There is nothing more Saturday morning-ish than lazing around with a bowl of cereal and MTV, is there? Music videos are one of my favourite art forms, which is why I sometimes feel fatigued by the boring old fail-safes – normally girls in bikinis writhing around a rapper (who will invariably be wearing a fur coat. The poor loves feel the cold, obviously).
Which is why I LURVE the video for Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO. I think it's a really clever and original use of the old "Zombies have taken over the world!" genre – and an example of when it's ok to shamelessly rip off 28 Days Later. Not to mention the fact that it’s a top tune.
So why can’t everyone come up with funny, quirky, memorable videos that bear repeat viewings? I work “in the media” as a wardrobe and art stylist, and I’ve been involved in some pretty dreadful productions. Even when you can see something is a terrible idea (or more commonly, that the “concept” makes no sense) you somehow hope that the director knows what he’s doing. Perhaps the miracle of post-production will make it all magically come together? Sadly, no. (In these cases, all I can do is try to fit clothes on the size 12 starlet who insists that she's a size 8, and hope for the best.)
For some reason I always used to think that music videos that were suspiciously similar to each other were the result of accidental copying. Say for instance Beyoncé’s Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) – I would have guessed that maybe the director’s favourite movie was West Side Story and he subliminally added bits from that. Then when they watched the music video back they'd be like "Hey, it IS kind of similar, how about that!"
Wasn’t I naive?
I realised the truth when directors would sent me a youtube link to a music video or advert and say "This is our reference" and then proceed to copy it unashamedly. ("Can we try to find a lamp like the one they used?")
This has made me watch videos more closely – it becomes obvious when they are derivative. For example, compare Christina Aguilera’s Fighter with Girls Aloud’s Sexy! No No No. The girls blatantly rip off the creepy giant moth motif, before moving on to Britney’s Toxic, complete with catsuits and lasers.
Katy Perry’s video for ET veered into Lady-Gaga-style weirdness, but what’s this? A Wall-E style junkyard? The exact same shots used in the True Blood credits? Wondering if anyone else agreed with me, I found this wonderful website which delves into every reference used in the video! Bravo!
|Gaga : Creative trail blazer with a penchant for poison.|
When Britney, Christina et al were emerging in the late 90s, the emphasis was most definitely on conventional cheerleader attractiveness. The modus operandi was to be blonde, wear bikini tops and sing pretty little songs about having a boyfriend. OK, so Britney liked to mix it up with her oh-so innocent school uniform ("People think it's sexy, really? No, that had never occurred to me...” – who was she kidding, the little minx) and Christina was already working her "promiscuity empowers" tagline. Being pretty and scantily clad never goes out of fashion, but these days the emphasis is much more on being quirky. Adele = not blonde, not skinny, not a cheerleader and no trace of a California accent. Katy Perry = relying on cheeky lyrics as well as a slightly mad persona. Amy Winehouse = drunkard. All these people are, ahem, doing it "their way" and this is what we now look for in performers.
Which is perhaps why the mould of the traditional bimbette is crumbling. If you’re not as creative as Gaga, as pornographic as Rihanna or as ladette-ish as Ke$ha, you’re sunk.
Check out Britney’s video for Hold it against me. The disappointingly dull track (freely recycling lyrics from an ancient country song) is accompanied by a video which is evidently high budget. Despite all the effort put into it, it’s boring and makes no effort to connect with the lyrics. The fight with herself is probably the most memorable part, and might have been appropriate if it had been more of a soul searching song – it's something you can imagine Gaga or P!nk doing if the song was about fighting their inner natures etc. With Britney it's just a gimmick, teamed with the wrong kind of song.
Speaking of gimmicks.... one such gambit is the wearing of different coloured wigs: Britney made this look iconic in her classic Toxic video; Xtina pulled the same trick for Candyman. Then Britney repeated it for Womaniser... unfortunately by the time Pixie Lott had got involved with her vid for Gravity, it all became a bit old and tired. To see it now would be to know that the director had no strong vision for the video and thought they could add some interest with frequent changes of hair colour and /or outfits.
So what else makes for a cheesy, soulless video? Brands often get namechecked in lyrics, and videos regularly show phones and other fancy gadgets in loving close up, which I find bizarre.
Matching the words to what you’re seeing on screen: Ugh. This is a ploy often used in country music, where it is forgivable because their lyrics are more of a storytelling device (The Dixie chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” is a good example of this). In a mainstream pop video, you will rarely see an on-screen kiss coincide with a lyrical one – but it's obligatory in youtube fan vids and cheap homemade music videos. Nothing marks you as an amateur faster than this.
And the final sign that the director has given up on life and has no imagination: Toilets are used as props. Check out Taio Cruz ft Ke$ha: Dirty Picture, and the Sugababes’ aptly named Easy. I can imagine the director convincing the artists just how “fabulous” a public bathroom would look on screen, but there is no getting away from it, toilets are not sexy. At a stretch, they might remind us girls of the fun we have on nights out (where else can we talk about the boys in private?) but they are still where people go to do their poopies, so dancing seductively around them does seem a little incongruous.
|The crapper: Not attractive.|
Incidentally, videos that were filmed in the girls' bogs also seem to the most ridiculous in terms of offensive portrayals of women (lying on bars getting drink poured over them etc) and in the Sugababes’ case, hilarious double entendre lyrics such as “I want sex on the beach and I don’t mean on the rocks.” Brilliant!
Finally; women in bikinis are a shameless means of getting extra plays on those request shows, but as a piece of art, will it last the distance?
Further to video killing the radio star, Christina Aguilera is currently fronting a new audition show called The Voice in which the judges can't see the singers and are forced to make a decision based on vocal ability alone. The way of the future?