. The verses are not so good. There’s nothing redeemable about “but just like the battle of Troy/there’s nothing subtle here”. Or maybe, just for a second if you concentrate, pulled up in images of fights on the sand, the gritty force of bodies connecting. Play it again. No. Mostly not.
One thing: when Selena Gomez talks about her bedroom, the way it grows larger to emphasise the missing lover, that place that they could fit into—for a fee—which culminates in the offer to lease it out to them, she adds, almost as an afterthought, “Call me an amenity.” The word amenity has never been sexy before. Now I find it hard to think of it as anything else. I spend a summer in Berlin going to flat viewings, and blushing.
Haim tried to cover Bad Liar. Their cover is…. Ehh. Hold your hand out and shake it from side to side. Part of the problem is I’m not entirely sure it’s possible to sing Bad Liar live. It needs the hum of electronics in the background. It needs a sense of being plugged in. It needs to feel like Selena Gomez has put her hand on your shoulder, apologetically, and leaned in to your ear, as though she’s dragging you away at a party. Unfortunately for Haim, Bad Liar is not an Ehh song. Bad Liar plays once and I turn around and say, “put it on again.” But Haim do one good thing: they add a thin layer of synth, playing high up, which, upon the second chorus, settles into your shoulders like a white line of heat. Which is satisfactory.
Woo-hoo-hoo, like an eerie call, tracking my footsteps. We’re into the seedy side of summer now, the days shortening, the shadows lengthening. Here’s a song for the orange glow of afternoon.
Written by: Mikaella Clements
Image by: Coco