Kristen Rae Bowden’s work is a penchant for clever metaphorical turns of phrases, raw emotionality, and imaginative musical arrangements. Her musicality stretches through adventurous journeys with a dramatic flair, melding classic rock and prog-rock melodies to highly personal emotional explorations. She counts as inspiration such diverse artists as Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Primus, Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, and legendary musical theater composer Stephen Sondheim.
Her new single “Hard to Love” was actually written with an unanswered question in mind: Can you restart a heart? Kristen didn’t have the answer at the time of writing this which is why the song never answers the question definitively.
The video visually pulses alongside the music. When the chorus arrives, there’s a depiction a woman forming in the lines of the beating heart. She breaks out, shattering the heart and finds freedom. Set in a magenta hue, Kristen is seen singing the verses, almost like she trying to find the answer to her question.
We spoke with Kristen about her video, what it means, and how she came up with the idea of the video:
Tell us the story of this song, why did you choose to visualize this song specifically in this way?
When I wrote “Hard to Love” I was grappling with what you might call “post-broken-heart syndrome”. Just like a physical wound scars over with harder, less flexible skin, I felt my broken heart had healed in many ways, but I felt numb, hardened, and incapable of intimacy. I thought, is this my new normal? Feeling so much less alive than I used to? And I realized I was hiding, dimming my light on purpose, so I couldn’t get hurt again.
The story of “Hard to Love” is all about that feeling: hardening your heart after a breakup like it’s a fortress, not letting anyone all the way in. And at the same time missing how it felt when your heart was open and you were vulnerable, but free. You can’t have both. You can’t shore up your defenses so you don’t get hurt and live life to it’s fullest simultaneously.
The song is centered around a metaphorical question: “Can you restart a heart?” Given its inspiration, when I wrote the song I knew I wanted it to be centered sonically around a heartbeat. And then when it came to the video, I was excited to get to see that heart beating. So I knew I wanted animation to be the vehicle.
I also wanted the world of the video to be different from the real world, to express how alien, fake, and two dimensional the world can feel when you’re anxious and hiding yourself.
What was the inspiration behind this video (visuals, storyline, etc.)?
I wanted to metaphorically express the way “post-broken-heart syndrome” feels, and I knew the heart would be the central image. So I came up with the idea of a girl hiding inside of her heart, which she’s turned into a fortress of protection. No one is allowed in, but no one is allowed out either, so she has essentially imprisoned herself for her own safety. Veins turn to vines and wrap around her wrists and ankles like shackles.
She grows weary of her self-imposed cage and breaks the heart in order to be free, but even then she finds herself on a cliff, alone. All of this imagery, to me, really works to express the feelings of a fear of intimacy.
I also thought the video should have a human aspect. I’m there singing the song in this pink x-ray landscape where a human is out of place and shouldn’t really exist. That’s how I felt when I wrote the song, lost in uncharted territory.
The storyline shifts in the bridge of the song, and I love that you can see my human frustration in that “I can’t go on this way” moment.
The lyrics of the song never offer any hope or assurance that yes, you can “restart a heart”, but the musical section after the bridge has the feeling of hope and triumph. I wanted the video imagery to push that feeling into a certainty. So I went with the idea of growth and blooming to represent that hope, and I love watching the glowing heart grow into a garden.
What was the process of making this video?
I had been playing with the FlipaClip app (flip-book style animation) while dreaming up the conceptual images for this video, so I learned a little bit about how time consuming animation can be and what an awesome skill it is. I knew I wanted the finished video to look more artistically advanced than anything I was going to be able to do.
Through a mutual friend I was very lucky to find Pat Bradley, award-winning animator and illustrator at Spring Shoe Animation. I was thrilled when he signed on for the animated portions, and to edit the video into the imaginary pink x-ray world. I sent him the storyboard I’d made with pieces of amateur animation and drawings of the girl in the heart, and we set up the video shoot together through more mutual friends, Sanjay Suchak and Stephen Thomas.
The video shoot itself was a lot of fun. I sang along with the song in front of a green screen, and though it took me a couple hours to loosen up, eventually I was able to let go of my inhibitions and really express some of that frustration and movement you see in the final product.
Pat did an incredible job taking my crudely drawn ideas and putting them into cohesive, flowing lines that tell the story of the song. He also integrated me into the animated world in a way that I hadn’t imagined.
Connect with Kristen Rae Bowden via:
Website // Instagram // Facebook // Twitter // YouTube // TikTok // Spotity // Soundcloud