Wednesday, August 12, 2009

VMA Video of the Year Rundown: 2009

The 2009 MTV Video Music Award nominees were announced a week ago and, at J.D.'s insistence, I decided to bring back my old series to talk about this year's nominees. If you enjoyed this series previously, I apologize for the 10 month absence, but I got completely stuck on one of the profiles and eventually gave up on the whole damn thing. Hopefully, doing this post will motivate me to get back in the swing of things.

Overall: After the complete and utter embarrassment that was last year's nominees, MTV went back to picking them themselves and, needless to say, they did a much better job. By nominating four of the biggest stars in music today and one mega-successful up-and-comer, MTV brought the prestige back to the category. But, with that prestige comes three fantastic videos that are easy to get excited about. When some of the biggest stars in music are making the lamest and shittiest videos around, that's definitely something to cheer. Even if Lady GaGa's video isn't as successful in its mission as it thinks it is, you have to give it credit for trying, no matter how shameless it is (hey, it works for Kathy Griffin). As for omissions, I still need some catching up to do, but how about Lily Allen's scrumptious 'The Fear'? Oh, that's right, no one gives a shit about her in America (shame on you). Gnarls Barkley's 'Who's Gonna Save Your Soul?' is a fascinating experiment, although I probably need more time to digest it fully. Taylor Swift's 'You Belong With Me,' with its high school stereotypes, is not totally original, but you have to give Swift credit for having a total blast with it and that's all you need for a successful video sometimes. Of all the omissions, I'm still a little surprised that after racking up countless artistic noms, and being better videos than their nominated counterparts, Britney's 'Circus' and GaGa's 'Paparazzi' were passed over in favor of 'Womanizer' and 'Poker Face.' Maybe it's because they were bigger hits as songs?

The best:
Beyoncé 'Single Ladies [Put a Ring On It]' # # # # #
To put it simply, the video for Beyoncé's 'Single Ladies' is a phenomenon. Don't believe me? Check out the millions upon millions of (mostly bad) imitations and homages on YouTube ranging from Timberlake, Rudd and Samberg on SNL to Joe Jonas's from a couple of months ago and then tell me it doesn't qualify. And how often in this day and age when the music video is given less and less prominence in the public eye (and even on their one-time home MTV) does one ever get this huge? Very rarely. But this is just one reason we should be celebrating this video. The simplicity of the clip is staggering, making sure we focus only on the intricate yet breezy choreography, but I'm sure it was much harder to create than it appears. The main reason 'Single Ladies' will go down as a classic, however, is because it's the video that cemented Beyoncé as the diva of our times. Another lesser artist would have been afraid of the fact that there is nothing going on in this clip besides some dancing and the background periodically and spastically changing from black to white (there aren't even any pretty colors to distract the ADD generation), but not the insane diva that is Beyoncé. Oh no, she knew that armed with a leotard, a cyborg hand and a simple rotation of a forearm, she could captivate an audience. Beyoncé may be out of her damn mind half the time, but that's what makes her so interesting, why we are so fascinated by her celebrity and why 'Single Ladies' works as well as it does.

The rest, in order:
Kanye West 'Love Lockdown' # # # # #
At first I wanted to hate 'Love Lockdown' for its lack of immediate rewards, the seemingly random tribal dance that dominates the video and the fact that most of the little time Kanye actually spends on screen is spent re-doing that hunched over, "I'm crazy and/or in pain" pose that was captured so well in the 'Stronger' video. But then I sat down, thought about it for awhile and started to like it more and more. The clip is so eliptical that five different viewers could come up with five different explanations and all of them could make complete sense. Based on the way the shots of Kanye book end the tribal warriors in the middle, my guess is that the video shows the mental breakdown of the Kanye character, but I'm open to other interpretations. The song may not be classic Kanye, but the video is first rate.

Britney Spears 'Womanizer' # # # # #
'Circus' may be the better video, but 'Womanizer' is the one that put Britney back on the map after the disappointing Blackout videos. It's also the video that captures what makes Britney the pop superstar she is and why we're so fascinated by her ten years on. 'Womanizer' has everything we expect from a top-notch Britney video: hot dancing, a sexified Britney in sexy clothes, a good-looking male lead, a barely-there plot that may seem pointless but actually makes for a more coherent video. Most importantly, however, the video makes 'Womanizer that much better of a song. I mean, honestly, who was crazy about the song before the video came out? With a hook so repetitive it made 'Gimme More' look downright wordy, I certainly wasn't its biggest fan. But after the video's premiere, with Britney titilating the masses like no one else can in a sexy and modern style, the song became a can't miss for me. And, I would argue, isn't that the point of the music video?

Lady GaGa 'Poker Face' # # # # #
By dressing in outrageously eye-catching outfits, hoping to produce something as iconic as Britney's red leather jumpsuit or Christina's white 'Come On Over Baby' ensemble, hiring hunky, shirtless male models to lounge around her at all times while performing some well-done choreography, it feels like Lady GaGa is blantantly propositioning the gay audience to love her in all her over-the-top glory. But, unlike Britney and her vaguely similar 'Womanizer' video, The GaGa is trying a bit too hard and 'Poker Face' becomes another instance of style winning out over substance. Each individual set piece does what they need to do, but it all adds up to nothing more than visual gay porn. 'Paparazzi,' which integrates the GaGa's unique sense of style with a high concept clip, is the video that proves she may be more than just a flash in the pan.

Eminem 'We Made You' # # # # #
I can't decide which of these is more embarrassing: the fact that Eminem has received his sixth (6!) Video of the Year nomination, which is two more than Madonna has and three more than Michael Jackson, for a video that is, more or less, a trite rehashing of the same video he has made three times before or the fact that MTV lazily decided to nominate their prodigal son yet again over so many other worthy videos out there. It's not the subject of 'We Made You' (vacuous celebrites only famous because we want to hear about them) that upsets me, rather, it's the celebrities Eminem decides to skewer. They are either so obvious (Kim Kardashian) or so three years ago (hasn't Jessica Simpson been through enough?) that I'm surprised he didn't rap about how stupid Paris Hilton is or Britney's breakdown. And the video is often just as headscratchingly ignorant and misguided. Not only are the vignettes amateurish beyond belief with their junior high-level humor, but they often don't make any sense at all. What the hell does Star Trek and Rain Man have to do with the public's fascination with celebrities? This kind of video may have been okay back in 2002 when Eminem was the biggest rapper in the world, but in 2009, it just looks like a desperate excursion from a 30-something white rapper hoping at all costs to remain relevant in a musical landscape that seems to have moved on.

[Previous installments: 1984 1999 2003]

1 comment:

Encore Entertainment said...

I do agree that Circus is the better of Britney's videos. Single Ladies undoubtedly is the front runner for me here.