MTV gets a lot of undue shit - the same noxious armchair shit we’ve all heard now twenty years strong - for revamping a content strategy that seemed unsustainable even before Napster. At least I think that’s true. Believe it or not, at twenty-four I’m a scintilla too young to’ve had much use for TRL, Yo! MTV Raps, or its bevy of faddish teenie bopper AV clubs - waves and waves of planned obsolescence. Seek, pump, destroy.
Nope, by the time I wanted more than I heard on the radio - I could have literally all of it in minutes, wherever. And if for some reason I felt a need to actually see the entertainers I might mess around on Myspace for the fifteen minutes it took PutFile to buffer a Hoobastank track on my family’s NetZero connection.
I’d ask you then to forgive my lack of a relationship with music videos (and liner notes, album packaging, concert tickets, human nostalgia, Nixon), but I suspect you haven’t got much of one either. Do you? Do I have many readers who came up in the video era - were born between ‘72 and ‘80? Where are you? Show yourselves!
Anyway, I make all this fuss because it seems music video quality is back on the rise, if not necessarily in return to Anton Corbijn-level histrionics of the early 90s, then toward a kind of polish and intellectual standard impossible without either A. a stoned 16 year old savant using iMovie or B. David Geffen buying option A for you. This nifty chart confirms my suspicion. Adjust for inflation, and studios simply stopped producing blockbuster videos around 1999 - without a recession. In fact, don’t bother adjusting for inflation: the numbers still fall off a cliff. Note a trifling surge around 2010, 2011 on through today.
There’s no declaring, only guessing, why this is the case. Maybe count successes for VEVO as a standalone promotional service (possibly) distinct from its Google overlord. Or for Psy, as multimedia visionary (or at least a charming and delightfully chubby prop in that vision). Or could be that Egon was right: text is dead. Any might satisfy the immediate question, but it’s not exactly at stake.
What is at stake is this: in the past month alone, I’ve watched at least three videos in which the added visual dimension enriches songs past their sonic thresholds of meaning. And if you’ve read any of my older posts, you know I believe those kinds of things are impossible. So let’s get to it:
I can’t decide why this song and its video hasn’t yet triggered hoards of sensitive liberals into a snarling witch hunt. Wasn’t the perfectly unassailable Jennifer Lawrence singled out by feminists recently for being one of the guys, and in turn gobbling up popularity, awards, and the hearts of billions like so many Viagra? Well, the same damn thing’s going on here - or it’s being examined at a length you wouldn’t believe (even if I measured it for you). See, simply hearing the song means registering a sad dream in minor key, a sorta retro pop ditty that may or may not take on Katy Perry by highlighting the, uh, biological differences between men and women. I’ll play along: this song is what would happen if a girl cleaned up The Basement Tapes, or learned to drive a Tame Impala. So, I doubt I’m much alone in glossing the whole “just one difference between you and me / I’m just a lady without a baby” segment of the song - as it doesn’t jive chromatically with the rest of the mood. But to see a cast of the cutest actresses in Hollywood prancing androgyne in mustaches and track suits around a weepy Jenny Lewis holding an inconclusive pregnancy test - that’s to witness a whole new gender paradigm. Lewis’ choice in profession is no doubt a choice to combat sexism, sure. But, to have likewise lived to the end of fertility without any children means confronting a hollow femininity - whether perceived or felt or both. The video adds an unspoken coda to the chorus “No matter how hard I try / to be just one of the guys / there’s a something inside that won’t let me / (but I never gave that something a chance / so now I’m not really a woman either).” Where does that leave her? In a Grocho Marx get up, hidden interstitial between two poles. Pretty devastating.
Jamie xx is a liar. Sorta. In piecing together snatches of dialogue from Mark Leckey’s 1999 film “Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore,” he - as has been widely noted - crafts an apparent throwback to British rave EDM. “Always for the UK / Always for the UK / Always for the UK / Always for the UK…” the song starts. Follow that up with “And we kept it UK / And we kept it UK…” Uh oh, Jamie… is this, uh, the grotesque remains of Thatcher xenophobia? Why, whhhyyy mimic those 90s rave tendencies. Is this because of Nigel Farage? Did you vote UKIP? No, you didn’t! But just as you’re about convinced the young man’s donned his monocle and scabbard, he caresses yr delicate multicultural underbelly with a steel drum and a little footwork-cum-Atlantic. And if the video signifies as I’m certain it does, throw a some French phenomenology in there too. That solid blue rectangle (one-fourth of the X that graces each of his band’s record covers) explodes progressively outward with every instance of ambiguous nationalist zeal, and slowly returns to a reconstituted whole over the course of the song. British rave expanded, stitched up again, and therefore reimagined for 2014. Note its called “All Under One Roof Raving,” and not some crap like “Me Boys Raving and No Wanking Muslims Allowed, Wot.” It’s a political statement, and a damn smart one at that. Friendly sonic imperialism. Suck it, Farage.
Debuted in time to replace the question “WTF does Turn Down For What mean?” with “WTF is happening here, and is this still my America?” Sure doesn’t seem to make the song more dynamically expressive, but who gives a shit? It’s the best video of the year.