Halfway through the video for Emily Haines' new solo single, "Statuette", the music cuts out. "We kind of wanna see, maybe like your body and how it moves. Would you be cool with taking your shirt off?" asks a man off camera. Haines, who we're watching on a fuzzy audition tape monitor, runs a hand through her hair. There's a pause. She replies: "Right. Is that something everyone's doing, or…?" "Yeah yeah, totally."
"That was genuinely one of the most difficult things I've done, over 20 years," says Haines, speaking over the phone from her home in Toronto. Taking a break from her band Metric, whose sixth album Pagans In Vegas landed back in 2015, she's about to release her first solo album in a decade, Choir Of The Minds. This is the second single from that album, and with its accompanying video, it packs a powerful one-two punch. Eventually in the video, she takes off her shirt as requested – but the resulting stark, vulnerable image is seen only in flashes, projected onto another version of herself, who fills the whole screen and is dancing with her eyes closed in pleasure. A simple, unobjectified pleasure. "I get to reclaim myself and own it in the end," she says.
"The most interesting thing I got from that experience, in being regarded as if your value is only in the commercial viability of your flesh, is the apathy from him," Haines recalls. The voice of the director is Justin Broadbent, a visual artist who, in reality is "more 'feminist' than I am", but Haines felt the sting of his character's sleazy indifference. "It's not like he's looking and going, 'Oh my god, what beauty, let me see more.' It's so soulless and inhumane; just the way that it's like, evaluating whether your body would be viable or not."
It's a theme that ties in with the song itself, too. "Another notch in your belt," sings Haines – her plaintive, airy vocals cascading over a bossa nova beat whose tone she compares to "The Girl From Ipanema" – "You're the captain at the helm." Later, in the song's chant-like bridge, she sings, "With all the coal in core, all the water and the oil / You can buy any girl in the world." She enjoyed the contrast between the song's summertime spirit, and "what's actually being said. That sense that we're all subjected to somebody else's assertion that they're superior to you, whether it's because they're rich or because of their gender, or which country they happen to be born in. And we reward, a lot of times, the most depraved people, the most vain, the most cruel, the most selfish. The statuettes and honour that we bestow upon people…" You could argue that we've bestowed the ultimate honour, the position of the president of the United States, upon a man who ticks all those boxes.
Which is why the proceeds from this song are going towards She Decides, a global movement aiming "to ensure every girl and woman can decide what to do with her body, with her life and with her future." One of the catalysts for the movement was Trump's reinstatement of the Reagan-era Mexico City Policy, banning foreign aid to international healthcare providers who discuss abortion or advocate for abortion rights. The song and video seemed an appropriate fit, Haines says, to go alongside a fundraising effort for the campaign. "Everything kind of dovetails," she says. "If it's coming across the way that I hope it is, it's to remind ourselves of the way that we just accept a debate about women's reproductive rights as a political pawn, when in fact the women and girls in developing countries have nothing to do with those issues, they have no power at all, and it's their bodies that are being treated as an afterthought."
At this point, agreeing fervently with everything Haines is saying, I mention how terrible Trump is for about the third time. She stops me. "I would caution against pinning everything on him," she says gently. "This has always been the case; it doesn't matter who's in power. Every woman and girl has to deal with the fact that this portion of their anatomy is just carved out as something that governments are gonna toss around and debate, and use to win certain districts and use to curry favour. This, to me, is the thing that we need to focus on, and not get bogged down in the horrors of the current administration. We've gotten here over a long time of politicians just meddling, and with women just being pawns, not human beings." In other words, the dehumanisation of women didn't start with Trump, and it probably won't end with him either until we all actively fight against it. Well, damn.
Though she usually sees her work and her sense of social obligation as quite separate, Haines hopes that this song's message, as well as the money it'll raise, makes some small difference. The end goal, for her, is "to have a moment where we look back and say, 'Oh yeah, remember when it was considered politically viable to carve out one part of a woman's body and debate that?' It feels like I'm on the right path, and hopefully contributing something musically, and for the fate of the women who have nothing to do with American politics."
"I'm just in the work, and trying to create something useful, and beautiful. I hope it's of value."
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