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culture

Sound Tracks: “Wide Open” by Jenny Mayhem

Jenny Mayhem's debut video is an unabashed love letter to department store Honest Ed's, and a more tongue in cheek wink at the "blowing up" Toronto indie music scene.

Believe it or not, music videos still exist. Sound Tracks trolls the internet to find the best and the worst of local artists’ new singles and the good, bad, or otherwise noteworthy visuals that accompany them.

Indie-folk singer Jenny Mayhem certainly isn’t the first Toronto musician to use seminal discount emporium Honest Ed’s to display affection for her adopted hometown: after all, Hooded Fang asked artist Dougie Kerr, the man behind the visually distinctive signage at the Bloor and Bathurst establishment, to design their Album cover. She isn’t the first to be filmed strumming an instrument on the premises, either; in one fairly recent example, Whale Tooth hopped some caution tape in a quiet corner of the store for an unauthorized acoustic performance of their song “Vinyl Skin” for Mitch Fillion’s Southern Souls video project.

But Mayhem, who immigrated from Barbados to Toronto for her post secondary education and stayed here, can certainly lay claim to the most Honest Ed’s-centric music video to date—and with some scenes set in the staff lounge and changerooms, she and the video’s producers obviously obtained the management’s blessing beforehand. Directed by Ace Billet, the video casts Mayhem as a shelf stocker who daydreams about indie rock stardom while contemplating the odd menagerie of statues and knick-knacks in the labyrinthine store.

This being Honest Ed’s and not a Walmart, Mayhem’s shopgirl fantasies are also uniquely Torontonian in nature. Instead of picturing herself on the cover of Rolling Stone or the Village Voice, she imagines herself gracing the front of Exclaim!, Now Magazine, and the Grid. Given the latter’s recent assertion that Toronto’s the “Greatest Music City in the World” (a sentiment echoed in a New York Times blog post), maybe her minimum-wage worker is on to something: “If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere” may apply to the T-Dot for music stardom these days just as easily as NYC.

The Can-Con continues as our working-class heroine’s daydream slowly sours. She finds herself shilling for not Coke, or Pepsi, but Canadian Club, in a “product placement” sequence; her image also adorns the sort of billboard familiar to Toronto residents, a condo development desperately trying to project an image of downtown “hipster” living (in the half-million plus range).

Back in the video’s real world, Mayhem and her co-workers entertain themselves at work by sparring with their uptight supervisor and trying on “vintage” threads. Mayhem’s employee alter-ego eventually contemplates the idea that she’s more comfortable under the bright lights of Honest Ed’s side alley than in front of TMZ‘s paparazzi flash shots. Enjoying a modest level of artistic satisfaction may feel more traditionally Canadian than the in vogue “conquer the world” mentality of Toronto as #1, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the video’s mash-note to Honest Ed’s, or Toronto as a whole. The Annex landmark has been an authentic part of the Toronto downtown immigrant experience for decades, not to mention a refuge for students outfitting their first apartments. By tapping into that common experience, Mayhem and the “Wide Open” production team may have made a video that outlasts the current brash “It” status proclamations of Toronto’s music scenes—maybe even a video that will be remembered as fondly as The Shuffle Demons‘ tribute to the “Spadina Bus.”

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