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?
2 days ago