First Watch: Beauty Pill, ‘Steven & Tiwonge’

By Bob Boilen  |  NPR

I’ve been repeatedly listening to the new album by Beauty Pill, and in particular this song, “Steven & Tiwonge.” The words and music swirl together to create a mysterious story. But I soon discovered that these characters were not simply the fiction of songwriter and singer Chad Clark. He wrote and told us this: “‘Steven & Tiwonge’ is speculative fiction about a real couple persecuted and prosecuted by the Malawian government simply because Tiwonge was transgender. They were tried, convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison. This struck me [and a lot of other people around the world] as inhumane, draconian and horrendous.”

Chad Clark’s lyrics conjure a mood, imagining the actions of a couple and how they might react differently given a crisis. “I pictured Steven and Tiwonge in a bedroom somewhere, suddenly aware that cops are storming down the hall to apprehend them. They don’t have much time to think. The first verse is Steven’s ‘voice.’ The second verse is Tiwonge’s. They have diametrically opposed ideas of what is the brave thing to do,” he wrote.

The video does not depict the story, but, like the song, evokes a mood. “Jeff Scheven, our director, recognized that the lyrics to the song are intrinsically filmic. He opted to eschew a literal narrative reading. He decided instead to make a more abstract, non-narrative film. He relies on tone to evoke the anxiety of the distress and dismay of the song. I think it was clever and artful the way he made use of the shadowy environment of that old hotel. I know how meager the elements were that he had to work with and I’m impressed with how he made use of them,” Chad Clark wrote.

The quite brilliant record from the D.C. band Beauty Pill, aptly titled Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are, is out now to hear and love.

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