By Kurt Wolff
Like the song, the video for “Automatic” is deliberately nostalgic and makes the case that, just because we’ve advanced from a technological point of view, we’re not necessarily better off as people.
The video begins by cutting between scenes of Lambert strumming an acoustic guitar and going through an old chest of treasures in her attic. She pulls out a cassette and reads the song list, her mind taking her back to when she first made that tape. “Seems like only yesterday, I’d get a blank cassette,” she sings, “Record the country countdown, ’cause I couldn’t buy it yet.”
She puts the tape in a boxy old cassette player, presses play and smiles, unleashing a stream of memories that fill the lyrics of the song, including driving “all the way to Dallas/Just to buy an Easter dress,” a trip that’d require “tak[ing] along a Rand McNally” (instead of an iPhone) and “stand[ing] in line to pay for gas” (instead of paying at the pump).
These days, that cassette player feels like a clunky way to discover your next favorite song; and online shopping has certainly taken the long-distance drives out of Easter dress shopping. But are we better off? Lambert is not yet convinced.
If “Automatic” has a familiar ring, it should. Nostalgia for things gone by is a common theme throughout country music. In fact, the point of view Lambert adopts in “Automatic” appears to almost deliberately echo that of the 1982 Merle Haggard classic “Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver),” in which Haggard pines for the days “before microwave ovens” when “coke was still cola and a joint was a bad place to be.”
We may have jumped ahead a few decades with “Automatic,” but Lambert is just as nostalgic for days gone by — and the attitudes and traditions that went with them. “What ever happened to waiting your turn,” she sings in “Automatic,”, and “doing it all by hand.” As she laments in the chorus of the song, “It all just seems so good the way we had it/Back before everything became automatic.”
The video for “Automatic” echoes these lyrical sentiments, showing Lambert happily driving an old three-on-the-tree pickup truck, smiling as she passes such quaint items as a (now-abandoned) phone booth, a jar of sun tea, a roadside mailbox and a church steeple (after all, she sings, back in those good ol’ days, “staying married was the only way to work your problems out”).
Aside from a couple lines that may raise the eyebrows of feminists (in “Automatic”‘s world, the boys “call the girls” who retain the upper hand through the power to “turn them down”), the song and video for the most part stay on the wholesome and sweet side of the street. Ultimately the song and its easygoing melody are more about the lost art of writing letters (“doing it by hand”) and taking time to talk to your neighbors (the benefit of all that waiting in line at the gas station) versus whether or not you adhere to the classic courtship rules.