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On 'Spring Breakers' and its Relationship with Gangster Rap

'Spring Breakers' may be the most rap-influenced movie to hit theaters in a good 20 years. This is Belly for 90s babies.

In the trailer for Harmony Korine's new film Spring Breakers, there's a brief montage set to Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame's "Young Niggaz." Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens et al. party like Girls Gone Wild was a religious text handed down from God. They commit crimes and generally act like assholes while wearing dayglo bikinis. There is violence, there is sex. It is good. Midway through, there's an iconic shot—maybe a second long—of the girls riding brightly colored scooters through a crowd in slow motion. Having former Disney starlets juxtaposed with Gucci and Waka is just south of genius—a perfect encapsulation of the world of Spring Breakers. It's a reality where a girl who was in High School Musical can storm a drug compound, a world where white chicks can be young niggaz.

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Spring Breakers is a dreamlike escape fantasy that plays fast and loose with logic and the laws of reality. This is not a movie that puts much importance on plot or dialogue. The value of this movie is in immersively experiencing the barrage of slow motion titty jiggling, bright colors, bass, and wild violence—it exists primarily to satisfy those visceral need. You soak this up, presumably, because you're the type of person that accepts half-naked 20 year-olds and fictionalized gun violence as key parts of the human experience. In this way, Spring Breakers may be the most rap-influenced movie to hit theaters in a good 20 years. This is Belly for 90s babies.

To cover the brief plot of the movie, it follows four college friends overwhelmed by the strongest of #whitegirlproblems; boredom. To alleviate their crushing ennui, they engage in a brief, hedonistic criminal career. They party a bunch, do drugs, get thrown in jail, get drafted into the criminal underground, get shot at, experiment with their sexuality, and eventually kill a bunch of people, before returning home (mostly) unscathed. Fun times. Make no mistake, the girls' escape from their familiar lives and flirtation with an alien world of sexy criminality is the the same experience normal citizens get when they listen to violent, antisocial rap music. This is the transitive power of rap. A brief, isolated transformation that allows us all to do hoodrat shit with our friends—in our heads. Becky can become a hitta and still make her yoga class. Spring Breakers shows the world as it looks like inside Vanessa Hudgens' head while she listens to Chief Keef's "Don't Like."

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Throughout the movie there's some vague discussions about the redeeming spirituality of spring break and the power of transformation. We're talking about trips to St. Petersburg, Florida, as cleansing baptism. When the Church of Spring Break finally starts up, bad breast augmentations will be their cross, their Star of David. Each botched tit job is a subtle, if lopsided, visual metaphor for the power of transformation. James Franco's character Alien delivers some overt monologues about the joys of being the bad guy, and the ability everyone has to create their own reality. Reverend Alien's sermon on the mountain, conveying to us all the joys of creating your own world.

Spring Breakers isn't just about the experience of listening to rap, it's also a movie that aesthetically utilizes the tropes of rap; specifically mixtape culture. If you told me this joint was directed by DJ Drama or Trap-A-Holics I wouldn't be surprised. Throughout the movie there's overly loud, non-diegetic, gun sounds that are really reminiscent of the drops of the aforementioned DJs. Franco's piano cover of Britney Spears' "Everytime" is on par with The Dayton's Family's Cheers theme song flipping "Cocaine," both taking an innocuous song and flipping it into something much more bizarre and/or sinister.

Most interesting cinematically, the movie presents the equivalent of mixtape rewinds—where a DJ plays a couple of bars repeatedly to drive home the profoundness or ridiculousness of the vocals. Korine pulls off these cinematic rewinds by repeating scenes and vocal snippets throughout the movie. A scene near the end of the movie where Alien asks "are we gonna do it" gets rewound about four times, for no narrative purpose. If Trap-A-Holics patented, "Damn son, where'd you find that?" would've dropped after these rewinds, no one would've been surprised.

Perhaps the most telling scene in the entire movie is one where the girls interact with Alien's entirely black crew. While the three "bad girls" are able to acclimate themselves to the crew, Selena Gomez's "good girl" character "Faith" has a near mental breakdown. She cries, and promptly gets on a bus to go home. Shit quickly gets too real for her, and this is before she even meets Gucci Mane. While homegirl was cool with her friends robbing a local diner and setting a professor's car on fire to go on spring break, but the presence of Alien's crew is a bit much. With Gomez being the biggest star in the picture and the character you're supposed to identify with, it creates questions as to Korine's intended commentary on America's relationship to black culture via rap. At best we can read the movie as an endorsement for artists like Gucci, Waka, and Chief Keef; the film arguing their work as safe escapism, a respite from the confines of society. Every mixtape a spring break trip, all of us spring breakers.

Ray the Destroyer runs Mishka's blog and can be found on Twitter - @raythedestroyer