The success of Rare DM's "Rolex" began on TikTok, when the indie artist casually uploaded an in-progress demo for her growing fanbase. There were no lyrics for her single at the time, just a video of an Ableton session, featuring "a bunch of Juno-60 arpeggiator and a very syncopated SDS9," as she explains. But the response was immediate, as "Rolex" quickly racked up views and inspired Rare DM to write words against the wonky, electronic production.
The result is Rare DM's story of a "tormented young bride and her aging, monied husband," who live inside an old, over-the-top mansion on the East Coast. "His wandering eye and her drafty isolation breeds a contempt that slowly creeps into every waking moment," she explains, before prompting the question, "How far is she willing to go to escape?" Naturally, a classic story of revenge unfolds (a la Gwen Stefani in "It's My Life" or Lady Gaga in "Paparazzi") — albeit with a Rare DM twist.
Below, PAPER talks with Rare DM and her "Rolex" video directors Lisa Saeboe and Jake Moore about "keeping up with the Joneses" and why this track felt perfect for "evil plotting."
For you, what’s the process of translating a song into a video? You’re such a visual artist.
Rare DM: Visual art is so close to my heart because both of my parents are fine artists and I went to FIT for fashion design. Creating a visual for a song is the icing on the cake and, after filming “Rolex," maybe my favorite part of it all. Translating the song into a visual is entirely different depending on who you are working with and which song you are dealing with. The directors, Lisa [Saeboe] and Jake [Moore], approached me with an entire world.
I have been friends with the power couple for years, having met through my dear friend and photographer Lissyelle Laricchia, who does all of my album artwork. It was a no brainer to trust their vision, as I have had the honor of working with both Lisa and Jake previously — Jake on an earlier video “Softboy,” which he directed with his partner Oliver, and 2020’s viral “send nudes," which Jake painstakingly went through my eight hours of bike footage to make that dream edit. Lisa is a phenomenal director and visual artist. Earlier this year, I did my first soundtrack for her spooky short, "NIGHT OF THE TILBERI," which Lisa shot and directed during a residency in Iceland. It’s really magical to be able to fully put your trust in your friends, and it is easy to do so when they are seasoned professionals and wildly talented.
Jake and Lisa: We’d always wanted to cast Rare DM in a short film. She has such an Old-Hollywood elegance to her. At the time we were binging on Ingmar Bergman dramas from the '50s and '60s, and saw her easily inhabiting that world. But as soon as we heard “Rolex,” its sinister texture pushed us to inject that original idea with some darkness. “Rolex” is great music for evil plotting. One of the first images we had in our minds was her long nails slowly tapping on an old oak table.
How do you think this video in particular builds off the lyrics of "Rolex”?
Rare DM: “Rolex” is really quite cheeky and even bratty at times. The lyrics essentially say, "You don’t have to be wealthy to woo me, but that would be welcome, too," which ties in nicely to the idea of marrying for money and becoming a kept woman in a loveless cage you built for yourself. The lyrics have a little self drag to my own proclivity towards collecting ornate tiny beautiful boxes and unnecessary exquisite antiques. In my eyes, the world built within "Rolex" exists outside of a decade. The lyrics contain references to different eras: “Keeping up with the Joneses,” a saying popularized in the '50s when having the same material possessions and technology as your neighbor really began to rise in importance. And speaking to the current times: Gen Z has recently popularized calling men "wallets." If you aren’t having a good time or getting some catharsis while writing lyrics, you aren’t doing it right. I had as much fun writing the lyrics of "Rolex" as I did playing The Widow, a woman scorned and reclaiming her autonomy through any means necessary.
Jake and Lisa: The song, on its face, seems like Rare DM talking to a lover or a daddy of some kind. We loved the idea of treating this conversation ironically. If the daddy is already dead, the only person left to sing these lyrics to is herself. When she says, "Buy me something fancy,” she’ll be the one doing the buying. That old-money inheritance is ready to go in the offshore account.
For you, what story does this video tell? How do you relate to it, personally?
Rare DM: "Rolex" tells the story of a woman who will not be disrespected or rejected. She will not turn a blind eye to a wandering eye. She will take revenge, turn to isolation for comfort and take what she deserves. It was a treat to wield that power on screen. The widow is both an elevated version of myself, while also being a foil to my character. Visually, two things are very dear to me with the video and make me feel at home. First thing that comes to mind is the meticulous attention to detail. Especially with the vanity still life, which contains antiques from my own collection and also from Brooklyn Vintage Company in Bushwick. It reminds me of my own apartment and also my Grandmother's house. The "kaleidoscope” shot was also dear to me, as my friend and hairdresser Sean Michael Bennett gave me the finger curls of my dreams. I had actually worn finger curls to my senior prom, complete with a full '20s outfit. If I had it my way, my hair would look like that every day.
There’s a classic "kill your husband" finale, which has been used forever in cinema and music videos. What’re some references you thought about here and how do you think it amplified the video?
Rare DM: Jake and Lisa really did their due diligence on this. They approached me with a full story line and shot for shot plan for the video. I got to be along for the ride and take inspiration from their references. We had such an incredible team, it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I discovered I quite like acting.
Jake and Lisa: “Rolex” has this devious and playful tone, so skewering stuffy east coast blue-bloods had a lot of appeal. The world of croquet, seersucker pants and starched button-downs is ripe for destruction. Adding an occult undertone was a natural step. Of course, Rare DM had to kill the husband with his own clam chowder. Also, the high drama of the poison scene allowed us to poke fun at the “deranged housewife” archetype. Think Sunset Boulevard, Mommie Dearest, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Your recent visuals have been quite futuristic, while this leans into an "Old Hollywood" style. What was that like and how do you think you landed on a balance that still felt true to you?
Rare DM: It’s kind of going back to my roots, honestly. I have always loved decadence and extravagance, antiques and any excuse to be fancy. It was a breath of fresh air to be out of futurism to time travel to Old Hollywood. Meredith King’s costume design along with Emilia Adamkiewicz’s flawless vaudevillian makeup really brought that world together. It felt natural to be all done up and then unraveled at the end. I felt like the finale styling in SSIK was still in classic Rare DM aesthetic, just a little more sinister. I think it’s imperative to evolve and explore different realms creatively in order to grow as an artist.
TikTok has, interestingly, become a key piece of your success — and especially with this song. Why do you think your work resonates there?
Rare DM: I keep up with the Joneses! Another reason to be on TikTok. The clock app is the form of social media I feel like I can be the most candid on because the pressure to curate an image isn’t there in the same way as Instagram. There is more room to play, I show a different side of myself there: Jamming in my studio, trying out a new piece of gear, showing progress on a song, sharing a new music book I like, or a vintage Roland sweatshirt I just got in the mail. I think my work resonates there because I am being genuine, creative, occasionally educational and having fun. I shared a tiny snippet of "Rolex" back before there were lyrics to it and it was one of my first posts to take off. It was literally just me taking a video of my Ableton session and people loved the bassline. I feel like when a song is that early into creation and people are already excited by it, you are onto something special.
How have platforms like TikTok impacted the way you approach music-making and visuals?
Rare DM: TikTok helped me be more confident with performing and making mistakes with a live audience. I jam a lot on TikTok live there, and people stop by and say hi and stay awhile, or they scroll on. I just do my thing and record every live jam and sometimes the distant audience adds a little sense of urgency to a jam, and you do something you might not have done “alone,” and then happy accidents have another opportunity to present themselves.
Visually, I can’t say TikTok has really impacted my visuals, other than having a better skincare routine so clearer skin in my videos, but it has maybe influenced the way I will roll out or tease a song and video. [Behind the scenes] really resonates with people. It’s lovely to share what’s behind the curtain, there is so much magic in art.
Photos courtesy of Rare DM