Sharing universal challenges and successes in journalism

As a digital reporter in a daily newsroom, time is often a luxury. Gone are the days of writing for a print deadline – readers today want their news on tablets, on smartphones, on computers and they want it now.

But because our news cycles move so quickly, it’s that much more important to invest time in professional development and to continually fine-tune our craft when the opportunity arises. I’m grateful to the Jack Webster Foundation for awarding me a 2019 Poynter Fellowship, which allowed me to visit the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. in April 2019 for the Summit for Reporters and Editors in Multi-platform Newsrooms.

Since my daily duties and priorities are focused on the digital aspects of our news coverage, my main goal in attending Poynter was to learn new strategies and digital tools for engaging with audiences and building loyal online readers. What I experienced was so much more.

A large focus of the six-day summit was to revisit the process of storytelling: from crafting a story pitch to editing. Jacqui Banaszynski led several workshops that reminded me just how much of journalism happens long before a reporter sits down to write. She detailed how beat maps can help a reporter understand and establish a beat, and how reader wheels and stakeholder wheels can help us look at a story from new angles. Jacqui also took us through the step-by-step process of breaking down large concepts into manageable stories and how single events can be blown up into big ideas.

Ren LaForme introduced us to a number of digital tools for both increasing productivity in the workplace and for use in telling stories digitally. It was encouraging to hear how much digital tools do matter and propel other newsrooms, and to see very clear examples of how my role as a digital reporter can support and impact the wider newsroom and its goals. I am currently testing a number of tools Ren suggested and plan to propose trial implementation for several in the coming months.

Editing and publishing my own reporting is a daily occurrence on the digital desk. Maria Carrillo’s workshop about editing on deadline was a great reminder of how important it is to make time to edit, even when there seems to be no time. She took us through a practical checklist of things to watch for while editing and reminded me of how important it is to “just let go” when editing a story. “Be passionate in pursuit of the story but be dispassionate as you edit” is something I will carry with me into all my future editing.

Beyond the workshops each day, my time at Poynter introduced me to journalists from across a range of backgrounds and newsrooms. It was encouraging to see that our challenges are universal but that our successes can be shared. I was both impressed and inspired by each person’s motivation to report, their eagerness to improve and the desire to better their newsrooms.

The experience I had at Poynter is something I would encourage every journalist I know to pursue. It was a humbling experience that pushed me to examine my weaknesses but also allowed me to see how those weaknesses could be improved. Even as I returned to work, the encouragement I found at Poynter has continued to influence the way I approach my role in the newsroom and I believe has changed my reporting for years to come.

Arvin Joaquin is the associate editor at Daily Xtra in Toronto but is originally from Vancouver. Yay for finding B.C. friends all the way in Florida!

A farewell letter to the Province (but not journalism)

UPDATE 05/15/17: As most of you have heard, my union did us a solid and successfully negotiated a new contract that included several jobs being saved, including mine. I’m thankful to be back at work and have been so appreciative of the support that’s poured in over the last two months, both from friends and strangers. I’ve since returned to work and am trying to leave the rough times in the past. But the sentiment behind this letter still stands.


PREVIOUSLY 03/27/17: The following post was written on March 23 as a way to mentally prepare myself for what I knew would be a difficult day. Then I spent the weekend crying, laughing, editing and trying to cut my word count (couldn’t do it, no surprise) and it’s been incredibly therapeutic.

This isn’t an invite to a pity party, just some nice things I want to share about a newsroom I fell in love with. Enjoy. (5:00 MIN. READ)


If you’re reading this, it means I’ve been laid off from my job – more specifically, my dream job as a reporter with The Province (and Vancouver Sun). Sigh.

For the last month, my brain’s been wracked by equal parts disbelief, uneasy hope I might survive the cuts, and just plain old sadness. My diet’s mostly consisted of consolation beers and way too much sugar.

On Friday, after almost five years of reporting on Vancouver and British Columbia for Postmedia, I was officially laid off, alongside several other respected, talented colleagues. April 7 is our last day. I guess it’s almost a rite of passage in journalism.

The tsunami wave of support that we’ve received has been incredibly overwhelming and I don’t even know how to say thank you to the countless people – many of which were total strangers – who’ve shared a kind word. But thank you.

Hey! There’s me on the left next to one of my best friends, Tyler Orton, scrumming with Marcie Moriarty of the SPCA in June 2013. (RIC ERNST/PNG)

There’s many reasons to be sad – and most of them are obvious because, duh, journalism – but there’s a large part of me that is sad because this isn’t how I imagined leaving The Province. This newsroom was it for me. I thought I’d have the chance to tell more stories and notch more bylines under the Province masthead before moving on.

The Province was and still is the scrappy little tabloid that could, which makes it the perfect home for a scrappy little reporter like me. This paper is the underdog; we punch well above our weight class. (That’s two too many clichés in one line. I’m sorry.)

We are a strange and rowdy bunch: often inappropriate, consistently hilarious. This is a fascinating, amazing collection of humans who have become my tribe, day in and day out. These are folks who happily took me under their wing and taught me to fly, even if my own wings weren’t quite strong enough yet.

Case in point: who else would let the youngest temp in the newsroom work city desk and assign about a dozen seasoned reporters? For an entire month? That’s like letting the newest patient run the asylum.

Somehow no one was fired, no one was sued, and the paper still made it to print with no empty holes or filler text. Phew. (And then they asked me to do it on a regular basis!)

In 2012, I was The Province’s Empty Stocking Fund reporter. The campaign has been running since 1918. (MARK VAN MANEN / PNG)

I was invited to sit in on news meetings and not just that, they laughed when I cracked jokes and they didn’t fire me when I sassed senior editors. They liked me! So much that they kept me for almost five years after I first stepped foot into 200 Granville St. as a summer intern.

Last year’s merger with the Vancouver Sun, which was met with trepidation on my part, also introduced me to new colleagues I now call my friends. For another two weeks, I’ll be lucky enough to work with an amazing combined team, one that will likely never again be assembled in the same newsroom, with all the same pieces.

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Thank you to every mentor I’ve ever had. When I received my layoff notice on Friday, I thought of each editor and instructor that took a chance on me, put in a good word, served as a reference, and then I felt my heart sank, as if I’d let them down somehow. I always want to make you proud.

I am eternally grateful that Shannon Miller and Ros Guggi told me, “We like you but you just don’t have enough daily experience; get some and then come back” at my first interview in 2010 when I was still a student. That lit a fire in me and it’s what earned me that second, more successful interview.

I’m grateful to every editor I’ve ever served under in the newsroom. But particularly David Carrigg who, even when I approached his desk once near tears over some trivial matter, never shied away as city editor but always offered a comforting word of advice and self-deprecating humour (which I can relate to).

I’m grateful to Wayne Moriarty, Fabian Dawson, and Paul Chapman, who have always supported, protected, and championed our rag-tag bunch of journalists. Thank you for making The Province such a wonderful name to stand behind each and every day.

Here in this photo, we see Stephanie Ip, a not-so-rich Asian girl, interviewing Chelsea from the 2014 locally filmed reality series Ultra Rich Asian Girls. (ARLEN REDEKOP / PNG)

A hearty Wayne’s World “We’re not worthy!” to talented colleagues and desk mates who became my friends and cheerleaders and who I’m convinced are some of the most interesting people in the world. Thank you for letting me into your lives and allowing me to hold your babies and attend your weddings.

Of course, a shoutout to the Province intern class of 2012. Jeff is now a Wolf of Wall Street, Justin’s the best at ranking anything and everything, and Larissa will always be the best case scenario of what happens when you tweet at a stranger.

These were people who saw potential in me and fostered it, then pushed me to pursue it myself. I was challenged by my editors, my colleagues, competing media outlets, and our loyal subscribers. I learned to stand up for myself, and in turn, stand up for our readers and the stories that matter.

Here’s sweet baby face intern Steph from 2012.

That’s the part I hope you’ll remember: JOURNALISM MATTERS. Yes, many of us lost our dream jobs last week but I know this isn’t about me. In the end, it’s our readers and journalism that suffer. I’m just lucky I had the honour of writing these stories for you – both the serious and the absurd – here at The Province and then the Vancouver Sun for as long as I did.

As for what’s next, I’ll finish out my two weeks here and then take a bit of a vacation somewhere warm to detox these unemployment beers, get some much-needed sun, and maybe stop slouching now that the weight of impending layoffs is off my shoulders.

Don’t get me wrong: this is a farewell (for now) to The Province but hopefully not journalism. My scrappy little newsie heart still loves talking to strangers, asking all sorts of questions, sharing important stories, and delivering the news of the day.

If that sounds like someone your newsroom might want to take on, send me your news tips.

You can contact Stephanie by email at or on Twitter at @stephanie_ip.

Here’s our Province newsroom just before the Great Merger of 2016.


collectivehousing_coverLast fall, I wrote a story about a locally filmed documentary called Better Together, which looks at collective living as a solution to Vancouver’s housing crisis.

As most of us are aware, housing in Vancouver is not easy to come by – unless you’ve got cash to burn, don’t mind living in less-than-ideal rentals, or have all the time in the world to spend hunting down an available apartment. And if you have a pet? Good luck.

That’s where collective living comes in. Collective living is a return to community living, where people choose to live in a family setting and commit to spending quality time together. It’s not just your average roommate situation.

The documentary was pitched by local video journalist Jen Muranetz as an introduction to collective living and how it might be a viable alternative for the many folks in Vancouver searching for a home. The documentary was entered into the Storyhive competition and ended up being one of 30 finalists selected to receive a $10,000 Storyhive grant.

The documentary was released earlier this month and you can watch it below. Congrats to Jen and everyone else attached to the project!

You can read my original story about co-housing here and learn more about Jen’s documentary here.

How to conduct an interview 101

Earlier this week, I visited with a local class of Grade 9 students at who will be working on short documentary projects this term profiling senior community members. I was asked to give a workshop on the basics of conducting interviews, asking questions, and pulling stories from subjects in a meaningful way.

As someone who, in an alternate life, had considered going into youth and social work full-time, I jumped at the chance. (Sidenote: I was about 14 when the idea of seriously pursuing journalism as a career took root in my head so who knows?)

For any of the students who heard me speak on Tuesday and might be interested in journalism, I encourage you to read as much as you can about the world and to get to know your community. Thanks for allowing me to come visit and share a little bit about my job and I hope it was helpful and interesting.

Here’s a few of my notes from Tuesday to keep in mind as you tackle your project.

  • Start with the basics (ie. who, what, when, where, why, how) and go from there.
  • Pay attention and listen to the responses. Engage with their responses.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or to veer off from your list of questions.
  • Always get their name right! Ask them to spell out both their first and last names.
  • The interview should feel like you are talking to an old friend.
  • “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”
  • The key is that your subject feels comfortable and trusts you enough to share their story, and trusts that you’ll get it right.

Good luck!

Vancouver collective housing documentary wins Storyhive grant

It’s always nice to hear updates from people I’ve written stories about and to learn that things are going well.

I Interviewed Jen Muranetz last month about collective living. She’s a video journalist and had pitched a short documentary on collective housing to the Storyhive competition. She’s hoping the documentary will explain what co-housing is and how it might be a viable solution to Vancouver’s housing crisis.

Those who are skeptical would do well to hear her out. After spending a couple of hours interviewing Jen and her housemates at their home – affectionately called the Lounge – I was starting to think maybe I’d be ready to move in too. Even if it’s not for you, it’s a very interesting lifestyle and one that was fascinating to learn about.

Anyway. I received an email from Jen today, letting me know her project, titled Better Together, was one of 30 finalists who had been selected to receive a $10,000 Storyhive grant. Congratulations and I look forward to checking out the documentary when it’s completed.

You can read my original story about co-housing here and learn more about Jen’s documentary here.

Local Pinball Wizard star of new documentary premiering in May

Since I started working full-time as a journalist in 2011, I’ve interviewed dozens of people and have shared countless stories. Some stories stick with me more than others, for various reasons.

Among those is a series that I wrote and produced in the fall of 2011 for 24 Hours. It was titled The Top 24 Under 24. We had asked our readers across Metro Vancouver to submit names of teens and young adults who were at the top of their field, who stood out from the rest, who seemed poised for success and extraordinary things. Needless to say, many of the students we profiled that first year continue to enjoy great success today.

Robert Gagno was one of the students I profiled back in 2011. At the time, Robert was the top pinball champion across Canada, and was also ranked 13th internationally after competing for only two years. He had an indescribable talent for the vintage arcade game despite his autism.

Today, I learned Robert is the subject of a new documentary titled Wizard Mode that is slated to premier at Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival this May. The documentary is produced by Salazar Film and was partly funded by a successful Indiegogo campaign last year that raised $43,500. It is Salarzar’s debut feature length documentary.

The trailer features a brief glimpse of our 24 Hours two-page spread on Robert, which was first published in 2011. (You can spot the headline at 0:43!) It gave me a small sense of pride, not because I claim any sort of credit for Robert’s accomplishments, but because we played some small role in sharing his story.

It’s one of the reasons I love journalism and it highlights the favourite part of my job: We find interesting stories about wonderful people doing great things and we share that with the world. It’s exciting to see that Robert’s story will now be shared with even more people.

Congratulations to the team at Salazar and to Robert.

(PHOTO: Robert Gagno, who has autism and is pictured in this 2011 photo, is one of the top-ranked competitive pinball players in the world. He was also one of 24 hours’ Top 24 Under 24 students. CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 HOURS.)

Women’s softball team sues University of B.C.

STEPHANIE IP | The Province
April 16, 2014

The University of B.C.’s women’s softball team wants to play ball — in court.

Eighteen members of the former varsity team have collectively launched a lawsuit against the university, alleging gender discrimination and other claims, after the program was downgraded to a competitive club earlier this year following a controversial review of UBC’s sports teams.

The civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday seeks to void the results of the review, and to have the softball team’s varsity status restored, while also pushing for the university to follow through on its initial plans to construct a softball facility on campus.

Damages for distress and punitive damages, the totals of which are not listed, are also being sought.

“I think this focuses attention on the opinion of many that, despite what UBC has continued to say — that this was a transparent and open dialogue and review — it wasn’t,” said lawyer Kerri Farion, a UBC alum and former varsity ice hockey player, who is representing the team.

“People are angry, whether they’re students, athletes, alumni — relationships between university and alumni have become strained with many donors. I think this has huge implications for UBC.”

The season-long review wrapped up in February and looked at each of the Point Grey campus’s 29 varsity sports teams to see which would most benefit from school funds and resources, while others would have to rely on alternate funding.

The softball team claims that by downgrading the team’s status, the university and its athletics department are in contravention of gender-equality policies laid out by a number of national sports associations, including Canadian Interuniversity Sport, of which UBC is a member.

“The failure to include women’s softball as a UBC varsity sport is a violation of every woman’s right to the equal benefit under the law,” reads a section of the suit.

Additionally, the suit claims the downgrading of the softball program constitutes a breach of contract and misrepresentation, as student athletes were “induced to attend UBC on the representation that … a varsity softball team existed.”

Some had also turned down offers and “significant scholarships” from other schools in order to attend UBC and play for the softball team.

Dr. Stephen Toope, who is stepping down as UBC’s president this summer, and VP Students Louise Cowin are among the defendants named in the suit. Others include the school, its athletics department, UBC’s board of governors, and the provincial and federal Crown.

The defendants will have 21 days to respond to the civil claim.

“I think it’s important for people to recognize that university athletics provides students with important education to go beyond their academic years,” Farion said. “This isn’t just playing a game. It’s about getting to the next level professionally … and how people network these days.”

This story originally appeared in The Province on April 17, 2014 and on


Finally! A new look and a cleaner set-up for my website… It feels like a breath of fresh air, doesn’t it? While I don’t post as regularly as I once did, it’s still nice to have a go-to home online where I can link all my social networks together, and post the odd blog here and there.

Feel free to take a look through my print, video, and photo portfolios. I haven’t added any new content, but did clean up each of those pages so they are easier to browse. You can also check out the contact page for different ways to connect.

Until then!

A lesson in appreciating life

On Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT and opened fire on innocent teachers and children.

Like everyone else, I watched with horror as details about the shooting began surfacing. I felt like I was going to throw up just trying to imagine what these families’ lives would be like. Then offshoot conversations began stemming from the main story.

Spiralling conversations

Journalism ethics were called into question as some media outlets began interviewing surviving children on air. Commentators called on politicians to re-examine the American “right to bear arms” and on President Barack Obama to take action. Health advocates criticized the ease of access with which an individual can purchase a firearm but not receive mental health care.

There were a lot of thoughts and emotions flying around online, in newspapers, and on television – but all I could think of was something I had seen tweeted by Chris Jones, a writer for Esquire and a columnist for ESPN.

Chris Jones, writer for Esquire and columnist for ESPN tweeted this on Friday, following the shooting in Newtown, CT.

Chris Jones, writer for Esquire and columnist for ESPN tweeted this on Friday, following the shooting in Newtown, CT.

I couldn’t figure out why this stuck with me. As a journalist, you’d think I’d be more concerned with finding out confirmed details and what the story really was.

But the story isn’t about what happened – the story is about what won’t happen.

From the perspective of children

I had considered social work and teaching before I pursued journalism full-time. When you’re around children, your perspective on everything changes. You stop looking at the world from your own eyes and you begin to understand how it looks from the perspective of someone who still believes in, well… everything.

Children have a curious way of looking at the world, at embracing the magic that still surrounds us everyday. Some people don’t give kids enough credit – they’re much wiser than their years would have you believe, and more creative than you might think possible. To kids, the entire world truly is a playground and everything is still a possibility.

Yesterday’s story isn’t about what happened in Newtown. The story is about what won’t happen.

Non-existent futures

The 20 children who had their lives traumatically cut short won’t even finish elementary school. They won’t conduct any awkward fundraisers where their parents do majority of the fundraising. No field trips, no bake sales.

No mini-graduation as they make the transition to high school. No AP Calculus, no detention after school, no prom and no graduation gown. No university applications, no scholarships, no first apartment in residence.

No first love, no meeting the parents. They won’t get down on one knee to ask their high-school sweetheart to marry them. They won’t say yes ecstatically. They won’t spend forever trying to figure out the seating plans at their wedding.

They won’t feel the knot in their stomach on the first day of a new job – their first real job after graduating from university. No promotion, no first big assignment at work. No performance reviews at work.

These kids won’t even make it to Christmas this year. Their parents are now going home to clear out their Christmas-present hiding spot. The children whose names are written on the gift tags are no longer around.


It pains my heart to think of everything that is happening to these families right now – but even more so to think of all the things that won’t be happening to them. It is an unimaginable pain and grief these parents will feel for a long time, if not forever, knowing they won’t see their child graduate, work, get married, become parents themselves.

I’m not yet a parent but as a human being, I still hurt. My heart aches when I think about all the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to see in my young life, things that these 20 kids will never understand. Then when I think of all the times I’ve complained about anything, any major challenge I’ve come across – fuck, even the small challenges I’ve come across – that pain turns to guilt.

Learning to live with appreciation

While gun laws and health care access might take some time to change, there are a few things we can do now to make sure these 20 children aren’t forgotten. We can’t bring them back but at the very least, we desperately need to learn from this horrific incident and treat it as a wake-up call.

Let this be a lesson in being better people, in taking better care of each other. Make sure we hug our parents a little tighter every time we do get to see them. Walk a little slower and breathe a little deeper. Drive more carefully along the scenic route. Pay more attention to the ones we love. Let this be the last time you ever feel ungrateful for anything. Stop complaining about the petty shit and start living our lives with appreciation.

Above all, keep playing, keep believing, keep loving, and keep trusting – the way that kids do.



Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6
Rachel Davino, 29; Teacher
Dawn Hochsprung, 47; School principal
Nancy Lanza, 52; Mother of gunman
Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Teacher
Lauren Rousseau, 30; Teacher
Mary Sherlach, 56; School psychologist
Victoria Soto, 27; Teacher

(Victims’ names sourced from The New York Times,

Featured photo courtesy of Getty Commons.

First Look: Foster the People’s “Houdini”

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you know I’ve been a longtime fan of Foster the People. I’ve dedicated a couple posts to them over the last year or so and will likely continue writing about them in the future. They’re a quirky band with an interesting style, one I hadn’t seen in a long time. If you’re unfamiliar with this band, then you need to get out from the rock you’ve been living in and introduce yourself to them quickly.

Cultural commentary?

Their new music video for “Houdini” emits the same kind of quirky humour last seen in “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)” and “Call It What You Want.” There’s a lot of artists who aim for a ‘quirk’ but when it comes to Foster the People, I feel like there’s always an underlying commentary, something subtle but snarky that they’re trying to say.

Foster the People – “Houdini”


The “Houdini” video starts by showing the band members on set of a new music video – turning the focus on the process itself. Only seconds into the clip, a lighting rig crashes down on the set and all three band members are killed – but only in the storyline, of course. While the video crew freaks over the band’s concert the next day and wonder, ‘What the hell are we to do?!’, a secret crew led by a wise-looking Mr. Miyagi-style character receives the call. Instantly, they appear on set, like some secret department of the FBI, and get to work ‘re-animating” the three corpses.

Agents in black body suits begin puppeteering the band members against a black backdrop, positioning them at their instruments, arms flailin’ and feet stompin’. The crew quickly realizes there may be a way to save the show after all instead of having to cancel and refund all those tickets – phew! They get to work filming the band’s new music video and on-set hijinks ensue (including a hilariously staged scene where a band member is bent over suggestively in front of an agent, busy taking a snack break).

The agents also get creative and even hoist the band members into the air, giving the impression of anti-gravity as their instruments ‘explode’ into the air and then reassemble. Though the crew is already impressed, the agents go another step further and even kick in some fancy footwork. The guys are suddenly swapped into white outfits, reminiscent of the Backstreet Boys’ video for “I Want It That Way (Tell Me Why)”.

Performing live

Suddenly, it’s the next day, the crowd is packed, the girls are screaming, the concert experience is shiny and flashy – but let’s be real. When was the last time you were at a concert that exciting? How about never? Yeah, I didn’t think so. The band appears on stage, dressed all in white and the music video scenario is then performed live on stage. The audience is none the wiser that the band is actually dead and that they’re being reanimated by puppeteers! Ack!

However, the concert is a success, the crew is ecstatic and one hell of an after party swings in action. The band doesn’t miss a single beat but of course, being the dead corpses that they are, they’re left slumped – and likely rotting – on a couch in the green room as everyone else enjoys congratulatory high-fives all around. Confetti!

…or playing dead?

When I was in elementary school, we did a Halloween poster project that featured scenes of a graveyard, complete with tombstones. On one, I wrote ‘STEPHANIE IP’ and then put my birth year and the present year. My teacher left it on the wall with all the other posters but when Halloween passed, I collected the poster and brought it home to show my parents. I remember so clearly what my mom said when she saw my tombstone: “Well, that’s messed up. Are you telling me you’re going to die in the next two months?”

As a kid, I thought nothing of it but there is definitely something morbid about dating your own death, even as a joke on a Halloween craft project. That’s why I thought it so peculiar that Foster the People would enact a version of their own deaths in “Houdini.” Sure, some people are superstitious and some aren’t – but I wouldn’t want to tempt the fates either way. Foster, however, are able to find hilarity and a sense of lightness in joking about the afterlife.

‘We’re a real band!’

The video also brought up some interesting points about the role of a ‘star.’ What’s the value of a rock star? Who’s qualified for the job?

In “Houdini,” it’s almost as if Foster the People are downplaying their own success. Anyone could do this. Anyone can orchestrate this level of success, they seem to be saying. The rock star lifestyle is so easy, you could do it with your eyes closed! Heck, you could even use a puppet and still create the same image! Whether you can extrapolate that into commentary on the role of record labels in the creation of an artist… well. That depends whether you think record labels are big, horrible monsters or a legitimate part of how the music industry works.

The music video – that is, the one being filmed within the video – and the concert went off without a hitch, even when its star players were down and out for the count. It could be interpreted as drawing a spotlight on all the aspects that go into a successful band. Or it might be interpreted as illustrating how mindless being a pop star these days can be – just sing some songs, have the right image and the rest will show up on a silver platter.


You can draw your own conclusions about what Foster the People meant to say with the video but if you take a look at the lyrics of “Houdini,” there’s a loose explanation.

Got shackles on, my words are tied,
Fear can make you compromise,
Fasten up, it’s time to hide,
Sometimes I wanna disappear.

Much of the lyrics focus on the narrator’s “ability” and feelings of adequacy. It appears the narrator is constrained by some unknown figure’s expectations and challenges – you could use the context of a relationship or if you want to tie it more closely to the video, the context of pop culture and what it expects from its artists. The expectations are so tough that the narrator just wishes he could evaporate like Houdini, and constantly tries to tell himself “it’s up to your ability.”

In a way, the song and video is a white flag of surrender. It’s the idea that, yes, even wildly successful people still face expectations that they don’t always feel like they can measure up to, expectations that are tough to meet. When things get that difficult, the natural instinct is often to run in the other direction, to wish that you could just “disappear,” to remove yourself from the equation and hope that things will continue on.

Featured Photo and Video Stills: Screengrabbed by Stephanie Ip