When Gorillaz entered the music scene in 2001, they made history as well as hit songs. As one of the world’s first “virtual bands,” the group is made up of four animated characters rather than human beings. The brainchildren of creators Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, each character has an extensive backstory told through music videos, books, social media, and the songs themselves. Unfortunately, being born past the release of their first album, I cannot say that I have been a fan since day one, but I believe my dedication makes up for lost time. Oh, and qualifies me to untangle the convoluted ball of yarn that is Gorillaz lore. For starters, 2D, the frontman and “face” of the group, is underappreciated by his fellow members and shoulders the burden of being in the limelight. Murdoc is increasingly reckless and attention hungry as his alcoholism worsens. Russel is the gentle giant, a highly educated drummer from Brooklyn who is haunted by the spirits of his friends killed in the inner city. The youngest band member is Noodle, a refugee of a failed government experiment and a girl who looks to the band as her only family. Got all that? Yeah, I know it’s kind of ridiculous, but isn’t that the fun of it? These stories are told through wacky and abstract music videos that leave fans (read: me) scrambling to decipher their meanings. Among the most notable, and one of my personal favorites, is the video for the delightfully dancehall-inspired track “Saturnz Barz.” Combined with the lyrics sung by featured artist Popcaan, the music video connects the fictional struggles of Gorillaz to his real-life ones. It emphasizes the necessary role of fear in order to achieve one’s goals and the paradox that our fears and pleasures are so often intertwined.

Of course, it is impossible to appreciate a music video without first understanding the lyrics. After many hits of the replay button on YouTube, I have come to a conclusion about the meaning of the lyrics that is shrouded by a thick Jamaican accent and slang. For this song, Gorillaz enlist the vocal talents of Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan. In “Saturnz Barz,” he describes his transformation from a child living in poverty to a successful, wealthy, and renowned artist. As a boy, he felt trapped and hopeless in his situation, seeing no way out as the “system force mi fi be a killer.” Though he struggled to improve his difficult life, walking “four mile…to school,” he kept a glimmer of hope alive and “(prayed)” that he would “get wealthy.” These high aspirations worked in his favor, and as an adult, he revels in his fame as an established DJ, enjoying “happy day” with the intent to “laugh and collect mi trophy.” Popcaan even goes so far as to say that “the world is mine” because “mi deserve everything.” Okay, so he’s not the most humble guy in the world, but it seems he’s doing pretty well for himself. Upon closer inspection, however, there’s more than just good times in his life. Popcaan hides behind an egotistical front because, even in achieving his goal, he cannot escape the fear that accompanies it. On the inside, he is still the same poor kid from Jamaica, unsure what he’s gotten himself into and afraid to be alone. His surrounding fears are represented by the “dogs dem round mi” that find him “anywhere mi deh inna the world.” This fear of his past life following him is emphasized by the repeated chorus of “all my life” that begins with Popcaan’s verses describing his childhood and carry through to those describing his adulthood. His life experiences create his fears, which will follow him for the rest of his life. Our poor frontman, 2D, jumps in for a verse that hammers the point home and contrasts Popcaan’s peppy tune. He expresses his own fears about who he is as a person, describing himself as a “debaser” and “heartbreaker.” He relates himself to the god Saturn, who eats his own children, in the line “Saturnz about to make love,” implying that he has a destructive effect on those around him. In other words, 2D really needs a hug.

The music video builds on the lyrical ideas and answers some questions, but poses many more, in true Gorillaz fashion. The video, subtitled “Spirit House,” opens with the band driving up to a haunted-looking house, reveling in their glory by blasting their own music on the radio. A power move, for sure. As they enter the house, each character seeks out a simple pleasure, but ends up facing a fear instead. 2D, the lead singer, opens the fridge in search of a snack, only to find the food inside supersized and anthropomorphic. In this case, his fear and his goals are exactly the same thing. He reached for something he wanted, and it backfired by turning on him instead. The talking pizzas and giant cakes serve as a metaphor for 2D’s fame. As the face of Gorillaz, 2D struggles uniquely with the pressure of the spotlight and feels frequently underappreciated (and at times just plain bullied) by his bandmates. Although he desires these tasty treats—I mean, who doesn’t—-they are ultimately unhealthy for him and terrorize him violently. The foodstuffs even come to life, Better Off Dead-style, and attack him by shoving themselves down his throat. Delicious.

Noodle, the baby of the group, is also the most caring, but she is frequently disregarded on account of her youth. Raised as a government project before her escape, Gorillaz are the only family she has ever known; during the band’s hiatuses between albums, she is usually responsible for reuniting them. She has a deep sense of love for Gorillaz, and oftentimes acts as a caretaker. With this in mind, it makes sense that her first move upon entering the Spirit House is to put on a record, creating a more comfortable ambience for the others. Unfortunately for her, sweet Noodle somehow summons a blue, worm-like monster that chases her and eventually constricts her. For all her caring gestures, she sometimes feels frustrated by the band’s response, thus “constricted” by the object of her affection and desire: Gorillaz, or, the music video’s abstract representation, the record.

Russel heads in a different direction, wandering into one of the bedrooms for a nap. Despite his hulking stature, Russel is a protector of his fellow band members, sticking up for them when insulted or otherwise harmed. Basically, he’s got everyone’s back. Growing up in New York, Russel witnessed the death of his high-school friends in a shooting, and carries that burden with him (figuratively and literally; their spirits reside in his body). By entering the Spirit House, he awakens his old hauntings. Seeking release in sleep, he is confronted instead by a different monster: large, black, and sporting an arm in one of his eye sockets, always reaching for Russel rather than seeing him. His fear of losing his friends is conflated with this monster, but he knows that his real fear can and does happen.

Most significantly, Murdoc, the antagonistic protagonist and token jerk-face of the band, is ecstatic to come across a tub in the bathroom. (His Cockney-accented cry of da baaaff has become the inspiration behind many an Internet meme.) As Murdoc sinks into the bath, he falls into outer space, floating aimlessly while the world he comes from whizzes by him. This doesn’t appear as explicitly frightening as the rest of the video, but Gorillaz fans familiar with Murdoc’s character will know that he is in fact confronting his greatest fear, just like the other band members. Murdoc is the founder and original organizer of the band, constantly seeking fame and recognition. He has an innate need for dominance and control, as demonstrated in the video by his riding on top of the Spirit House itself, which carries all the members of the band. Although he is desperate for attention, he floats through space all alone, with no one to applaud him. Murdoc is losing touch with reality and with the group due to his worsening alcoholism, symbolized by his floating through an unknown galaxy: naked, vulnerable, alone, confused, and far away from his known reality.

Eventually, all four Gorillaz break free from their battles with fear, and return wordlessly to their car. They discuss their plans to go out to eat, and again rock out to their own music on the radio, seemingly having returned to their lifestyle of stardom and camaraderie. However, 2D and Murdoc appear shaky and nauseous, a leftover symptom of their escapades in the Spirit House. As the Gorillaz drive away, they come to a busy intersection, and speed off in the opposite direction to avoid the oncoming traffic. In other words, the fear that they have experienced still shapes their psyches going forward. In order to achieve success, a person needs fear and adversity in their life. It is only by fighting through it that we find achievement, creating a caduceus of fear and pleasure. While “Saturnz Barz” uses exaggerated examples to demonstrate this point, the song further develops the characters in the Gorillaz lore as well as offers a somber life lesson to its human audience. Of course, maybe any analysis is all for naught, and there really is such a place containing talking pizzas, one-eyed monsters, and bathtubs that serve as intergalactic portals. Either way, “Saturnz Barz” provides food for thought as well as an infectious beat and a top-tier karaoke jam.