On May 14, Pearl Jam unveiled the music video for their song “Retrograde,” off their eleventh studio album, Gigaton. Emmy winner Josh Wakely was in charge of directing the video, and he enlisted someone very special for it: 17-year-old climate and environmental activist Greta Thunberg.
Back in March, Pearl Jam’s manager, Kelly Curtis, contacted Wakely to conceptualize the music video. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the live-action production became an animation in the most Loving Vincent fashion. In an interview with Variety, Wakely stated that “several other [Gigaton] songs spoke to me, but [“Retrograde”] kept me up at night.” Wakely said this quite literally, because he worked really hard to achieve the result he wanted for the project. “I would walk into my basement studio at 8 a.m. and leave at 2 a.m., with Zoom running pretty much the entire time. But it was an amazing team effort. And it remains pretty definitively the vision I set out in the script.”
As for Greta Thunberg’s participation in the video, Wakely used existing footage of the activist and grafted it onto an actress’ body. In the same interview, the director explained that Greta “never had to act a frame, but she provided that emotion I was looking for. It was a huge thrill to see an email in my inbox from her saying that she loved it.” Also, Wakely described Thunberg as “an absolute stone cold hero” for her activism.
The “Retrograde” music video starts with a man — Avengers and Captain America cinematographer, Trent Opaloch — arriving at a shopping center. The names of the stores are a nod to some of Pearl Jam’s past albums: Vitalogy, Ten, No Code, Lightning Bolt and Vs.. Then the man enters the psychic reader establishment, and the clairvoyant happens to be Greta. She shows the man the future destruction of the world through her crystal ball. We can see the downfall of emblematic landmarks, such as the Eiffel tower in France, the Tower Bridge in London and the Space Needle of Seattle, Pearl Jam’s hometown. The crystal ball also reveals the bushfires that affected Australia last year. Moreover, the band appears as marching tarot cards, leading others to stop the catastrophe.
“Retrograde” is not the only Gigaton song that deals with climate change. The track “Quick Escape,” which is set on an apocalyptic dispatch from a future in which humanity is stranded in Mars, and the trilogy of music videos for “Dance Of The Clairvoyants” act as warnings of what the future might hold for Earth, if humans do not make an effort to preserve it.
All in all, the music video for “Retrograde” is a work of art that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Thank you, Pearl Jam!
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