In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, as part of our salute to artificial intelligence, we’re looking at songs about robots and/or computers.
Kate Bush, “Deeper Understanding” (1989)
Al Gore gets a lot of flack for saying he invented the internet, because everybody knows it was actually Kate Bush. (To be fair, Gore never made that exact claim to begin with—just something close—but that’s beside the point.) First released on her 1989 album The Sensual World, “Deeper Understanding” tells the story of a lonely person‘s love affair with their computer, which they use as a substitute for the family to whom they no longer feel connected. “As the people here grow colder / I turn to my computer / And spend my evenings with it / Like a friend,” Bush sings, a sentiment that should ring true with anyone who’s spent a lonesome, possibly intoxicated evening watching other people’s engagements and birthday parties tick by on Facebook. (So, everyone.)
In the song, our socially maladjusted narrator gets a new program that provides them with the “love and deeper understanding” of the title, an idea also examined in Spike Jonze’s Oscar-nominated 2013 film Her. But rather than encourage our narrator to go out and explore the world, this AI drags them down into a solipsistic, unwashed state: “Nothing seemed to matter / I neglected my bodily needs / I did not eat, I did not sleep.” Even a family intervention doesn’t work, and in the end the narrator chooses the virtual people inside the computer over the real people in the next room.
In 2011, Bush released an extended version of the song, the first single off of her album Director’s Cut. This version is nearly two minutes longer than the original, and includes digitized vocals by Bush’s son, Albert, which replace the choir that provided the “voice” of the computer in the original song. The new version of “Deeper Understanding” also came with a video, directed by Bush and starring Robbie Coltrane—Hagrid from the Harry Potter movies—as a man who goes through hallucinatory withdrawal after his virtual companion is taken away from him. The man initially imagines that he is surrounded by loving, supportive friends and family, but then they begin to laugh at him before eventually turning their backs on him. Alone and without his means of electronic comfort, the man ends up attacking a complete stranger, played by The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding, just to get his validation fix. Not that anything like that ever happens on the internet…