Unpacking tripleS’s “Girls’ Capitalism” Music Video
Reading between the lines of the video’s “10 Rules of Mad Money Club”
In tripleS’s “LOVElution ‘Girls’ Capitalism’” music video, they play the role of “Mad Money Club For Sad Girls” members and act out both examples and counterexamples of following a list of rules for life. The mix of rule-following and lack thereof makes for a nuanced critique of materialism that parallels the Barbie movie’s social commentary.
Here is a breakdown of the rules and the meanings of the girls’ compliance with them, defiance of them, or, most often, combination of the two:
Rule #1: “Don’t cry, be rich”
Do they follow this rule?: Yes and no. One member cries and uses her plentiful amount of dollar bills as her tissues!
Rule #2: “Read more”
Do they follow this rule?: Yes, while using dollar bills as bookmarks in books about saving money!
Rule #3: “No money, no future”
Do they follow this rule?: It is hard to say. They might understand the need to save up money, but they express complete enthusiasm over the haul of teddy bears they buy, a joy that does not fade in the slightest as the price tag rises on the screen.
Rule #4: “Dance when you feel ugly”
Do they follow this rule?: Yes, but only momentarily. The members freestyle dance in different locations, from a public restroom to school Picture Day. There are very different ways to interpret their quick returns to serious expressions and norm-following: Do they see their dance breaks as brief, embarrassing lapses in judgment? Should viewers pay more attention to the fact that they let loose for a minute, making these scenes representative of rejecting the status quo, or should the focus be on their swift return to embracing the status quo? The “when you feel ugly” detail is worth thinking about too: Is the abrupt end to their dance breaks meant to show that they simply stopped feeling ugly very fast?! Or did they just quickly start to view that advice as futile? In other words, did they stop dancing because they stopped feeling ugly or because they realized dancing was not helping them feel prettier?
Rule #5: “Dream big”
Do they follow this rule?: Yes and no. The girls sit in a bedroom playing what seems to be a version of the game “Hedbandz,” which is like “Heads Up.” The game involves wearing cards on headbands and asking questions that help lead to an answer to “Who am I?” For example, if the card one draws and fastens to a headpiece says “Lion,” one asks the other players questions like “Am I an animal?” in the hopes of eventually guessing “Am I a lion?” In tripleS’s version, the cards are replaced with dollar bills, so the only right answer is “Am I money?” They also seem to be conducting a candlelight ritual of sorts. How earnest they are in their mystical ritual, hoping to manifest plentiful futures, is up to interpretation. They could just be playing the game cynically, knowing they will be defined by wealth more than any other title they dream of attaining. They set a scene primed for dreaming big, but wealth’s status-defining nature infiltrates that dreaming.
Rule #6: “Eat healthy”
Do they follow this rule?: No. They act fancy, eating gummy worms with a fork, and they eat sandwiches that use dollar bills in place of other fix-ins! The message is simultaneously “We’re living large!” and “We’re disobeying one of the rules for how to live large.”
Rule #7: “See differently”
Do they follow this rule?: Yes, but just in a literal sense! The girls play a game that involves making oneself dizzy on purpose, so one’s surroundings become a blur. While that is certainly a different way to see things, it shows the opposite of clarity as to whether or not these rules for life are “working” yet.
Rule #8: “Try new food”
Do they follow this rule?: … sort of?! One member bites into a bar of soap. One interpretation is that she is giving this list of rules her stamp of approval, going to an extreme length to obey this one! On the other hand, washing her mouth out with soap could represent her trying to cleanse herself of the consumerism-geared way of life she has been living and preaching.
Rule #9: “Don’t be scared to be crazy”
Do they follow this rule?: That depends on one’s definition of “crazy”! The girls throw a dance party and toss dollar bills in the air while in a fast food restaurant at which one of them previously worked. If they simply danced in the restaurant, the message would be “We deserve better than this job and won’t abide by its code of conduct anymore.” However, the fact that their go-to party favor is money adds other potential meanings. Rather than a firm “We don’t need this job!” message, the girls indicate that they do still need its paychecks, as the finishing touch for their party. They have a moment of feeling liberated, but that moment does not seem possible until after getting cash for it.
Rule #10: “Just be(you)tiful”
Do they follow this rule?: Yes and no. It is hard to tell where their authentic identity expression ends and where their compulsion to conform begins. They end the video wearing matching outfits in a large crowd of people. They certainly could be wearing those clothes just because they like them, but peer pressure seems likely too. They end the video lying in a field, forming a giant heart shape with the other identically-dressed people, smiling serenely. Everyone appears content, but how genuine that contentment is remains inconclusive.
tripleS’s Treatment of the Rules Overall
More often than not, the answer to “Do they follow this rule?” is more complicated than a “Yes” or a “No.” When they seem to thumb their noses at the rules, they also still seem to take their cues from them, and when they seem to embrace the rules, they also seem to surreptitiously disobey them.
The three impulses the members seem to have throughout the video are money-related, dance-related, and game-related. The money-related activities are their go-to far more often than dancing or playing games. The money is even brought into their other go-to pick-me-ups: It becomes their bookmarks, their food, their tissues, their confetti substitute, their playing cards… In short, the video is pro-money! But then again, the girls use that money in unconventional ways; they apply the preferred object of capitalists to the preferred subjects of them as individuals.
By seeming to lower money’s value to them financially, they enrich its value abstractly, enhancing each misadventure with the repurposing of it. The girls reduce money to a mere plaything, and this can be seen as both a critique of the value placed on money and a view of it as a necessity in every aspect of life.
The Barbie Connection - Movie Spoilers Ahead!
As I covered in a previous article:
“Sometimes, the most effective way to get a message across is by using the very thing being criticized. It can also be super-effective to send heavier messages through levity… The [Barbie] movie revels in the very sense of superficiality it critiques; it gets viewers distracted with frivolous fun and then effectively sneaks in jabs at the way that fun is turned into a brand and a cure-all.”
The “Girls’ Capitalism” music video does something similar: It leans into the very materialism it criticizes; tripleS use money while critiquing a reliance on it. It makes a statement about capitalism that favors complications over clarifications. The way this approach appears illuminating, rather than just confusing, is through the introspection it prompts. Critiquing something by using that very thing forces viewers to talk to the mirror, to see their own active role in that thing they claim to be against. This form of criticism does not cast blame on viewers, but it does gently nudge them to consider their own hypocrisy. A fan of Barbie can also hold anti-consumerism views, and someone who feels the allure of wealth can also have reservations about how they use it.
In the Barbie movie, Barbie goes on a journey of self-discovery, but that does not fully liberate her. When she chooses to become human at the end, she does not become a CEO or other high-level figure. Her reward for entering the “Real World” is a mundane to-do list! She gets what she wanted, but her life remains far from perfect. She learns about who she really is, but that does not allow her to escape a system that does not prioritize individuality. She became free to be herself… with systemic constraints.
In the “Girls’ Capitalism” music video, the girls defy parts of their capitalist rulebook, but they adhere to others. They learn what makes them happy as individuals - dancing, gummy worms - but they do not enjoy those preferences without throwing money - a marker of in-group status - into the mix. They feel free to celebrate being themselves, but with capitalist caveats.
The beginning and ending of the music video reinforce the ways their independence is limited by social expectations. The opening scene shows the “Mad Money Club” members posing for a group picture like every other school club on Picture Day. The ending features the members among a large group of people all wearing the same outfit. In between are scenes with some norm-breaching, but the story starts and ends with conformity. “Capitalism’s my charm,” they sing, but it is apparently everyone else’s charm too! They sing “I am my own standard,” but how complete can that sense of autonomy truly be when that standard is partly determined by a system?
The “Girls’ Capitalism” music video tells a Barbie-like story about girls’ mission to find and love their true selves within the confines of a capitalist system and despite social-class-related stereotypes. Both pieces of media are not black-and-white messages; they depict the balancing act between fitting in and standing out with a messiness that makes them relatable and contradictions that make them rightly ambiguous.
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