In 2010, South African rave-rap twosome Die Antwoord introduced themselves to the world stage by way of a music video for a song called "Enter the Ninja."
Audiences were tickled by the synth-driven anthem and toddlers-on-soda lyrical gumbo, and even more puzzled by the pair's Goodwill-fabulous fashion sense. Were these guys for real? Was this grimy, profane gangster act sincere?
Aggressively off-trend and decades late to their chosen musical and fashion sensibilities, the duo of Yolandi and Ninja went on to release five albums and many more music videos, appear in short films by Harmony Korine and big-budget blockbusters like Chappie, and spread their home country's loosely defined "zef" culture across the world.
And yet, the world has never quite figured Die Antwoord out.
Given that much of the group's popularity can be traced to their cinematic works, we decided to take a look at their music videos and see what we could come up with. And because it's a batshit canon at the intersection of black light-sensitive marijuana posters, handguns and rubber alien heads, we decided to fully indulge our senses.
Which is to say, we smoked a ton of weed and watched all 15 of them. Here's what we thought.
"Wat Pomp" (2009)
Synopsis: Like a lost home movie shot in the abandoned warehouses of a gangbanger Galapagos, Yolandi and Ninja are shipwrecked and waiting to rob whatever boat might stop to save them.
Memorable moment: Dressed in matching, tagged-up hoodies like two parts to the same wall of graffiti, the duo is either playing the lava game or having cough-medicine hallucinations in which only jumping will keep them safe.
Analysis: I'm reminded of Wu-Tang Clan's first video, "Protect Ya Neck," another rough-hewn peephole into a cultural experience that was as overlooked as it was fully conceived when it first emerged into the mainstream.
"Enter the Ninja" (2010)
Synopsis: "Enter the Ninja" tells the story of a butterfly who wants the protection of a samurai.
Memorable moment: The video opens on Ninja, who delivers a monologue welcoming all walks of life into Die Antwoord's fold, before he launches into hype-boy verses and an origin story set on poverty's razor edge.
Analysis: This is where Die Antwoord begins to establish their signature medley of humor, angst and dark, creepy shit.
"Evil Boy" (2010)
Synopsis: It's an ode to dicks, featuring a powerful if problematic guest appearance by MC Wanga speaking out against ongoing tribal rites of passage requiring circumcision.
Memorable moment: Take your pick. The coat made of rats? The jet-black feral demons? Ninja's iconic underpants tent?
Analysis: If ever large penises needed a pep talk, here it is.
"Rich Bitch" (2011)
Synopsis: Yolandi, decked out in gaudy gold jewelry and matching spandex, has now seen success and is spending new money. Her half-dressed enclave of rent-boy servants will tell you the same. But newfound wealth doesn't come without a sense of friction.
Memorable moment: Yolandi burns down her parents' house while they're asleep, rapping about growing up in the system and counting change.
Analysis: Yolandi rejects the upper class that wouldn't have her when she was poor, all the while climbing a ladder of money into its ranks. "Fuck a rich bitch," she attacks in a revised chorus. How to be wealthy but keep it zef?
"Fok Julle Naaiers" (2011)
Synopsis: With live butterflies crawling over her upper body and face, Yolandi delivers the hook, "Fok julle naaiers," which translates to "Fuck all y'all." Meanwhile, Ninja is in full battle mode, flashing handguns and wielding live scorpions like switchblades.
Memorable moment: Between verses, handfuls of meal worms writhe in Ninja's mouth and tarantulas crawl over his face.
Analysis: Here's the dark, Fear Factor-caliber cringe that I expect from Die Antwoord.
"I Fink U Freeky" (2012)
Synopsis: It's a reaffirmation of the group's embrace of the strange and the uncomfortable. "I fink u freeky and I like u a lot," goes the chorus.
Memorable moment: Yolandi in bed with a nesting mischief of rats.
Analysis: If money makes you less accessible to a fan base built on outcast pride, then this track is a reminder for Die Antwoord's audience that the duo hasn't forgotten all the weirdos and rejects of the world.
"Baby's on Fire" (2012)
Synopsis: "Baby's on Fire" casts Yolandi as the belle of the projects, and Ninja as a brother who must protect her from the many suitors who "just want one thing."
Memorable moment: Again, there are many to choose from. A pair of women wrestling in a kiddie pool filled with an unknown lubricant? The cartoonishly oversized spliffs? The obligatory gunplay and late-model cars ripping donuts in a dirt-lot front yard?
Analysis: This is just another summer day in Die Antwoord's alternate universe.
"Fatty Boom Boom" (2012)
Synopsis: A Lady Gaga look-alike is on vacation in Cape Town, and she's way out of her element.
Memorable moment: Hyenas eat a bicycle, a panther stalks the entrance to a grocery store, Gaga is held up by highway robbers and later gives birth to what might be a praying mantis? Eventually a lion kills her, but it's OK: Die Antwoord didn't want her lurking anyway.
Analysis: Die Antwoord will take your money. They'll be your freak show if you'll be their cash machine. But they won't save you when the lion comes.
"Cookie Thumper!" (2013)
Synopsis: Yolandi the beauty meets Toothless Guy, the beast, and he's fresh out of prison. So she buys some weed from him, teases him in a beige schoolgirl outfit, and eventually rewards him with that which he's been deprived.
Memorable moment: This video is most memorable for what doesn't occur. Rather than being rescued from her own agency, Ninja stays out of things, and Yolandi can finally make a decision on her own.
Analysis: Die Antwoord begins to embrace progressive sexual politics, even if that means Yolandi sleeping with sketchy ex-cons.
"Pitbull Terrier" (2014)
Synopsis: Ninja is a chest-thumping "Pitbull Terrier," sexually frustrated and seething for a mate—so he goes around the city attacking and maiming supermodels dressed as cats.
Memorable moment: Right when Ninja is reunited with his long lost Yolandi, he's hit by a garbage truck and dies. Fear not, Yolandi revives him by dribbling a big glob of spit into his mouth.
Analysis: Yolandi's saliva has magical, life-giving properties.
"Ugly Boy" (2014)
Synopsis: "Ugly Boy" is a track dedicated to ugly people sung by pretty people, featuring a surreal collection of Hollywood misfits and their family members.
Memorable moment: The oddity here is in the curation of personalities: Marilyn Manson and his wife, Flea and his daughter, plus film directors and fashion models and even a one-eyed Jack Black done up like a cigar-puffing mobster.
Analysis: I think the point here is to remind people that unsightly misfits have value like everyone else, but it sure does take a lot of supermodels to say so.
"Banana Brain" (2016)
Synopsis: Yolandi drugs her parents so she can sneak out of the house and go with Ninja to a party, where a mysterious woman kisses a hit of acid into her mouth. Farewell sanity.
Memorable moment: Tripping balls, Yolandi locks herself in a bathroom, and after seeing herself in the mirror, starts chopping off all her hair. Ninja finds her and repairs the hack job, snipping away bit by bleach-blond bit until her signature fashion mullet is revealed.
Analysis: From chaos emerges beauty. Also, Ninja is a passable hairstylist.
"Fat Faded Fuck Face" (2016)
Synopsis: In "Fat Faded Fuck Face," we see Die Antwoord considering life after fame.
Memorable moment: "Your flash-in-the-pan career faded/Your legacy's overrated/Your new shit sounds dated/You no longer famous." Ninja's flow is uncharacteristically slow, the beat is trap-styled and trendy, and he and Yolandi are back to dressing like walls of graffiti.
Analysis: The world has caught up with Die Antwoord, their idiosyncratic style mined and reconceptualized and made popular—joggers, normcore and dad hats—and in many ways they've come and gone. It was a crazy party, but now it's 3 am and things are winding down.
"Love Drug" (2017)
Synopsis: "Love Drug" opts for a single-camera, fast-motion, overhead shot of Ninja and Yolandi, who illustrate the song's lyrics on a pad of paper in pace with the track.
Memorable moment: For a group that relies so heavily on theatrical flair and persona building, this is a rare moment of pure sincerity not often seen in Die Antwoord.
Analysis: The lyrics are all about how love can take a person over with irrational and animalistic impulses—how instincts override reason to turn two people into more people.
"Tommy Can't Sleep" (2017)
Synopsis: Tommy can't sleep because rats are living in his bedroom walls. In a restless midnight hour, the Fairy Rat Mother (Yolandi) arrives at his bedside and invites him to a rat paradise of "boobies," "freaks" and "homosexuals."
Memorable moment: Tommy follows Yolandi to her rat lair where Jack Black, the King Rat, awaits, along with writhing clusters of shirtless men in animal masks. Some other stuff happens and then you realize it was all a dream.
Analysis: It's basically Coraline. Or The Nutcracker. But with heavy David Lynch vibes.
Die Antwoord plays Aug. 26 at 7:05 pm.
MusicfestNW presents Project Pabst is Aug. 26-27 at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Get tickets here.
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