Funeral pop duo MXMS—comprised of singer Ariel Levitan and multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Dawson—are honoring a national (if unofficial; banks stay open) holiday, World Mental Health Day, with a new video for their single “What’s My Name.” The track was released last month in honor of World Suicide Prevention Day, as the duo have both personally battled mental illness.
“It is our sincere hope that this song spreads awareness around the consequences of bullying, and its lasting effects on mental health,” Levitan shares. “We salute anyone who has persevered through darkness. Let’s continue the conversation, speak the truth and conquer all hatred through darkness.”
“What’s My Name” is a haunting and minimal piano ballad that’s also deeply autobiographical, as Levitan and Dawson drew on their personal experiences in writing it. The song details the intrusive thoughts of a young girl who was abandoned by her biological parents and endures emotional torment; similarly, Ariel and Jeremy were each bullied for much of their childhoods.
Directed by Cary Longchamps, the video sees Levitan wandering the halls of an abandoned school, sitting in empty classrooms with crumbling chalkboards and auditoriums with paint peeling off the walls while Dawson plays piano. The number to a suicide prevention hotline comes onscreen at the end.
Read the full story behind the song in the band’s own words below the video.
“What’s My Name” as told by Jeremy and Ariel:
I (Ariel) was the painfully shy girl in school that used to walk the hallways hugging the wall. I prayed that no one would really notice me and tried to camouflage myself as much as possible in efforts to avoid bullying. I would constantly hope that one day I wouldn’t be seen as a moving target. I was bullied most of my life, predominantly in my middle school & high school years. I know what it’s like to eat lunch in a bathroom stall. I know what its like to want to fit in so desperately that you’ll do just about anything. It’s funny, when were that young we don’t quite have a full grasp on what bullying really is and how it can impact you for the rest of your life. All we have in the moment is the primal instinct to run and we are left with yearning questions as to why our peers could be capable of such psychological and/or physical harm.
I (Jeremy) was adopted at an early age from a pair of teenage drug addicts into an ultra conservative christian world that I never understood or belonged a part of. I was the object of daily abuse from the kids in grade school for never being tough enough to fight, athletic enough to win at anything, never having the right clothes or saying the right things at the right time. I didn’t know who my blood family was, and felt completely alone and isolated from anything real. Endlessly ridiculed and physically bullied until high school when I finally found band of misfits where I belonged and later dealt with the trauma of birth to future with copious amounts of self-medication that I still battle today. But I stayed alive.
The coping skills we learn in our formative years shape who we are today. it’s crucial to remember, while it might seem like the end of the world in the moments you are being bullied, that for the most part, bullies are just people who are deeply hurting. They are people who are in distress with no outlet for their pain except what’s directly in front of them.
It’s impossible to understand when we are this young that these times won’t last forever. When we’re in the middle of what seems to be like an endless ocean of un-comfortability, terror and fear for what tomorrow may bring, this is only fugitive. These moments won’t last forever. It’s important to remind oneself that as life goes on, these dark memories will fade far into the background
Hatred is a powerful thing. I believe the opposite of hatred, is love. I believe that love penetrates and permeates through all things connected to the darkness and evil of hatred, and can dissolve even the blackest of hearts. It’s an interesting mind-warp learning to have compassion for people who have hurt us. It takes a lot of strength and solicitude. If you are able to conjure empathy and recognize that bullies, at all stages of life, are nothing more than humans who are genuinely hurting and that there is a direct root cause to their hatred, it’s easier to put things into perspective and realize that it’s not really about you. You just happen to be in front of them.
The most important thing you can do when you’re a victim of bullying is talk to those around you. As hard and as seemingly shameful as it is, it is important to reach out and ask for help and to keep an open dialogue. Even if its just expressing your emotions out loud, it helps.
“What’s My Name” is a combined auto-biographical harrowing illustration of the two of us which outlines the intrusive thoughts of a young girl who was adopted and left behind by her birth family. She is dealing with a multitude of life issues—insecurity, sexuality, fear, feeling like she doesn’t belong, all while having to endure being bullied at school on a daily basis. It is our hope that this song will spread awareness to the severity of bullying. School is supposed to be a place where imagination and creativity roam free, where meaningful relationships are fostered and lifelong skills and tools are acquired. School is not supposed to be a place that represents dread and despair, or a place that evokes fear and sadness. It is our sincere hope that this song spreads awareness to the grave consequences and repercussions that bullying can cause. We’d like to celebrate everyone who has survived all circumstances of bullying in their past. We hope that you are able to share your story and inspire others as well in efforts to prove that there is hope after bullying. We salute you for persevering through darkness and emerging on the other side fearless, powerful, and determined. For anyone that’s ever been bullied or is still mistreated in anyway by their peers, colleagues, friends… Your time is coming. Let’s continue the conversation, speak the truth, and conquer all hatred with love.