Aguilera: This is Why We Don’t Take You Seriously

Posted: May 1, 2010 by RA in Music
Tags: , , , ,




Aguilera’s new video premiered this morning. Seconds into it, it was clear: this is her answer to Lady Gaga The Dancing Costume‘s fame. Apparently, fans of both parties have been waging a knock-down, drag-out war for the past 3 years over Aguilera supposedly biting the style of a then-up-and-coming Costume while promoting her forgettable single “Gets No Better”* a while back. I can’t say for sure that she jacked specific elements from Costume for this video, but it’s clear: since the one-two punch that was Rihanna and Gaga, we’ve seen an avalanche of pseudo-edge engulf the music biz. Poor Kelis — she’s been doing it for a decade, but nobody gave a shit.
*(or something like that — I couldn’t be bothered to look that shit up)

What was that they used to say? “Be different… like everyone else.” The music biz is beginning to look like a high-school hallway, where everyone’s trying to experiment and “find herself.” You know what’s edgy now to me? A chick with hair on both sides of her fucking head.

But I digress. This post isn’t about all that. For, you see, while this may have been a Chrissy-see-Chrissy-do situation regarding Gaga, it became clear very early on that this video was way more influenced by Madonna’s “Human Nature” video. As I watched, it became more and more glaringly obvious that this was a Madonna jack. I even started working on a little gallery.


 Then it became clear that this wasn’t as much a swagger-jack as an “homage,” and it wasn’t worth my while to continue. Decided to look around online to see if it was in fact intended as an homage to she who is known in Pop circles as “The Ancient One,” and came across MTV’s distillation of the pop-culture references in the video.

They pointed out a number of references I missed, including the “Express Yourself” references in my gotcha-gallery. I knew I’d seen those setups before in a Madonna video many years back, but I didn’t know which it was. Some were spot-on (although they apparently missed “Human Nature” initially… remember when MTV actually knew music videos?), many were references I’d missed (Carerra closeup in Costume‘s “Bad Romance” video, dancing in the rain in “Express Yourself”), and some were just inspired (back in my gaming days, Voldo was totally my favorite SoulCalibur character. Can’t believe I missed the connection. I’m worse than MTV).

But here’s the thing — at what point does “referential” become “derivative?” I mean, sure you could argue she’s paying tribute to The Ancient One yet again (I remember her being pretty pissed about Britney getting all the attention after their VMA stunt in 2004). But what about the Costume references? Are we paying tribute to “great artists” here, or are we just low on ideas?

I try to be open-minded and give most things a chance. From the jump, I couldn’t understand what the buzz was about Gaga — as far as I was concerned, she was the literal personification of the emperess who had (damn-near) no clothes. Grand, bombastic outfits that still left her pretty naked. Videos and shows that were huge productions — exercises in high-drama that sought to distract you from the fact that the music really wasn’t particularly great. This is why I refer to her as The Dancing Costume: like her clothing choices, she’s literally a whole lot of nothing.

But at least she gets the “whole lot” part right. I’ve only cared to see two Gaga videos in their entirety — “Paparazzi” and “Bad Romance”. The former was pretty good, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone that the latter is arguably one of the top ten Pop videos of the last decade (despite, or perhaps because of the hilarious “bad kitty” dance). See, Costume gets it — she doesn’t have much to offer from a musical standpoint. She isn’t doing anything particularly groundbreaking (or even good) musically, but by working with visionaries like Jonas Ackerlund and Francis Lawrence to create sensory feasts like “Romance” and “Telephone” (a perfect example of a shit song masked by an overly-elaborate, if not exactly fully formed video), she at least manages to succeed on one count, and skate by on another. Beyonce knew this early on in her career, which is why she stuck tight with the genius that is Jake Nava. No one I know thought too much of “Crazy in Love” before seeing that video (another entry in that top-10 list). That’s one hand washing the other.

Aguilera, like her or not (I choose “not”), has a voice that cannot be denied, and when put to good use, is equally brilliant in moments of subtlety and bombast. Listen to “Loving Me For Me”, arguably the best thing she’s ever done, and you’ll see what I mean.

So that’s essentially my problem with all this. It’s a bad sign that in a piece about Aguilera’s new video, I’ve spent the most time talking about Lady Gaga.

The song, whose title still escapes me (another bad sign) is beyond mundane. Her vocals are strong in some parts of the song, showing that she should ideally be wiping the floor with Costume and Madonna both. But the sad fact is that, while I was getting screen grabs from both videos for this piece, I was far more interested in hearing “Human Nature” than [pauses to check title. No, seriously…] “Not Myself Tonight”. The former was released 15 years ago. This crap is brand spanking new.

But let’s try to be positive here. At least, she had a bit of a budget for this video. Wasted or not, I’m glad to see the labels are willing to come out of pocket every now and again. She’s in fine voice for the latter half of the song. She’s actually pretty hot in the lingerie shots (and the setup where she looks like a cross between a luchador and “The Gimp” from Pulp Fiction).

If anyone’s a fan of hers, understand I’m not trying to come down on her. I think she’s got a fantastic voice. Really I do. I just don’t want “Telephone” to lead to a continuing game of formulaic one-upsmanship, in which you:

  • record a shitty, derivative track in the style of the popular genre of the day (today, it’s Dance-Pop)
  • shoot an attention-seeking video intended to set the blogs abuzz about how “controversial” and “shocking” it is. If you’re lucky (i.e., you make the video longer than 5 minutes), dilletantes with no attention spans might even consider it visionary
  • wait for kids with more acne and allowance-dollars than common sense to flock to iTunes for your single.
  • sit back and rake it in: since Billboard hasn’t meant shit since the Great Rule-Change of ’05, your song will probably be in the Top Ten the following week.

I’m sorry, but this just feels wrong. It’s the equivalent of flashing your tits to cause a distraction while your friend empties my pockets. As someone who actually pays for music (when it’s good), I find this kinda fucked up. So go, Christina. Get back in the studio and bring some real heat. Then your video can be as uninspired as anything else Hype Williams has done in the last ten years. But if you’re gonna go the flash-and-rob route, at least come with a more impressive rack next time.

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  1. Urban Suburbanite says:

    Great Post! Christina doing videos like this to compete with Gaga is like Whitney Houston playing herself out to compete with Madonna. I wish she would realize like Whitney did that her voice alone speaks for itself.

  2. dissident says:

    It’s true that music videos are part of what make a Lady Gaga vs say a Nicki Minaj, but still, I can listen to poker face on repeat for eternity. Music is supposed to be entertainment, not terribly deep. Aguilera thinks she is deep ironically, so she tends to overdo her character and her music, but I think Gaga strikes the right balance.

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