For PJ Harvey’s new album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, the rock goddess traveled to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington, D.C., for inspiration. As she probably figured when choosing each destination, her findings ended up being rather bleak, particularly in D.C., where the video for her new song “The Community of Hope” was filmed. While there, Harvey essentially took a poverty tour with a writer for the Washington Post (who didn’t know at the time that he was guiding PJ Harvey), through some of D.C.’s forgotten neighborhoods, like Ward 7. His is the voice that narrates the video, which doesn’t feature Harvey, but rather the people of Ward 7 whom she encountered along the way.
Though she’s singing from an outsider’s perspective about a “drug town” and a “highway that leads to death and destruction,” she paints the people that call such dire living conditions their home as the district’s unsung pillars of strength. The song ends with what’s intended to be a grim prediction, repeatedly chanted: “They’re gonna put a Walmart here.” Though that ultimately didn’t happen, it’s a fate that the people of Ward 7 tried not to view as a death sentence — the video closes with a black church choir singing Harvey’s ominous words. They’re almost rejoicing, as if salvation’s but a blue vest away; the whole church sounds happy enough just to have been considered for a superstore chain most of them couldn’t afford.
But not everyone’s happy with PJ Harvey’s D.C. exposé: The District’s former mayor, Vince Gray (who is running to represent Ward 7 on the city council), said, “I will not dignify this inane composition with a response.” His campaign treasurer, however, did respond to say Harvey is “to music what Piers Morgan is to cable news.” D.C. nonprofit Community of Hope (which likely inspired the song’s title) has written an open letter to Harvey addressing their concerns with the song’s “incomplete” portrayal of the district: “By calling out this picture of poverty in terms of streets and buildings and not the humans who live here, have you not reduced their dignity? Have you not trashed the place that, for better or worse, is home to people who are working to make it better, who take pride in their accomplishments?”