Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A Few Scattered, Instantly Dated Thoughts on Lady Gaga's "Alejandro" Video

On the great/terrible spectrum of living in These Modern, Twitterfied Times, I have to say it's become frustrating to run a blog, and particularly to run a blog when you also have a day job. I was never going to be the guy to get commentary up immediately, but these days, if I don't put up a post within an hour or two, the conversation has completely passed me by. Which is why I'm taking a lunch to write a dumb blog post about a music video.

That said, as I wrote on my Twitter feed earlier (yes, I'm a part of the very problem I'm complaining about), one of the benefits of this drastically shortened opinion cycle is that the incredibly predictable reactions to something like Lady Gaga's new music video for "Alejandro" can get flushed on out in, like, twenty minutes. While it used to take days, maybe weeks, for charges of ripping off Madonna to get boring, not it happens within the hour. So there's that.

So in the interests of getting something written, read, and forgotten as quickly as possible, here's a bullet-pointed assessment of "Alejandro" (um, maybe watch the video first?):

-- There is just no way this video wasn't going to be a disappointment, given the hype. I love Lady Gaga as much as anyone, but the kind of anticipation for what she was going to be able to do with one music video was pretty severely out of hand. Yes, "Telephone" raised the standards and all -- and make no mistake, "Alejandro" doesn't hold a candle to "Telephone" -- and yes, I kind of appreciate how Gaga has made the music video at least noteworthy again, but this isn't an artform that can sustain too much hype. And since we're going to get to Madonna soon enough, I should note that this happened to Madonna pretty much every time. Huge pre-video hype, followed by immediate underwhelmed reactions/backlash, followed by more gradual and distanced appreciation of the work.

-- So, yes, for all that Gaga keeps getting compared (favorably, unfavorably, whatever) to Madonna, this is certainly the most overt she's ever been in tackling Madonna's legacy. The charges of "ripping off" are kind of hilarious, because ... by the time she got to deep-throating the rosary and waving around that machine-gun bra, did you think it was an accident? You can argue that co-opting the imagery doesn't say anything interesting, or that she didn't execute it well, but merely pointing out that she's co-opting Madonna in this video isn't much of an observation at all. Personally, it all felt a little pale (and not just the color palette) until the moment those machine guns emerged. I always appreciate the humor Gaga brings to whatever she's doing, and that reveal -- all dramatic and sproing-y -- cracked me up. But I do generally prefer Lady Gaga when she's doing the Tarantino thing, throwing all sorts of cultural influences into a blender and molding the resulting slurry into her own image, than when she's doing straight-up homage.

-- I am loving Gaga's dedication to creating silly little dances to go with her songs. She did it with "Bad Romance" and again here, keeping the same choreography through live performances, videos, concerts, whatever. Repetition. (I sometimes view Lady Gaga through the prism of four years of Comm Theory, and this is definitely one of those times.) Is "If" Janet Jackson's best song? No. But it's the one I usually think of first, and why? That dance is burned into my brain. Similarly, I don't know if I'd like "Alejandro" as much without the choreography. Luckily, I will never have to find out.

-- Speaking of dance, you know I'm eternally territorial and protective of those So You Think You Can Dance kids. So I'm always so proud when I see Mark Kanemura, one of my favorites, show up among Gaga's throng of scantily-clad man-creatures (and so prominently featured, too). This was the shit he was born to do, and how fortuitous that he came into his own at this point in music history.

-- One pet peeve, though: I really hate that break that comes about 3/4 of the way through, where everything slows down for no reason other than to pad the video out to feature length. Serves no purpose, breaks the flow, adds nothing.

-- Much as I think the hype couldn't help but kill this out the gate, I'm glad Lady Gaga's making big epic videos. I grew up on music videos and I hate that they seem to have all but died off, especially when content delivery systems these days seem like the perfect avenues for the form to make a comeback. Maybe they will when other artists start totally ripping off Gaga herself.



The Professor said...

Dude, it's like the Blade Runner version of 'Evita'...well, first starts out as kind of a quasi-post-apocalyptic steampunk facsimile of a Blade Runner 'Evita'.

As usual involving Gaga, leaves me ambivalent. The song itself isn't that great, but, just like Madonna, the music itself is often not really the point--even though Gaga does have a better singing voice than Madge ever did. But the quite obvious homage leaves me feeling like "Haven't I seen this all before?" And without any kind of a commentary on said homage....well, then it's just there.
Also, as usual ambivalent about Gaga herself...am I turned on by her or just disturbed? Should I be either, or both? (the underwear and stockings, while a little fetishistic looking, ahem, 'works'...the vinyl nun outfit--even more fetishistic--just creepy...)

Those are all the thoughts I have at the moment...

NoNo said...

Joe, I know that you're a big Xtina fan so I'm surprised you never commented on her "Madonna/Gaga Ripoff" Backlash especially since her album came out today. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

i dont agree that gagas voice is anywhere near as good as madonnas. yes she has a better vocal ability, but so do wedding band singers. madonnas voice is far more unique, more distinct, and more flexible. she knows how to improvise a lot better than gaga and nearly always performs flawless. there is far more to a voice than just having decent pipes.

beadgirl said...

"The song itself isn't that great, but, just like Madonna, the music itself is often not really the point"

That's what this video, more than any others by her, highlighted for me -- her songs, the actual songs, are quite conventional. Back when I first learned about Lady Gaga I was told she was reinventing pop music and doing new things with it, but that is not really true. It's the image, the style that goes with the music that she is (arguably) reinventing (I don't actually see it as reinvention so much as commercial success with something others have done before her). And that may be why I am mostly indifferent to her; I am more interested in what is happening with music itself rather than the way it is packaged, although I do recognize that many people like the performance art aspect she does.

jenmarc said...

Naturally this video would be an homage to Madonna - the first time I heard the song I was convinced it was Madonna and Shakira. She's just a completely self-aware artist, so any backlash based on the Madonna-ness of it is inherently silly - she did it on purpose. Whether or not she did it well is a totally different question.

JennyM said...

The whole thing just left me with a vaguely confused sense of mechanical ho-hum/god-I'm-old. I wasn't really aware there was an insane amount of hype, but I checked it out when it popped up everywhere yesterday and my thoughts were as follows:

1. Ah, yes, she's "doing" Madonna.
2. Music videos sure do seem to be explicit these days.
3. So, that happened.