In the video for “Vertigo,” Alice Merton finds herself trying to escape an grungy industrial underground dystopia, only to find herself ensnared by numerous seedy characters. But while the song shares its name with a classic Hitchcock film, and the video certainly includes noir-ish shadows and thrills, there were other films that inspired the the video.
Each of the characters in the story represent a part of the Berlin-based singer-songwriter’s psyche. In essence, she’s grappling with herself.
“The song itself talks about my experience with battling and overcoming certain fears, for example, claustrophobia or stage fright,” Merton said in an email. “It has often gotten in the way of the way I want to live my life, and it’s something that has been a part of me for a while now.”
Merton answered a few questions about the song, video and her taking a break from social media for much of 2020, other than a pandemic collaboration with Aaron Bruno of Awolnation.
RIFF: When the pandemic started, you went dark from social media after saying all the bad news weighed you down. What was your frame of mind at the time, and in what ways did it affect your life?
Alice Merton: Back when the pandemic started, I wasn’t really in a good state of mind, to be honest. I didn’t feel like being active on social media at all. I started distancing myself from a lot of things and didn’t really have much motivation to keep in touch with fans. I’m someone who can be very easily influenced by what goes on in the media, and everything felt very depressing and uncertain at the time. I also, however, needed the space and time to work on the next chapter and figure out where I want to take my music—and what, exactly, was important to me.
Did you take a break from writing music during that time, or did you write more than usual?
Alice Merton: I didn’t really take a break from writing music. I was lucky to still be able to work with one or two producers around Berlin, but it definitely became harder to do the sessions I had originally planned in the beginning of 2020, so a lot had to be canceled, unfortunately.
Did you spend that time in Germany, or in the U.K., where your family lives?
Alice Merton: I spent almost all the time in Berlin, and then spent one month in the U.K. with my family around Christmas, which was so lovely. I really had missed being around other people, even if it was just my family.
How did you overcome those feelings of negativity and, perhaps, hopelessness?
Alice Merton: I think writing definitely helps me overcome the negativity, so I did quite a bit of that. Also going for walks and not watching the news every day played a big role in overcoming the hopelessness. Everything you see on the news nowadays is pretty depressing.
How did the long-distance duet with Awolnation come together in spring of 2020?
Alice Merton: Awolnation reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in featuring on one of their songs. I instantly loved the song and the energy, and just felt honoured that they asked me. Due to COVID, though, we haven’t actually met in person, but I’m hoping we can still do that when things go back to normal.
The video for “Vertigo” is framed as a film. Of course, there’s a famous film named “Vertigo” that was filmed here in the Bay Area. Did that influence the story you wanted to tell?
Alice Merton: Actually, “Vertigo” wasn’t inspired by [that] movie. I was more inspired visually by movies such as “Blade Runner” and “Mad Max.” I wanted to create a dystopian world that I didn’t feel I belonged in, and almost felt like I was an intruder, not realizing if what I’m seeing is real or not.
What story are you telling in the video? Do the various characters represent something, or does it play literally?
Alice Merton: I sat down with the director and we talked for a while about what I imagined when I wrote “Vertigo.” Together we created this underground dystopian world where the characters are all part of my subconscious, and I’m not sure what’s reality and what’s in my head. The same thing happens when I get vertigo, because I’m not really understanding what is going on, and you’re almost being taken over by that feeling.
The song features pretty quick delivery. Have you started thinking ahead to what you have to do to be able to perform it night in, night out?
Alice Merton: Honestly, I’m very excited to start performing this song! It was originally meant as a live song, and it has so much energy that I can’t wait to share with an audience.
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.