Here comes the announcement of the Big Group Number: “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. Oh man. Now we’re talking vulnerability. And the concept for the music video? Teen bullying. Oh geez. This is going to be overwrought. And I will probably love every minute of it.
While the contestants normally head to awkward dance lessons at this point, instead Erik White, the director of the music videos, sits down for an intimate chat with them about their own personal bullying tales. The tears start to flow almost immediately. Shanna tells a story about finding out about her own mother’s drug usage from other catty girls at school. Ouch. Abraham discusses that, while he’s straight, he was raised by two women (lesbians?! Tell us more, Abraham!) and hence happened to take on many effeminate traits, which he was then endlessly teased for. We hear a heartwrenching story from Blake about a time he witnessed another kid getting beat up — and the guilt he felt forever afterwards for doing absolutely nothing about it.
Being a kid is rough.
And then we hear the surprising line from Lily: “In middle school, I was the bully.” While Lily still obviously seems like she hasn’t kicked the bully from her system completely, she’s very honest, which she deserves credit for. Blake actually then makes the astute observation that her story is just as powerful as stories from those who were bullied, because it’s about faults someone has that they have to overcome, which still takes strength. I sort of like you right now, Blake.
As we move to voice lessons with Nikki, Nellie tells us that she’s not normally the type to “dig deep.” Yet in the next minute, she tells Cory Monteith that yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of her sister’s death. Wow. Give yourself more credit, young Nellie. I think you can probably dig plenty deep. This episode needed an “Emotional Trauma Ahead” warning.
On the day of the video shoot, we learn Erik White is really going to put the kids through some psychotherapy by having them act out bullying on each other as they sing. I’m intrigued by this whole set up because not only are the kids starting to really sing from their hearts for this song, they’re also going to have to really, for the first time, attempt to act. Plus, Nellie’s hair is in super cute braid twist things!
Beyond Nellie’s adorableness, though, this whole thing starts to get increasingly uncomfortable. I start to feel more and more that the whole set up is unacceptably triggering for all of them. This appears to become clear to everyone on the show, too, at the moment when Charlie gets a little too into his bully role and grabs Mario’s walking cane away from him, an act which Mario wasn’t prepared for.
Robert: Well, that was — scary.
Zach: No, I didn’t like that at all.
Aylin: Yeah, I don’t like watching this.
Ya think? This is horrible. I guess I won’t love every minute of this. I hope it ends soon.
Charlie then refuses to really admit he did anything wrong, and indeed, when he takes a break, it is Charlie that Aylin goes over to hug, not Mario. Boo hoo, Charlie. I’m so sorry that you’re feeling badly because the mentors are mad at you because you just totally violated a blind man’s safe space. The more I think about this whole scene, the less I like the idea for this video, and the less I like Charlie, too.
Next up, life continues to be sunny when we get to see Lily beat the crap out of Aylin. Okay, so she doesn’t actually beat her up, but she throws her to the ground and gets on top of her and curses a lot and Aylin cries all while the mentors stand around and watch and say what a good job they are all doing. Huh? Robert does let out an “Oh my God!” when Aylin gets stomped in the grass, but otherwise everyone seems rather jazzed about how “effective” this all is and how great this thing is going.
Maybe I’m being overly sensitive. I know that tapping into painful emotions is part of an actor’s role; indeed, it’s often their whole job. Maybe it’s the fact that these kids aren’t yet actually being paid to act that bothers me. They’re still just kids fighting for the chance to sing and dance on TV. Having them talk about their past seemed like a normal thing to do to get their heads and hearts in the game, but to then act out that past takes it to a physical, unnecessary level.
That said, I do feel a little better after watching the finished, polished video, because when those horrible scenes are paired with all the kids holding hands and repeating “Hold on, if you feel like letting go, hold on” things do feel a little more empowered and balanced and OK. Goshdarnit, mentors, it is effective. And I think everyone sounds great in it. OK, well fine. Thank you, Michael Stipe.