Favored Nations' "The Set Up" Soundtracked My Life and Now It Has a Music Video
A rumination on 'Grand Theft Auto', life, and Favored Nations' role in it all.
When I beat Grand Theft Auto V, late on a Wednesday night in February, after bleeding the damn thing dry and having it nearly do the same to me, I felt a sense of finality, as if I were closing a chapter in my life. I’d been playing it much longer than any of my other friends: I'd outlasted the ones who’d gotten bored and quit, and the hardcore gamers had long since finished it. It had become my private thing. I picked Ending Three, where Franklin, Michael, and Trevor unite in a Godfather-esque “settling of debts,” culminating in them pushing a crooked federal agent, locked in the trunk of a car, off a cliff and into the ocean. The fucking thing was over, but it felt like I had barely scratched the game’s surface. All I could do was sit back in stunned silence as “The Set Up” by Favored Nations (the music video to which we’re premiering above) played before me. The song, with its steady, frozen-faced backbeat that chugs along in the way that backbeats by bands associated with DFA tend to, conveys the same sense of resolute open-endedness that GTA does.
I’d bought Grand Theft Auto V the night it was released, waiting in line at the Gamestop in my neighborhood, paying my $60, and then immediately going home and playing until three in the morning. This pattern would continue for months, my late-night gaming sessions becoming my raison d’etre, a respite from obligations both professional and personal, an obsession that was mine and mine alone. I’d play deep into the night, sunk into the old leather couch in my apartment, which enveloped me and my roommate’s cat like a catcher’s mitt closing over a fastball. Franklin was my favorite character—if Michael was the game’s reluctant ego trying to contain Trevor’s unrepentant id, Franklin was the superego, the uneasy glue that held Trevor and Michael together as they bickered their way towards something that might resemble an alliance, or at least a détente. Together, the three operated as the player’s psyche, the range of reactions you’re meant to experience when asked to take part in antisocial actions in order to advance the plot: glee, trepidation, or a grim sense of obligation.
I put months into the game, driving over every inch of Los Santos soil in Trevor’s beat-up four-by-four, exploring every under-the-bridge encampment, hippie tent city, and luxe hillside neighborhood the game had to offer. Trevor was the best for exploring. He had the most money early on, and was the hardest to kill. As Franklin, I’d cruise around, listening to the radio as I drove nowhere in particular. Whenever I switched over to Michael, it was mostly to play golf. There were some nights I’d play for hours, ignoring the missions at hand. There’s a perverse sense of triumph to be found when you take part in the most peaceful activity possible in a game that actively rewards acts of violence, I claimed agency over GTA in purposefully playing it in a way that’s antithetical to its creators’ intentions. But a game as vast as Grand Theft Auto isn’t about following a plot or wantonly fucking shit up, in the same way Goodfellas isn’t just a movie about sketchy Italian dudes or The Big Lebowski isn’t about a guy looking for his rug. It’s a commentary on American culture, a commentary on Los Angeles, a commentary on violence in videogames, a commentary on itself, a commentary on commentaries. It is, simply put, expansive enough to be whatever the fuck you want it to be.
I’m moving to Los Angeles in a few months, and GTA V has me feeling like I already know the place—its geography, its pace, its people, its penchant for relentless existence. Maybe it’s silly to base impressions of an entire city off of a satirical representation of it in a video game, but some moments, like the specific feeling I got watching the credits as Favored Nations’ “The Set Up” wafted through my ears, make me feel like the game must have gotten some things right.
Drew is Noisey's Features Editor and official gaming correspondent. He's on Twitter - @drewmillard