This Pop Singer’s New Music Video Is Actually a Powerful Message About Domestic Violence

Frances and BBH make an appeal for Refuge

Let’s talk about flowers. Flowers are living things that, to thrive, generally require a few nice things—fertile soil, sunshine, water, a friendly community of bees or other pollinators to move things along.

Not all flowers are attractive and lovely, though. The corpse flower, for example, smells like rotting flesh, the better to attract its own pollinators—dung beetles, flesh flies and other carnivorous insects that we don’t much like to think about, because they remind us that we’re basically just ripening carrion.

Human relationships are a lot like plants. Good ones require room to grow, a healthy ecosystem, and exposure to positive elements that challenge and strengthen bonds.

Bad relationships, sadly, also need certain elements to thrive on, things we don’t like to see, or simply can’t—isolation, the slow chipping-away of self, and the feeling that all your worth is pinned to the only person who sees you at all. Like the corpse flower, a relationship like this can emit a smell we’d rather avoid because, like its victim, it risks overpowering us, too.

For “Grow,” a single on her latest album, BRIT-nominated singer-songwriter Frances—and her label, Universal Music U.K.—released an animated music video in partnership with Refuge and ad agency BBH. What you’ll find is a stirring message about domestic violence, not so much shocking as it is poignant and lonely.

In it, a woman walks through the world, transparent as a ghost. It’s a melancholy illustration of a person made nearly invisible in her own mind, and whose belief in this is reinforced by the hurried, brash engagements of everyday life.

Buses miss her, people crowd her without seeing her, she is ignored in her efforts to be helpful. These things happen all the time in the real world, but for someone living in the reality of domestic abuse, they can build on a terrible message that’s already been planted like a malevolent seed: You’re worth nothing, you are nothing, and nobody cares.

This gives a cycle of abuse room to grow, and makes it harder for someone to reach out and get help. At day’s end, when the woman returns home, the figure of a man moves to meet her, which is pretty much the only direct action toward her effected by another person in this story.

And time passes.

But the video ends on a note of hope, which first blooms when another woman, representing Refuge, finally sees her, and reaches out to touch her.

As the music builds toward its finish, we see the fruits borne of this first contact and solidity slowly return. As “Grow” tapers off, this figure doesn’t just find the strength to leave her abuser and reassert herself to others; she actually becomes real, revealing the face behind this true story—Melanie Clarke, a domestic violence survivor.

“I was so pleased to take part in this video. I understand what it’s like to feel as though nobody knows what you are going through,” Clarke says. “I was living with domestic violence behind closed doors for years. I kept it all to myself and told my family and friends I was fine. My ex-partner had deliberately isolated me; his controlling ways made me isolate myself from people.”

Clarke experienced over a decade of both physical and psychological abuse from a partner she met at 14 years old. She is among the 5,000 women that Refuge supports on any given day.

“When I received support from Refuge, it was like somebody turning on a light,” she says. “They supported me to realize I was not alone and that I could have a safe and happy future.”

In England and Wales alone, two women are killed by a partner or an ex every week. One in two young women experience controlling behavior from a partner, and over one-third of young people don’t know who to go to for help.

The insidious quality of domestic abuse is something many organizations like to emphasize, because it’s partly our inability to process the signs and take action that gives it room to grow. In 2015, Women’s Aid created a billboard on which a bruised woman began to heal when people stopped to actually look at her. That same year, it took on emotional abuse, in a follow-up where seemingly nice words hid a sinister subtext.

What compounds this problem is how hard it is to reach victims without abusers noticing. In 2013, Aid to Children and Adolescents at Risk created a child abuse billboard whose true message of outreach was visible only to children, not their adult companions.

That’s part of why a medium like a music video can be so helpful: It’s one more innocuous place where a message can live, and potentially touch someone, acting as a quiet reminder that you are seen—a nourishing thought that can flourish in victims whenever they hear the song.

To make it, Refuge worked with Globe, Universal Music U.K.’s Creative & Commercial Partnerships division, as well as BBH and South American animation collective Le Cube via British production firm Not To Scale. Former Disney animator Clay Kaytis, who directed The Angry Birds Movie, acted as creative consultant on this project.

“I feel so honored to be a part of this campaign for Refuge,” says musician Frances. “I want nothing more than to give something back with my music, and I hope that this incredibly important video which features my song, ‘Grow,’ will resonate with people all over the world, and especially to women who are experiencing domestic violence and needing help as we speak. Refuge is here for them. We want people to realize they are not alone.”

The music video debuts today.

CREDITS
Client: Refuge
BBH Creative Team: Joe Seller and Lance Boreham
BBH Creative Directors: Jack Smedley and George Hackforth-Jones
BBH Deputy ECD: Ian Heartfield
BBH Business Lead: Holly Maguire
BBH Account Director: Lauren Thacker
BBH Communications Director: Isobel Thomas
Creative Consultant: Clay Kaytis
BBH Executive Producers: Natalie Parish, George Hackforth-Jones
BBH Producer: Sarah Finnigan-Walsh
Production Company: Not to Scale
Director: Ralph Karam – Le Cube
Production co EPs: Dan O’Rourke , Gustavo Karam, Juan Manuel Freire
Production co Producers: Francesca Di Muro, Mechi Serrano, Fernanda Soma
Animation Director: Sergio Slepczuk
DoP: Juan Maglione
Post Production: Sergio Pickelny & MPC
Music: Frances “Grow”
BBH Music Sync: TMR Black Sheep Music
BBH Head of Music: Ayla Master
BBH Dept Head of Music: Julz Baldwin
BBH Data Strategy Director: Saskia Jones