Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Two Best Music Videos of the Year

Beyoncé "Run the World (Girls)" # # # # #
Robyn "Call Your Girlfriend" # # # # #

Robyn and Beyoncé are two of the biggest divas in pop music today, yet they couldn't be more different. Robyn is the undisputed Queen of Indie Pop: relatively unknown to the general (American) public, a god among mere mortals to those who worship her work. Beyoncé, on the other hand, is a motherfucking legend, an international icon, a legitimate star whether she's peddling shit like "If I Were a Boy" or classics like "Crazy in Love." Beyoncé is all high-wattage STAR with the massive persona to match; Robyn is more low key in her approach but never comes across as any less of a star. The two are from completely different worlds, but their recent videos prove that they are of similar minds when it comes to knowing the importance of how to sell a music video.

Beyoncé has the tougher task at hand, selling a completely bananas song with an odd sample and, at times, the most insipid "inspirational" lyrics this side of "Born This Way". The song completely flopped on the charts before the video's release, so it was up to the video to recharge this stagnating campaign. And not only did the video reignite my interest in the song, it (along with a fabulously fierce performance at the Billboard Music Awards) made me appreciate and--dare I say--enjoy the song in a way I never had.

So what is it about the "Run the World (Girls)" video that makes it so special? I'd say it is a combination of off-the-wall visuals, Beyoncé's hypnotizing dance moves and a wholly unexpected editing scheme. Beyoncé has never been known for being a particularly subtle artist (not an insult, just an observation), so it should come as no surprise that the visuals in "Run the World (Girls)" are completely over the top. Whether she's riding an enormous stallion, giving the audience the middle finger, holding on the leashes of two drooling hyenas or overstuffing the frame with background dancers to the point it feels like a later Miélès short, the video is a sumptuous visual treat. The images are out there, but they never once feel gratuitous.

The dancing in "Run the World (Girls)" is flawless, not surprising since it's from the same woman who made the "Single Ladies" dance a worldwide phenomenon. What makes it stand out, however, is the video's editing. For a song with "Run the World (Girls)"'s tempo and insane beat, you would expect the editing to be hyperactive in order to keep up with the breakneck pace of the song. Instead, "Run the World (Girls)" has longer takes to show off and immortalize Beyoncé's incredible dancing. The long takes combined with the rapid beat and dancing gives the video a hypnotic, almost eerily out-of-time feeling that proves once and for all that Beyoncé runs the world.

Robyn is not a dancer in the same vein of Beyoncé. Whereas Beyoncé is a technical dancer with mad skill, Robyn dances not with technique but with heart, which she shows off to dizzying effect in her "Call Your Girlfriend" video. A good thing since Robyn is literally the entire video. There is Robyn, one set, one camera, one take and one dance. Seriously. The fact that she is able to pull this video off is a true testament to her stature as one of the best popstars on the planet.

I'm a sucker for one-woman dances, whether it's Britney on the chair or Janet moving around that warehouse. Usually I'm not one for "instant classic" praise--in all honesty, I rather despise it--but as soon as I finished "Call Your Girlfriend" the first time, I was instantly comparing it favorably to the aforementioned videos. Robyn is a master of "dancing through the heartbreak" songs, so it was nice to finally see a dance accompanying the heartbreak. From the moment the dance begins with that hard-as-nails strut roughly 30 seconds in until the final moments, Robyn is unrelenting. She doesn't quit and the camera captures everything in all its glorious detail.

Doing the entire video in one take is perhaps the only way "Call Your Girlfriend" could have been done. The pain the song is talking about is cyclical, never ending and crushing the very life of the girlfriend who needs to be called. Editing any of Robyn's interpretive dance would do a disservice to the very message the song is conveying. Robyn needs to be let out of her cage and express every emotion that needs to be expressed. The lighting in "Call Your Girlfriend," which changes between various themes throughout the video's runtime, also aids Robyn in expressing the real meaning of the song. Not only do they add a melodramatic flair to the proceedings, but it also creates an almost outer space canvas for Robyn to paint her portrait of heartbreak as large as she wants. There's no denying a lot of craft went into making "Call Your Girlfriend" but there is no way any of it would have worked out without Robyn's presence, talents and pure charisma leading the way. Snaps to her for having the balls to pull this off.

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