Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pop Face Off

Okay, so now that Kanye West is a presidentially-certified jackass, we are still left with the most important question: which video should have one for "Best Female Video" at the VMAs? (Side note: do videos have genders?)

There were of course other contenders as well: Katy Perry (oh dear god no), Kelly Clarkson (meh), Lady GaGa (as a friend on Facebook put it, she'd be better off in a Performance Studies department than on stage), and Pink (way too 2001. And I don't like people cutting down trees, even [especially?] to prove that one is a rock star.)

I carry two biases into this choice. Bias #1: I have a slight unironic affection for Taylor Swift because I really liked her duet on "Fifteen" with Miley Cyrus at the Grammys. (Really, I'm not being ironic. I thought it was great for what it was.) Bias #2: I'm not a huge Beyoncé fan. It's not like I have a huge problem with her or anything, but I've never been impressed with her singing. It's a stock point of mine so I've probably already blogged it before, but her voice is quite weak and insubstantial. That's why it took the supporting voices of a girl group for her to get her career going in the first place, and why her solo work is endlessly overdubbed.

Onto the videos: Beyoncé's video has the advantage of being utterly and thoroughly weird. I mean, it's really weird, isn't it? Weird. It looks a little bit like it was choreographed by a heterosexual Klaus Nomi with a pinch of Sun Ra. And yet, it caught the attention of people like few other videos did this year. Endlessly parodied and copied. Definitely wins the zeitgeist prize. The music is great, of course, even if I'm not sure it deserves MTV's claim of "female empowerment with a catchy hook." Or maybe it does. Who really knows what that song is about? I don't. Last semester I used this song for my usual "let's brainstorm ways to analyze music" exercise on the first day of class, and neither I nor thirty upstanding young students could figure it out.

Taylor's video, on the other hand, is supremely conventional, from the standard boy+girl narrative to the gratuitous use of the ugly-girls-wear-glasses trope. The song is not my favorite, despite it's overall competence. However, I am most definitely not its target audience, and therefore have little idea if it might be a worthy heir to the longstanding tradition of music aimed at (and often written by) teenage girls that offers a realistic and sympathetic portrayal of adolescence. I'm not a teenage girl, so I don't know. But from a distance, it doesn't read quite so true as some of Taylor's other work, like "Fifteen." Perhaps it is as simple as the story of "You Belong to Me," which is a girl telling a boy that his girlfriend is bad for him and that she, the narrator, would be better. There is certainly a long tradition of girls putting each other down to compete for a boy, but it's not a particularly uplifting tradition, and Taylor's version is uncritical. "Fifteen," on the other hand, mimics the swirl of teenage emotional confusion and yet manages to maintain an introspective distance.

So between Beyoncé's Afro-Futurism and Taylor Swift's reactionary stance, I'm afraid that I will have to pronounce in favor of Beyoncé. But here's hoping that Taylor's step backward is merely temporary--I'm optimistic, myself.

Any other opinions?


c.e.w. said...

Beyancé. Because...

1. The award was for the best video, not the best song.

2. The T.S. video is dullsville -seen-this-a-million-times-boring.

3. Beyoncé's video is not boring. At the very least it is engaging (you can't NOT watch it), and it's about as controversial as pop music videos get these days.

But "female empowerment?" Oh, MTV, I could be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure that we've moved beyond requiring someone to "put a ring on it" to feel empowered or valuable or secure or whatever. But listen to me talk...this is MTV...of "The Hills" and "Tila Tequila" and "The Newlyweds." Best not to get those expectations too high.

cpo said...

The video and the song are not separate, they did not vote on these with the sound off. I can say this with some confidence because the Taylor Swift yawn fest was on MTV non-stop this summer when I was at the gym and it was actually more interesting to me before I heard the music.

Kanye was right about the videos, but oh so wrong in every other way.

jcjude said...

Yup, I and my friends thought the same thing, we figured it was all a set up by Kanye West in order to make someone’s career grow or prevent from going down…that’s Hollywood for you!!! Nothing is ever real expect maybe for some “real life” shows/reality shows, but even those, I’m sure, are edited to a certain extent.

PMG said...

The thing about Kanye, is that he--and many of his defenders out there for that matter--seemed not to have realized that Taylor Swift was getting Best Female Video as a consolation prize, with Beyonce winning best video overall!

ritchey said...

what kind of secular communist doesn't like Beyonce?????

do you at least like her enormous all-female touring band, with that bass player with the afro and everything? Those girls are beyond.

Anonymous said...

Afro-futurism? Or Gwen-Verdon-Fosse-ism?

I totally appreciate your blog, btw.