Sharon Van Etten’s newest music video, for “Porta,” shows the singer doing a workout with her trainer, Stella Cook of Base Pilates in North Carolina. Before Van Etten’s trembly-sweet yet mighty voice kicks in, the countdown beat starts with Cook reciting instructional moves: “over, right, swing.” The music video goes on to show the two women in the studio stretching, doing side bends, and lifting their arms to the sky. Coupled with lyrics such as “I wanna be myself (Stay out of my life)/Don’t let him find us,” the roughly four-minute video is jarring. After all, on paper, a workout can feel benign, about burning calories and “keeping it tight.” But Van Etten’s take on toning peels back the layers of simply sweating and taps into the deeper connection of mind and body, taking the viewer on an emotional marathon.
The idea of filming herself mid-workout came out of Van Etten’s experience during the pandemic. In September of 2019, Van Etten had moved to Los Angeles after living in New York City for 18 years. When the lockdowns started, she fell into an isolated bubble and hit an emotional low. “It was not taking care of myself like everyone and missing my friends back east,” says Van Etten. “I was homeschooling my kid while we were figuring out the bubble. I needed time for me so I could center myself and be better as a partner, a mom, and a friend.”