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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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    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?

      Douglas Mosley

      April 5, 2023 at 6:50 am

      Yup, that one.

    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!

      Douglas Mosley

      April 5, 2023 at 6:52 am

      Brilliant analysis, Jaye! Just perfect.

    Douglas Mosley

    April 5, 2023 at 6:49 am

    What an outstanding bunch of words all in a row! You’re a satisfyingly fine writer. Thanks for the much needed disambiguation on Kurt Vile. I love your voice.

    I was driving up to Portland, Oregon, the other day and I was listening to “Cool Water” by Kurt and I thought that his sound could be best described as watery or soupy. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I looked up at the oncoming overpass and saw amongst the graffiti there one boldly blue word: “SOUP”. I thought, ‘How?’

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