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Category Archives: Pop avant garde
The All The Lovers clip is here, and it is very satisfying, if not the genre defining moment we had all hoped for. In a sense there’s not much too it that the various ‘making-of’ pics hadn’t already revealed – Kylie looking tarted up atop a mountain of underwear-clad LA hopefuls, making out in an appropriately sanitised manner. But in contrast to the usually wilfully ridiculous imagery of most vids these days, this one’s pleasingly ‘on message’, with its casting of K as a modern day Aphrodite seducing the aforementioned LA actors into their sanitised orgy. This I like, particularly in the wonderfully celebratory final moments.
But haven’t we seen these heaving piles (hmm, that sounds iffy) of young people before? Hasn’t there been some kind of soccer ad, or Nike ad, that’s done this already? Or is it this I’m thinking of? Anyway, that’s an aside. My biggest criticism would be that, visually at least, it feels a bit like some kind of big budget Bravia ad. Something about the light? Some might call it soulless, but instead I’ll choose to see it as ‘crisp’. Otherwise I think it’s pretty great, and a wonderfully non- age appropriate direction for her to be treading after the rather cautious X era imagery. Good on her for being blasted in fake tan, airbrushed to death and having the courage to shake it with a bunch of desperate 20-something actors. I think it’s her best clip since Slow.
OK, so I didn’t enjoy GaGa. This is either because my stadium pop tour expectations are high, as a function of my intelligence and evolved aesthetics, or because I am now old. Old things first: it was just too loud. So loud that a) my eyes were uncontrollably blinking to the rhythm, b) the sound horribly distorted into a deafening scream, and c) I was indeed somewhat deaf after the show, and well into the next morning. Does it make me old to want my hearing? Possibly, but not necessarily erroneously.
It wasn’t just my extreme age dulling my enjoyment. Basically, it wasn’t a great show. Or, rather, it wasn’t a show great enough to match the truly great things GaGa is doing in every other sphere – her clips, visual imagery, appearances etc. Because the production was merely mediocre, everything seemed slightly duller than one would expect: her costumes weren’t nearly as interesting or avant garde as her award show costumery, the imagery seemed timid compared to her clips and there was the distinct scent of mediocre American pop stadium tour hanging in the air – or maybe that had seeped into the walls after Britney let off her giant mediocre stink bomb a few months back.
It wasn’t so much that GaGa was mediocre, but the production surrounding her was cheap and clunky. Rather than seamless costume changes, curtains were dropped between sets. The stage seemed straight out of Dracula’s theatre restaurant. The dance troupe veered awfully close to Britney stumbling around the stage. There were pyrotechnics. And oh so many guitars. Annoyingly, what made this mediocrity even more obvious were the flashes of genius scattered throughout – mostly in the pre-recorded GaGa imagery – that teased you with how the show could have been. Stark (to use my favourite pop word), adventurous, and musically aligned to dance rather than Jacko’s big-haired guitar drones (who seemed to have been cloned and released on stage, in a slightly dazed manner). Basically I wanted a show put together by Haus of GaGa but what I got was a show put together by (I assume) merely average touring veterans.
What I should keep in mind though is that even while the Monster Ball Tour was being put together, GaGa was evolving at a fast pace. I just don’t think the scope of the show, as it was conceived at that point in time, could handle how awesome, and artistically adventurous, she’s gone on to become. In future she needs to put Haus of GaGa in charge of everything, and conjure the anal perfectionism of Kylie’s creative team. That would then create the perfect arena spectacular.
Seventh Tree was unfairly maligned, but nonetheless I love the new Goldfrapp direction with Rocket, particularly the brilliant but inane lyrics (‘I’ve got a rocket/you’re goin’ on it’). Jaunty, smiley bass, rockety bleepy sounds, a Light Years style countdown and a final rocket blast — these are all very good things. And the new Xanadu inspired styling is ace, if somewhat derivative these days. But if there’s anyone who deserves to do Xanadu, it’s Alison Goldfrapp.
I somehow got a hold of a physical copy of Shakira’s new She Wolf album, even though the release has now been pulled until 2010, which suggests record company disarray and panic. Very sad. But anyway, the album is strong, although only nine tracks (if you exclude the Spanish version of She Wolf), which puts it in The Fame Monster mini-album territory. Men in this Town is by far the highlight, with its heartwarming disco yelps, soaring chorus, bizarre lyrics about Matt Damon and suicide. Shakira at her best has a pleasing obtuseness, and here it’s perfectly fused into the album’s electro-disco template, unlike some of the Pharrell Williams tracks which could have turned up on Hard Candy with only slight modulation. (In an album of nine tracks, how can there be filler?). But this is good, good, good.
If one needs any more evidence of Madonna’s increasing musical irrelevance, here it is. Celebration is a dud. While theoretically I support her return to dance, this is a track with zero originality — it could be anyone’s track. She doesn’t even seem herself in the spoken word sections, normally a Madonna strength. And despite it’s celebratory intent, there is no soul. Once again she sounds like she’s phoning it in. She makes all the right noises about being yourself, chasing pleasure etc., but she may as well have been recording it from the treadmill, slave to her insatiable work ethic. A sad day this is. I was hoping that after such a setback as Hard Candy, she would be reborn.
Shakira on the other hand has snuck out of hibernation to produce a killer track with a fantastic clip (which echoes Madge’s Sorry, as if to emphasise some kind of changing of the guard). She Wolf is disco fun at its best. My hips shake even writing about it. And I love the clip’s bizarre concoction of contrary scenes: Shakira gyrating in some kind of glitter womb; her recreation of MJ’s Smooth Criminal ‘lean forward’ move; the bit where she basically detaches her hips in some kind of cage; and her climactic dance solo which evokes early 2000 J.Lo ‘house’ dance in a thoroughly satisfying way. This is adventurous, progressive and full of soul. Shakira is the new pop innovator.
This blog will not die like all the others. Rather, I’ve been momentarily pre-occupied. And in the interim there have been some significant shifts in the landscape of pop. Mostly, I no longer hate Lady Gaga. As much. And I’m late to the party here: it’s not just me. I don’t quite know what it is, but something has shifted, as if she’s now got some meat (as in, substance, not c***) to back up her constant references to Warhol and pop as art which have always irritated me, mostly because they implied this concept was something new. As if she was not aware of KylieFever2002.
For me and many others, the tipping point has been her amazing Jonas Akerland-directed clip to Paparazzi which is the most exciting piece of pop imagery I’ve seen in a long time. It makes me as excited as I used to feel waiting for Frozen to arrive on Video Hits when I was a young thing, and sadly, makes me realise how unadventurous everyone else is being. Come on Madge — this ghoulish look you’re working up could really be used in an interesting way, if you had the courage.
I’m increasingly liking GaGa’s look too, now that she’s removed those irritating lightning bolt things. What I particularly like is the sense of fragility she seems to be evoking in each outfit — glasses you can’t see out of, umbrella to keep the sun away, tea cup etc. Very decadent, as in the bit where the over-ripe grape starts to rot. And she’s always being clasped and propped up by big beefy guys, looking slightly dazed and confused. This is so different to the normal stardom protocol which is to appear even more strong and in control as your star ascends, papering over the inevitable breakdowns and benzo addictions. Intentional or not, it’s as if she’s acknowledging how chaotic it is inside the whirlwind she’s created. I like this a lot.
Of course, I still understand the rage that she seems to tap into — all that Haus of GaGa stuff is a bit twee. And I still maintain she’s not as in on the joke as she insists she is, somewhat like the 19-year old Arts undergrad who’s not quite the socialist they think they are. And there are some duds on her album which, interestingly, reveal the various other artists she could just have easily been (Xtina, Pink). But annoying as she is, she is doing such interesting stuff that I can no longer call myself a hater.
Other things I’ll get around to, in no particular order:
- Make a case for the transformative power of B*Witched’s Blame it on the Weatherman and The Corrs’ Breathless
- Reassess Madonna’s American Life.
- And finally, I’ll do a bit of Kylie housecleaning, to keep track of her completely *bonkers* touring schedule (do you really care about Poland, Ms. Minogue?)