Monthly Archives: November 2013

Ride a White Horse

Last month, I wrote briefly about my general distaste for rock videos. I thought, then, that it would be a good idea to show exactly what I believe a music video can be by sharing one of my favorites, and that is Goldfrapp’s “Ride a White Horse.”

Why is it one of my favorites? Because it’s the opposite of you might expect a music video to be. Wait, what? I know what you’re thinking. After going on a mini rant about what a music video should be, I go on to praise a music video that defies that?

Well, sort of. I said that a music video is an art form to be explored. I think what some people might expect a music video to be is something glamorous and beautiful – After all, the artist is promoting themselves (and their song/single). Who wouldn’t want to look good?

But Goldfrapp chooses to be un-glamorous. Alison looks amazing, as always, but what’s the first image you see? A piece of toilet paper stuck to her heel. Very un-glamorous. Then she grabs a microphone made from a cardboard tube and wadded up tinfoil. How tawdry. A series of gross and disturbing images follows, including rotting food and dead fish. Later, she stomps on a dance floor made of cardboard and duct tape, eats a pizza topped with cigarette butts and bottle caps, and dances with dirt-smudged men who crawl out of a dumpster. SO UN-GLAMOROUS.

I generally don’t advise anyone to read YouTube comments, but I’ll share this little nugget of gold from roytheboy68 (I know) who proclaims:

This vid annoys me. Great song, she looks great and then she FUCKS IT UP with that imagery. Give me a break. It’s not “creative” or “edgy” it’s just annoying.

Exactly the point, dude. If this video makes your boner wilt like sad puppy dog’s tail, then Goldfrapp has succeeded. This video is not meant to turn anyone on – It’s meant to do the opposite. Yes, Goldfrapp looks GORGEOUS, but that is not the point. If you are distracted by worms in some kind of brownish juice and a man wrapped in toilet paper eating out of a garbage can – that IS the point.

The title of song refers to Bianca Jagger’s entrance into Studio 54 on a white horse, while the song itself is inspired by the disco era in general. Dancing at the disco (even in the modern sense) has a glamorous feeling to it, as one usually gets dressed and made up very fancy to go there. So Goldfrapp COULD have done a video that followed the theme if the song, but what fun would that be? That would be boring.

So to all the roytheboy68’s out there: I relish your disgust. And I’m sure Goldfrapp does too.

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Hard Out Here

So just about everyone’s talking about Lily Allen’s latest and long-overdue song “Hard Out Here”  – or more specifically they’re talking about the music video.

The song is pretty clear in its meaning: Women are objectified in pop culture and in the music industry and face a deluge of double standards in nearly every aspect of life. It’s pretty Feminism 101. Which is a good thing! People need to hear this constantly, need to fully understand it, and when it comes from a pop star, the message may actually have a chance of getting through to them because it’s someone they know and (possibly) like.

Unfortunately, as many, MANY people have already pointed out, the song and video fall both short of being what Rolling Stone has called “A feminist anthem through and through…” I mean, right after singing “Don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain” she then goes on with “If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut.” So much for defeating the double standard.

I won’t say too much about the video that hasn’t already been said (Seriously, Google it.), but I will say that having read about it beforehand, I did feel uncomfortable watching parts of the video. Specifically parts that focused on her black background dancers pouring champagne on each others’ asses while twerking wildly. I get it, you’re trying to do a parody of rap videos, but it really, really fails as a parody. There’s nothing to signify those parts as parody other than the assumption that we’re just supposed to know, as apologists and defenders seem to be pointing out just about everywhere, via the lyric “And if you can’t detect the sarcasm, you’ve misunderstood.” Okay, but that doesn’t mean that it’s GOOD at sarcasm. It doesn’t help that Lily Allen basically pulled the old “I’m not racist – I have black friends!” card.

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to go on too long about the video and I feel like I have. Read the other articles! They all make really good points.

I will say this though: I love that she parodies the pop culture events that were Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s separate and then combined songs/performances. Especially Robin Thicke. That guy deserves every single criticism for his gateway misogynistic song. Stick it to him, Lily! (The reference to “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” is nice too.)

So how could she have succeeded? Aside from fixing a few lyrics, I think the video itself could have been better without changing too much. This fantastic Atlantic article suggests that the background singers could have joined Allen in dropping the act at the end. I think the video could have gone a step further. I realize this is going to be treading old ground, but just hear me out. What if they were literally all puppets of the patriarchal music industry? There were strings attached to them and her pervy old manager was the puppet master?

Yeah, I know, I know, ‘N Sync made pop culture history with a video that (basically) already did that. But it’s the first thing I thought of! And it’s a start. Lily and her dancers could still be twerking and acting like sexual objects, but maybe with blank, dead-eyed looks, without emotions or feelings. Sure, it’s a bit on the head, but so is the song itself. Let’s be honest, these lyrics aren’t going to incite the next wave of feminism, but hopefully they’ll get some more people talking and – more importantly – listening.

For a much better Lily Allen song that’s commentary on pop/consumer culture, I recommend “The Fear.” (Although I think even THAT video could be better too – Not that it’s problematic, because it really isn’t, but Lily looks like she’s having too much fun in a song that’s supposed to be morbidly serious.) Go check it out!

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Matangi

So last week I promised to tell the story of Matangi‘s much delayed release. It really is a funny story, or at least it is to me, being an M.I.A. fan. Originally slated for a December 2012 releaseMatangi was pushed back to April 2013 because, according to her label, Interscope, it was “too positive.” It seems they still weren’t satisfied because in August, M.I.A. threatened to leak the album herself if they didn’t make up their minds (I wouldn’t have put it past her). Interscope responded by announcing a release date of November 5.

And so here we are. In the 3 years since her last album, M.I.A. has:

  • nearly married a billionaire
  • flipped off millions of viewers during the halftime show of the 2012 Super Bowl
  • been subsequently sued by the NFL
  • separated from aforementioned billionaire fiancé
  • gotten locked into a custody battle over their son

I have to wonder how “positive” her album sounded when she was going through all this, because for the most part the end result is pretty dark, as her label requested.

According to M.I.A. (full name Mathangi Arulpragasam), the album was inspired by the Hindu goddess for which she was named, Matangi. It’s no wonder then that the album feels so personal.  This is most obvious on the mid-album intermission “Boom Skit” and on the following track “Double Bubble Trouble.” I have to wonder about the melancholy “Know It Ain’t Right” too.

Never one to pass up a chance to get worldly or political, M.I.A. does so on the tracks “Matangi” (wherein she chants a long list of mostly developing countries) and “aTENTion” (which was supposedly written with a little help from Julian Assange). She even gets reflective about the place and potential of the individual human being in a world filled with trillions of cash, billions of fellow humans, and millions of possibilities in “Only 1 U,” one of my favorite tracks.

Sound-wise, there are definitely some fantastic songs. “Y.A.L.A.” is an amazing club track and “Bring the Noize,” while it may not have a discernible melody, will dare you to keep up with its beats.

M.I.A. made the right move in choosing to name the album after the goddess with whom she shares her name. Matangi feels the most like her at this point in her life – it’s the perfect balance of introspective and outspoken. Will it achieve the success of her best-selling album to date, Kala? Maybe not, but like the goddess, Matangi, it doesn’t desire to aspire to the greatness of others. It is in a league of its own. M.I.A. had something to say and she said it. Love it or hate it, this is her. And if you do hate it, I’m sure she has a finger to show you.

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Bad Girls

I meant to do a review of M.I.A.’s brand new album Matangi which is out today and has been streaming for free online since (and much to my surprise I discovered on) Saturday. Unfortunately, I had a busy weekend and have only listened to it about one and a half times. But at the time of this publishing, I’ll have purchased the album and no doubt have listened to it all morning before/on the way to work. And anyway, I’m really going to need another whole week to listen to it because I love what I’ve heard so far but I also need some time to chew on it. As I’ve mentioned before, M.I.A. is one of my favorite artists and I’d prefer not to rush a review of this album I’ve been waiting for since last year.

So enough of my excuses – on to “Bad Girls!” The original (and shorter) version of this song made its debut on M.I.A.’s Vicki Leekx mixtape back in December 2010. It was easily the stand out track, but an official single version didn’t come out until January 2012. A full length album was supposed to follow, but wasn’t actually confirmed until late this past summer. The reason why is actually kind of a funny story, but I’ll save it for next time, since it has to do with the album itself.

So what about “Bad Girls?” Let’s take a look at the video/listen to the track.

Well, it might just be one of the most AMAZING videos that has ever existed, first of all. I mean, those car stunts just BLEW MY MIND the first time I saw them. Physics!!! What?!? Even M.I.A. herself couldn’t believe what they were doing, much less think she would survive it fully intact.

It’s M.I.A.’s interpretation of a rap video, while also standing in solidarity with the Women to Drive movement. It’s just so incredibly badass on so many levels.

I also love that so much of the lyrics are a double entendre. “My chain hits my chest when I’m banging on the dashboard/My chain hits my chest when I’m banging on the radio” and “Hands up, hands tied/Don’t go screaming if I blow you with a bang” stand out immediately, and those are just a few. She even drops a Grace Jones reference at one point. There’s just so much going on in the song and yet it flows so well. She’s got such control, such finesse.

“Bad Girls” is probably M.I.A.’s greatest hit since “Paper Planes” in the way that she’s made a song that’s so smart and political and accessible and appealing all at the same time. It’s so cleverly punk in that very special M.I.A. way.

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