At work the other day a coworker of mine was mulling over how people would feel about a live rendition of Interstella 5555, and I realized a funny thing: I’ve seen bits and pieces of Daft Punk’s science fiction musical, but I’d actually never watched it the full way through. It’s interesting to think that for me, like many others, snippets of the narrative were presented as music videos on platforms like YouTube, and while they could hold up on their own the cohesion as a whole is absolutely astounding. Upon finally viewing it in order, it struck me that the film is actually just as dense and brilliant as the album it’s based on, using its fantasy elements to touch a wide array of thematic subjects.
To backtrack momentarily, Interstella 5555 tells the story of the abduction of an alien band, brought to Earth by a nefarious record label head under sinister pretenses. On the surface, the narrative certainly reflects apprehension about the gap between the commercial and artistic sides of musical creation, given that the Earl’s plan is to take over the universe through the release of 5,555 gold records. The crushing weight of serving a major label is absolutely apparent in the antagonism of Earl throughout the film, and the toll his plan takes on human and alien lifeforms in the film. Then, of course, there’s the ending, in which a pan reveals a star cluster that is actually the record, and then a child playing with memorabilia for the film. Is this Daft Punk suggesting some sort of innocent creativity of inspiration, or are the toys again an uneasy shoutout to the fact that even what seems to be an artistic pursuit on the surface is shrouded in sales a commercialism?
The most striking sequence in the film, however, is the one that Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger soundtracks, in which the alien group gets their memory rewritten, new earthly clothes, and a literal change in color from blue to white. There’s so much to be said for this one sequence; it functions, quite obviously, as a commentary on the dangers of cultural appropriation in music, as the group must literally change their appearance to be deemed marketable, regardless of the quality of their hit single. The fact that this change is spearheaded by a prominent label head of course, criticizes the music industry and the historical cycles in which certain musical forms and genres have become popular through such acts of appropriation. But, for a group whose output was rooted in disco samples at the time of the musical’s release, it may also serve as a bit of self criticism, begging the question of wether the robots are paying tribute to their predecessors, or indulging in what functions as a memory wipe of the important, and often political, heritage of the musical genres in which they partake? What about the fact that they suggest that their song One More Time is only able to reach gold status due to the color change of the group in the film? I’m sure that to a lot of people the idea of creating Insterstella 5555 may seem incredibly indulgent, but this path suggests something completely the opposite.