This is one of the first videos I remember seeing on MTV. Michael Jackson was all over the place, of course, and Cyndi Lauper and Madonna were starting to get popular. But there was something about Annie Lennox in this video that made me want to watch it over and over and over.
She has a very powerful presence. People often remarked on her androgynous look, but I never thought of her that way. She is quite beautiful, quite feminine, and fierce as hell. Nobody in my elementary school in 1983 used the word fierce, but I knew she had some quality that I could not really define or understand. But I really liked it. I loved her voice, her look, her whole style. I remember cutting off all the hair of one of my Barbies so it was short like Annie’s, and then I used a magic marker to color it orange. My own personal style was a mix of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna, so I liked having longer, messy hair. The super-short style Annie still sports can only be pulled off by a select few fierce bitches, and she is the Queen of those bitches!
The video is typical of the 80s, with lots of things that look like they’re supposed to be symbolic but you can’t quite figure out how. Is it a commentary on the Cold War? Is it about Big Brother? Is it about Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher conservatism? And how do those cows fit in? There are lots of close-ups of Annie’s gorgeous eyes, Dave Stewart’s masked eyes, and a cow’s suspicious eye. Are they questioning my sweet dreams? Are they mocking what I’m looking for? Are they staring deep into my ten-year-old soul?
Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody’s looking for something
When I was ten I was looking for fame and fortune with the rock band I was going to start with my friends. I had previously wanted to start a country group with my sisters, a la Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. But country music didn’t have awesome Dave Stewart synthesizers like early 80s pop music did. I was going to be the lead singer and synth player of our band. And I was going to write all the songs and design all of our costumes. I had big 80s dreams. But things did not work out that way.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the song’s lyrics. They were catchy and easy to remember, and it was very important that I sing them exactly like Annie did. She didn’t sound like anyone else. Her lyrics were also different. I wondered what she was singing about.
Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused
Now, I get it. Some people are sadists, some people are masochists. When I first heard this song I had no idea what those words meant or what those concepts were. I knew that there were people who used and abused others, those who lied and shit; even at age ten, I had experienced some of that drama. But why would someone want to be used and abused? Having spent a brief period of my former scandalous life working in a certain field I understood completely what that meant. Was Annie singing about BDSM? Not necessarily. I think abuse can take many forms, and what you find in BDSM relationships are only the stereotypical, sexual ways people allow themselves to be used and abused. In the video Annie is dressed in a men’s suit, black leather gloves, and brandishing a baton of some kind that she was not afraid to use. So yes, she can be seen as a severely beautiful and androgynous 80s domme. But I think there is more social commentary here than that.
As I’ve gone through life I’ve seen people who like being the abuser and those who like being the abused. I’ve been both. Everyone has a different reality, a different fantasy, and that’s okay. Who are we to disagree? As you go through life—even if you don’t travel the world and the seven seas—you realize that everyone is looking for something that will make them happy. Sometimes you need that pain to make you feel alive. Sometimes you need to be the one causing that pain. Sometimes you just need to go through a bunch of shit to figure out who the hell you are and what the hell you want. Whatever you do, Annie says to just hold your head up and keep movin’ on.