Why We’re Not Happy: Analysis of “Beautiful Now”
This article analyzes the role of introspection and reflection in happiness in Zedd’s “Beautiful Now” music video.
In American culture, people tend to place the value of individual happiness over social success, friendships, family, and love, forcing us to think of happiness as a luxury. In fact, according to The Washington Post, the self-help industry in American is worth an upward of $11 billion. However, the pressure to find happiness has created a culture of anxious individuals that have become detached from reality, burdened with stress, and focused on physical possessions. According to a recent study in Depression and Anxiety, researchers found that the more the participant felt social pressure not to feel anxious or sad, the more likely they were to show an increase in depressive symptoms.
Especially in the media, people constantly compare themselves with other people’s states of happiness. This dissociated state is built from the lack of self-reflection and introspection. The musician Zedd takes up these issues in the song “Beautiful Now,” which depicts five individuals who are coming to terms with dark choices they have made, forcing them into a state of deep reflections of happier moments. While the idea of happiness is often pursued through superficial means, Zedd, in his video, “Beautiful Now,” depicts self-reflection and introspection as a way of finding happiness and peace, suggesting to viewers that happiness comes from within us. This message is one that challenges the conception of happiness as comparative and reliant on possessions or achievement and could radically change the way people assess their own happiness levels if taken seriously.
The first of the five individuals we see is a young redheaded girl who is walking into a bathroom, unsure of herself. She wears smudged black makeup underneath her eyes, all while the shadows in the room darken half her face. The room surrounds her in different grey shades, making her dark red hair appear more pronounced to the viewer (Desbiens 3:18). She breathes heavily and looks for a few seconds into her reflection on the dirty bathroom mirror, appearing afraid of what she might find. She slowly looks up and furrows her brows, revealing the deep regret and worry she possesses at that moment (3:23). When we look into the mirror, we see a reflection of the feelings and thoughts we associated with ourselves. These feelings and thoughts change over time dramatically, sometimes changing by a single day’s events. The young redheaded girl has experienced a moment of regret, and we can see the pain she carries while alone in a bathroom.
The video leaves the young woman and opens up to a young man looking at his reflection in a pocketknife. He sits in what appears to be an empty stadium. His environment is also cold and isolated, very limited in color (3:24). He appears to be in deep reflection as his eyes reflect off the blade in his hand (3:26). A similar pattern is beginning to form after each character is introduced: an individual who has experienced an event that reshapes how they see the world is left alone and reflecting. This is symbolized by the mirror; each character finds their environment and uses it to see themselves alone.
The camera cuts to a young girl in a ponytail looking at herself in the reflection of a window (3:31). She is breathing heavily while she stands alone and outside at the top of her building. The clouds above her appear grey, contributing to the somber theme each character experiences. Each character appears to have experienced some sadness, leaving them alone with their reflection. After experiencing extreme moments of pain, guilt, or fear, it is often our own reflections that can ground us. It can help us develop our sense of self at that moment.
The camera cuts, and we now see an elderly man lying on a dirt terrain (3:31). The weather is wet and grimy, revealing an old man’s face and hair to be drenched with rain. His face is writhing with the pain while he looks at its reflection in the puddle, delivering a distressing mood (3:32). We do not need to know the character’s entire history to resonate with his feeling of distress and aloneness. The mirrored image of looking into one’s reflection during an event of isolation encompasses each character’s story, strengthening the theme.
The video leaves the old man, and we now see a Hispanic man who is pointing a gun at a crowd of men (3:33). While he stands there with his arms locked, he hesitates and accidentally catches his reflection in a mirror right next to him. We see the fear in his face and his quick breaths in his chest. The camera then pans to the group of men with their hands in the air, surrendering to the young man with the gun (3:36). The camera quickly cuts back to the young man whose face reflects hesitancy as he continues to hold his position at the crowd (3:37). His environment is unpredictable and is shot with intense shadows and outlines, revealing to the viewer this continued theme of reflection and grounding themselves in their pain or fear. Despite the differences in each character’s story, they all follow similar experiences of grounding themselves when seeing their reflection, reminding viewers the complexity of the human experience we know as life.
After the melancholy scenes, we are shown a series of positive scenes where each of the characters who underwent grief is now laughing and engaging in a positive experience. This shows viewers how reflection and introspection create inner happiness for each character.
Today, happiness is largely understood as accumulation and achievement, especially in comparison to others. Yet Zedd suggests that introspection brings an inner state of peace and happiness, not an outward orientation. According to renowned psychologist, Daniel Goleman, high levels of self-awareness has been linked with several benefits including personal development and healthy relationships. Through self-exploration we can gain knowledge about ourselves and the problem we are facing. We can find the mistakes we have made in life and learn from them, allowing us to catch repeating patterns that have led us to pain. It is in these times when the guilt and the pain force us to be aware of our presence and our humanity. Our lives are complex, and we can commit poor choices in our lifetimes. When all people have left is their reflections, they should take the time to remember moments of peace to build gratitude and a new perspective. Building a culture of reflection will free people from their physical burdens and finally allow them to find happiness within themselves.