In the song, “Rät” from her Public Void album, Penelope Scott airs her feelings of disappointment and betrayal stemming from her disillusionment with “the tech cult that is Silicon Valley.” The song, originally debuted in its stripped-down acoustic version on Tik Tok, was initially called “Elongated Muskrat” as a reference to Elon Musk, one example of the Silicone Valley scientific community that the speaker had looked up to. Through the song, Scott conveys the experience of idolizing scientists and innovation before feeling betrayed and used after being exposed to the selfishness and greed endemic among the people she had once looked up to.
While she begins the song with a whirlwind of complex words and allusions delivered at great speed, when she reaches the chorus, she slows down and puts more emphasis on each simple word. The juxtaposition gives the impression that she is initially using her education and the complex tangents she goes on to circle around her feelings. However, during the choruses, the simplified language and repetition suggests that the speaker is confronting the brutal yet simple truth of her feelings, that she was fooled and used by the people she considered heroes.
I loved you
I loved you
I loved you
Scott also uses allusions to famous scientists in the past and in popular culture to help express her feelings, such as Nicola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Thomas Malthus, Charles Darwin, and Selmers of the video game “Night in the Woods.” For example, she sings,
I bit the apple cause I trusted you, it tastes like Thomas Malthus
Your proposal is immodest and insane
And I hope someday Selmers rides her f—–ng train
First, she references the story of Adam and Eve from the Bible, suggesting that that the person that she is talking to convinced her to do something wrong. That thing “tasted like Thomas Malthus,” a man who famously suggested that feeding the poor would be futile because it would lead them to reproduce and ultimately to more people to feed. His “scientific” ideas were used to justify a lack of assistance for the poor for many years, incorporating an example into the song of a scientist attempting to solve one of humanity’s major problems while instead callously writing off the deaths of the less fortunate as the price to be paid for the continuation of bourgeois society. The “immodest proposal” likely refers to the rebuttal to Malthus’ “A Modest Proposal”, a satire intended to counter his argument. Selmers, in “Night in the Woods”, is infuriated by the growing inequality in Silicon Valley of millionaires making millions more, while wages remain stagnant and the price of living rises. She talks about wanting to ride a train to Silicon Valley and burn it to the ground, which the singer seems to support. While the audience may not be familiar with all of the subjects Scott alludes to at first, when they are considered together, they incorporate even more stories of selfishness and pain caused by people who claim to use their minds to better the lives of others while instead disregarding those whose lives most need bettering.
Lastly, Scott uses a specific audience to make her arguments more personal. Instead of specifically naming the tech industry or the scientific community, she rages against a “you” that betrayed her after convincing her that they were going to change the world with the creations of their mind. While it is present throughout the song, the most prominent example of this is in the chorus, when she repeats that she “loved you”, but it is also displayed to effect when she sings,
So f–k your tunnels, f–k your cars, f–k your rockets, f–k your cars again
I can’t believe you tore humanity apart
With the very same machines that could have been our brand new start
And the worst part is
I loved you, I loved you, I loved you, it’s true
The listener gets the sense that the speaker is talking to a person rather than the greater community that the song is directed at and the experience of the betrayal that they are experiencing through the song feels that much more personal. By using the word “you”, she can convey the same message while simultaneously conveying the idea that a specific person broker her heart and showed their selfishness after promising her the world. The clear jab at Elon Musk in the song’s title and the references to him throughout the song also help to personalize the song because listeners can connect the ideas presented in the song with his story, especially through lines such as,
When I said take me to the moon, I never meant take me alone
I thought if mankind toured the sky it meant that all of us could go
This line seems to be a reference to Musk’s sale of commercial flights into space for the extremely wealthy and serves as another example of resources that could be put to the betterment of humanity being spent on selling one-of-a-kind experiences to the incredibly rich. The references to Musk give listeners a person to connect the song to and make the song more personal and easier to connect to as a listener.
“Rät” is a complex song completely stuffed with poetic language and meaning and these are only my favorite of the strategies that she uses to support the experience of the song, of idolizing a community and an idea that reveals it greed and selfishness, leaving the speaker feeling betrayed and used.