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Pretty Pimpin’

Kurt Vile

Album b’ileve i’m goin down…

Kurt Vile (whose surname does not represent his music to any degree) is a Philadelphia native indie rock singer and songwriter. Vile was previously a member of neo-psychedelic/Americana band “The War on Drugs”, before releasing his first solo album in 2008: “God Is Saying This to You”.

However, it was his 2011 album “Smoke Ring for My Halo” that landed him success. It hit #154 on the “Billboard Top 2oo” list and was named NME’s 475th “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. Vile has also created a collaborative album with Australian singer Courtney Barnett, which received positive reviews and feedback. Today, he is in the process of heading off a European tour as well as releasing his newest album “Bottle It In” which will be out in October.

“Pretty Pimpin”, off Vile’s 2015 record “b’ileve I’m goin down…” is one those few songs that sings about understanding identity in a very blunt and simple approach. The lyrics themselves are brutally honest, vulnerable and extremely relatable. The song opens up with a steady yet twangy and up beat guitar solo, providing a misleading melodic subtext for the lyrics that follow.

I woke up this morning
Didn’t recognise the man in the mirror
Then I laughed and I said: “Oh silly me, that’s just me”
Then I proceeded to brush some stranger’s teeth
But they were my teeth, and I was weightless
Just quivering like some leaf come in the window of a restroom

From the initial verse, the audience are already presented with a character perhaps struggling with one of humanity’s oldest questions – “who are we?” From “Didn’t recognise the man in the mirror” to “Oh silly me, that’s just me”, it can be gathered that the character in the song (perhaps Vile, however this is unclear), either suffers from a mental disorder such as a Multiple Personality Disorder or a Dissociative Identity Disorder, which causes an individual to either have multiple personalities, or feel entirely detached from their thoughts and feelings. Every pre-chorus of the song has the character stating that they could not tell you what them not understanding their identity means, and because it was “a Monday, no, a Tuesday”, and carries on debating what day of the week it was. Then Saturday arrives, and the character states: “Who’s this stupid clown blocking the bathroom sink? But he was sporting all my clothes – I gotta say, pretty pimpin'”. The pre-chorus is where the namesake of the song originates. The character, despite their constant confusion, thinks that they look “pretty pimpin'” every time they look in the mirror, which provides a sort of dark humoured aspect to the song. The pre-chorus is the only time the lyrics stay consistent, as the chorus changes depending on what the character wishes to be. Whether that’s “to be someone in life that was like, all I want is to just have fun” or “…to be a man”. The song ends with Vile simply repeating that he woke up in the morning and didn’t “recognise the boy in the mirror”. “Pretty Pimpin'” could be best described as a realistic short story about the ongoing questioning of identity, and one that will never have a clear ending.

The music video debuted the same day as the song was released, which has now accumulated over 11 million views. The video features mainly Vile in an array of everyday locations – from a bedroom, parking lot, kitchen to the women’s lingerie section in a shopping centre. Vile wears a stressed, perplexed and reflective expression throughout the video. Travelling from each location, as the lyrics become more and more chaotic and puzzled, many versions of Vile appear around the original Vile in different locations undertaking different activities from eating an apple, to playing on a mobile phone to simply writing down notes.

There seems to be a running theme throughout Kurt Vile’s music: emotional, almost preppy yet melancholic acoustic and electric guitar with gut wrenchingly relatable lyrics. Pretty Pimpin’ is simply a minute glance at the genius that is Kurt Vile.

Date released: 21st July 2015
Song length: 4:58
Songwriter/s: Kurt Vile
Producers: Kurt Vile, Rob Schnapf
Album: “b’ileve i’m goin down…” (2015)
Label: Matador
Chart position: #1 on the Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart
Music Video Release Date: 21st July 2015
Music Video Producer: Chris Black
Music Video Director: Daniel Henry

Added by Tala Woods

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    Sylvia Goodenough

    July 16, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    “it can be gathered that the character in the song (perhaps Vile, however this is unclear), either suffers from a mental disorder such as a Multiple Personality Disorder or a Dissociative Identity Disorder, which causes an individual to either have multiple personalities, or feel entirely detached from their thoughts and feelings.”
    NO. This is not written correctly. First of all “multiple personality disorder” was a diagnosis in the DSM-III, the diagnostic “Bible”, if you will, of the mental health establishment, which was published in 1980. In 1994, when the DSM was re-edited and the diagnoses therein were re-evaluated, the disorder was renamed Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). When the DSM-5 came out in 2013, they retained the name and most of the diagnostic criteria of the previous edition. In other words, “multiple personality disorder” has not been a legitimate diagnosis since the DSM-IV came out in 1994. By making a statement like, so-and-so “either suffers from a mental disorder such as a Multiple Personality Disorder or a Dissociative Identity Disorder”, you imply that BOTH diagnoses are currently accurate and valid when in fact, only one of them is: dissociative identity disorder. I’m not commenting to be nitpicky – DID is a mental health condition that is shrouded in myths, misinformation and misunderstanding, so I’m trying to clarify some of that. DID is no longer called “multiple personality disorder” because clinicians realized that it was a dissociative disorder (as in, a problem of EXCESS dissociation and not the normal amount of dissociation that every human being on the planet experiences, like the phenomenon of daydreaming) and NOT a personality disorder.

    The second part of your statement is confusing to me. You suggest that DID (I’m just saying DID even though you said both MPD and DID) “causes an individual to either have multiple personalities, or feel entirely detached from their thoughts and feelings.” From the way you phrased the sentence, it appears that you’re saying that someone with DID either has multiple personalities OR feels “entirely detached from their thoughts and feelings”. Ummm, no. The first criterion for diagnosing DID, according to the DSM-5 which is the most up-to-date edition the field has as of 2019, is that in the patient “two or more distinct identities or personality states are present, each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to and thinking about the environment and self.” There are four other diagnostic criteria and none of them mention anything about detachment from feelings!! While you may think I’m splitting hairs here, again, I am just suggesting that you present the disorder in a way that is not misleading to your readers. People with dissociative disorders in general (there are three others, besides DID) may feel detached from their thoughts and feelings so it’s a little misleading to claim that as a mainly a symptom of DID. It’s DEFINITELY not a diagnostic criterion for DID.

    Or maybe I completely misunderstood what you were saying, and what you were in fact saying was that multiple personality disorder causes a person to have multiple personalities and dissociative identity disorder makes people feel entirely detached from their thoughts and feelings. Not that this makes sense, either, because once again, the term “multiple personality disorder” is outmoded and no one in the mental health field (no one competent anyway) uses that term.

    Thank you for reading my comment. I’m not trolling, just trying to clear up some misinformation about DID. And yes, the song and the video make it clear that it’s about dissociative experiences.


    July 15, 2020 at 4:07 pm

    Maybe the writer of the song has Dissociative Identity Disorder or know someone who has.


    December 2, 2020 at 5:42 pm

    …or maybe Kurt Vile was just commenting on a simple question we all ask at some point – who am I really?

    Jaye Reed

    April 25, 2021 at 9:18 pm

    Notice how he goes from saying “man in the mirror” to “boy in the mirror” at the end. The singer/narrator is observing and lamenting that he became a man before he even knew it. The boy observed that the man was “pretty pimpin” when in fact it was him all grown up, but he barely recognized himself where every day runs together with all the tedium that goes along with it. He adds that all he ever wanted was to have fun, as kids do, wondering who this “stupid clown” is, trying to reconcile the child with the adult now. Brilliant song!

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