New Gorillaz Song Machine Track ‘Friday 13th’ Feat. Octavian a Beautiful Support Anthem for BLM
One really has to wonder how quickly Gorillaz are making these Song Machine tracks and animations because they’re becoming more and more poignant and germane to the current times that it almost feels like they can’t have been made too long before their release. “Friday 13th” featuring British-French rapper Octavian is the newest installment of Song Machine.
While the lyrics seem to be obviously about drugs, nothing’s ever that simple with Gorillaz. The underlying message becomes pretty clear from the beginning and as the track rolls on. It’s about frustration, wanting to numb the pain of both present and past, about wanting to do something but not knowing what and, most of all, about the need for change.
The first verse of “Friday 13th,” as previously stated, sounds like it’s about drugs and partying until the last part: “You and me, we can take on the world; we can be savages.” With the reference to “drinkin’ and smokin too much, that shit damages…Gimme a lot, I can do it myself, I can manage it; Two Xans, I gotta leave, you know how it is,” seems a clear reference to these substances getting in the way of real change, and when combined with the chorus “I call me dealer, said ‘share the white with all of us;’ I told him, ‘we’ve been so nice, don’t turn on us,” the “dealer” could be referring to the government.
It doesn’t get really clear that this song is about revolution until the second verse: “…big man talkin’ shit til we pin him down…You ask Kembo (possibly VP Kembo of Zimbabwe) if I been about; Free him out, I don’t need to get the pictures out.” It seems here Octavian is speaking about the political unrest in Zimbabwe, but in the grander scheme of things it’s all connected. The drugs, the sadness in Octavian’s voice, the hints at revolution and being fed up…it paints a global picture of why Black Lives Matter, matters. And we haven’t even gotten to the video yet.
#blacklivesmatter protests have begun happening worldwide, including in England and France where Gorillaz and Octavian hail from. The “Friday 13th” video possibly continues the Gorillaz narrative from the last video, which ended in a big fight between the band members. Murdoc, 2-D and Noodle are all a bit beat up as their faces appear over the main visualizer, but Russel is notably fine.
This tracks with that last image in “Aries,” but again it seems clear that there’s a political message here, with the band’s beat up faces possibly representing being involved in the protests and getting beat up by the anger and sadness all around them while Russel remains defiant, likely because he’s used to it. Their faces flash over the tunnel visualizer while Octavian sings and raps in a sort of negative photo backdrop. Via the video, the song becomes an anthem of sorts: “we’re tired, it’s messy, you’ve beat us down, but we have to keep fighting.”
More evidence that “Friday 13th” is meant to go parallel with the current struggles in the US and elsewhere is the “Machine Bitez #8” clip that introduced the track today. It takes on a more serious and philosophical tone than the other “Machine Bitez,” with Russel making reference to the tunnel in the video: “you could be in the tunnel; sometimes the light is the end of the tunnel; sometimes it’s just the train.” This is a statement that says we don’t know what the outcome is yet; there is hope, but it could get worse.
To 2-D’s statement in “Machine Bitez #8” that “every day can be beautiful if you want it to be; I think it’s about perception,” Russel agrees but adds, “And every day starts in the dark and ends in the dark, but in the middle there is light.” Again, a reference to the hope contained in these dark times.
Gorillaz’s musical frontman Damon Albarn has been quoted as saying the music needs to be more political, but he always has a cheeky way of winding the Gorillaz canon around it and making it personal and meaningful at the same time. Octavian’s personal and emotional lyrics veiling revolution makes him a perfect match for the platform Albarn has set up in Gorillaz and the video and statements from Russel just solidify it all.
“Friday 13th” may not be played at #blacklivesmatter rallies any time soon but Albarn and Hewlett, with the stolid and emotive help of Octavian and the rest of the Gorillaz team have made it clear which side of the issue they’re on, and really how could they not be? Both Gorillaz and the music industry at large have been held up and advanced by the contributions of black artists from the beginning. It’s important to remember that, and this track won’t let us forget it.
Read Layla Marino’s other reviews of Gorillaz Song Machine series: