Music videos are so 80s/90s, right? They belong with the era when MTV screened wall-to-wall vids instead of 'reality' TV? Try telling that to the millions who bought Gangnam Style; were they really simply loving the music? 1.6bn (and still climbing) have viewed the video on YT, not to mention the many re-makes (school eg, eg2), viral ads + celeb link-ups (even political protest in Seoul) - and it doesn't matter how legit it is, this nightmare for daydream Beliebers is making a lot of money, even from the parodies + dislikes. All this for a simple dance track that wouldn't have sounded out of place in 1990 ... but had a fun vid. This meme itself was soon displaced by the Harlem Shake. Music vids even cause diseases it seems!
This blog explores every aspect of this most postmodern of media formats, including other print-based promo tools used by the industry, its fast-changing nature, + how fans/audiences create/interact. Posts are primarily written with Media students/educators in mind. Please acknowledge the blog author if using any resources from this blog - Mr Dave Burrowes

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Female pop vids - issues and challenges

[There are further pertinent points in the post:]

I dare say some of you will be thinking of female pop artists to use as your track, so a few quick points to start thinking about...
Jess has blogged on Rhianna's Umbrella and Katy Perry's California Gurls (which you may recall was featured in the quiz...) [plus Spice Girls, Village People, Eminem, and Iron Maiden!]
Perry's vid targets the crucial female tween market through cutesiness, but with sassiness and sexuality it also targets older females AND males (gaze). Taken overall, it is part of an environment that teaches us what to expect of women, what the correct or desirable appearance is, and of the differentiated gender roles (with Snoop Dogg, in pimp mode, literally playing with the females here)
Female pop artists typically sell most of their records to young females - tweens and teens, with 'aspirational' a key notion to consider. You can see how the cutesy element of Perry's dirge would appeal to young fans (the whole fantasy element strikes me as lifted from the classic comedy Beetlejuice btw...). The typically heavy make-up is also something that will influence aspirational t(w)eens, forming part of their cultural socialisation (or, as Judith Butler might put, teaching them how to perform gender).

Every female pop performer also has to consider appealing to a male audience, and sex is bluntly used by most. This is clearly a delicate issue to think through if you were working on just such a vid yourselves - the example of The Vixens from Latymer school is a good one to look at: provocative poses and attire, but nothing explicit.

These A2 Media students went beyond blogging: they also worked up detailed MySpace and other social media sites. They had to consider the balance between provocative poses or 'sassiness' - helping to convince, or achieve verisimilitude - and overt sexuality which wouldn't fit well within a school context (and which would arguably undermine any intended positive element to their representation of gender). Again, don't get trapped into over-emphasizing male gaze: are males their core audience?
Perry appears largely nude, and Rhianna appears fully nude (the body paint, and even that particular pose, not to mention the female sexuality-signifying triangle, have all appeared in vids and classic shots before). Rhianna of course was much-referenced by the PM Cameron when he welcomed a report into how media (especially mags and music vids) prematurely sexualise young females, with the furore over her (and Xtina's) X Factor final appearance. Many of the dance moves are blatantly sexual (ditto the lyrics!). Perry's squirting-bra is a perfect example of how the seemingly cutesy and the simply sordid/sexual collide (as flagged up in the quiz...).
So, yes the male gaze theory would come in here - but its also interesting to consider the male performers. Firstly Snoop, in the Perry vid, is in his famous pimp outfit, hardly a tween-friendly reference, let alone a feminist representation! Perry is his plaything, a very passive role. If you were to compare this to, say, a typical Madonna vid, you'd see a radically different representation of a sexual but strong, in control, woman.

Rhianna, reflecting her Jamaican heritage she might argue, is noted for being scantily clad and sexually provocative dancing. The umbrella arguably takes on a phallic signification, and her whole performance could easily be transplanted to a strip bar! The dancers surrounding Jay Z aren't as near-nude as with a typical male rapper's vid, but their bodies nonetheless are very clearly the key element. The contrast with the male dancers who surround Rhianna towards the end of the vid is clear: they're fully clothed, seemingly 'buff' but they're not required to display their bodies.
The Perry vid is clearly a high-budget effort, tho typifies the absurdity of any claims she ever makes about positively representing women - in my view at least! The Rhianna vid is actually the more interesting. The SFX are expensive - the detail of the water hitting her and bouncing off is impressive.
Rhianna also deploys sexuality - but is it too simplistic to see this as playing to the male audience? Does this not also help her appeal to a heterosexual female audience? To support such an argument we could make reference to theories such as the Uses and Gratifications model of audience, which looks at the psychological role media texts can play in the lives of audiences, or Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. You'll need to explore ideas such as these for Q1a+1b of your exam, as well as your Evaluations.

But I also really like the use of her gesture to push away water to create a transition; a wave leads us from LS into CU with water rippling out and revealing the CU.

The variety of shots for even the most mundance passages is also a key factor in making the vid work - look at the sheer number of different shots used from around 1:41 as she dances in a great hall. The cuts are often timed to match the beat too. We also get frequent use of focus pull simultaneous with a judder or shake effect, nicely signifying bass, as if the screen was a speaker, but also with sexual connotations.

The Spice Girls, btw, launched the girl band notion back in '96, when 'girl power' became a buzz word, and they saw their status as role models as important - compare their early vids for a comparative lack of plain sexuality.

So, if YOU were thinking of making a vid along these lines, what would you have to consider?
  • SEXUALITY: can't be ignored, but clearly there is a line of acceptability - and you should carefully consider how you want to represent gender.
    • again, The Vixens' vid is a good reference point: heavy make-up, somewhat provocative clothing, movements and gestures, but nothing explicit
    • confident performers are rather important - you'll see a lot of direct address through looking into the lens, and the next point could be a key factor in casting...
  • CLOTHING/COSTUME: a key ingredient: a shared look for a group for example? If you're thinking skimpy, where should you draw the line - and are you confident your choices will be agreeable to your cast? Costume changes - most vids feature multiple costume changes, and...
  • LOCATIONS: Megan/Emmie's 2011 Backstreet Boys vid is a good example of how multiple locations can render a vid a success. For many pop vids tho, you'll be thinking of interiors you can set dress, even something as simple as all white.
  • DANCERS + CHOREOGRAPHY: Again, Megan/Emmie did a pretty good job getting their boy band to pull off some convincing dance moves (even Jem!). How ambitious do you want to be with the dancing? Do you want opposite sex performers to dance around your singer/s?
I could go on, but I'd like to hear from you - what other issues do you think might be thrown up?

Rhianna... [Umbrella]

The always atrocious Perry... [California Gurls]

Spice Girls (zig-a-zag oh ... very deep stuff!) [Wannabe]

Latymer School's Vixens - good shot variation + strong performers cast

This a great example of a student-produced female pop vid. There's no question that there are sexually provocative elements - some of the dancing, costume choices, heavy make-up and elements of the direct address to camera - BUT nothing explicit, and nothing that would break watershed guidelines. The use of FX, the coherent concept and the all-important choice of set/location, but most of all the fantastic shot variation and tight editing, all make this a very strong vid. The absence of male performers is an interesting choice too.
I still think they missed a trick though: they could have made more of the concept, with the 'voddoo child' line offering opportunities to intercut clips of someone manipulating the comparatively innocent protagonist. Any thoughts?

It later struck me that Xtina would indeed be a good reference point here: controversially explicit BUT many of her lyrics do directly tackle gender issues, as reflected in this battle of the sexes vid...
[Christina Aguilera - Can't Hold Us Down]

Of course, they all learned from the pioneering example of Madonna, once a credible and compelling artist long before she hooked up with the Mockney king and reinvented herself as English rose. Here she is in a narrative vid, with some performance shots intercut, taking on the always controversial  topic of teen pregnancy:
[Madonna - Papa Don't Preach]

There is a great Wiki entry on this, as with many music vids (and directors):
For the music video Madonna sported a complete image makeover. She changed the heavy jewelry and make-up, and adopted the gamine look, which is notably applied to describe the style and appearance that Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn used during the 1950s.[38][39] In the video Madonna played a tomboy, dressed in jeans, a black leather jacket, and a slogan T-shirt with the caption "Italians do it Better". The video alternated between tomboy shots and those of a sexier Madonna with a more toned and muscular body, cropped platinum blonde hair, and figure-revealing clothing, consisting of a 1960s-style black bustier top and capri pants.[40] It was directed by James Foley, who worked with Madonna in her video for "Live to Tell",[41] produced by David Naylor and Sharon Oreck, and Michael Ballhaus was in charge of the photography.[42] Actor Alex McArthur was signed to play Madonna's boyfriend and the father of her child in the video. Madonna had spotted McArthur in a small role as a naive youth in the 1985 film Desert Hearts, and she thought he was a natural to play her mechanic boyfriend.[43] "I was out in the garage working on my Harley," said McArthur, "I answered the phone and a voice said, 'Hi, this is Madonna. I would like you to be in my next video.'"[43]
The music video starts with shots of the New York skyline, the Staten Island Ferry, and character close-ups.[44] Madonna plays a teenager, who is seen walking along a lane. Then it shows her thinking about her father, played by Danny Aiello,[40] and how much he loves her. She then sees her boyfriend, played by actor Alex McArthur,[43] coming along. The images are juxtaposed with shots of Madonna dancing and singing in a small, darkened studio. Madonna then moves away from her friends, who warn her from her boyfriend. She and her boyfriend spend a romantic evening together on a barge where they reflect upon their lives after watching an elderly couple. Then Madonna finds out that she is pregnant and after much hesitation tells her father. They have a few days of tension between them. Her father eventually accepts the pregnancy, and the final scene is a reconciliatory embrace between father and daughter.[44]
Georges-Claude Guilbert, author of Madonna As Postmodern Myth, compared her look in the video as a "combination of Marilyn Monroe, Jean Seberg and Kim Novak." He added that it was hard for him to believe that "[Madonna] did not know that she was going to cause a huge controversy with the video.... With such a song and video, she was throwing in America's face the image of a country ravaged by the abortion debate, which is far from being resolved."[45] Lynda Hart, one of the authors of Acting Out: Feminist Performances, felt that the video "alternated between two competing representations of Madonna... Charging coercion, both sides make the video as an invitation to a certain way of life, in the process denying it the stylistic invocation of a rhetoric of self-authorization."[46] At the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards, the "Papa Don't Preach" video won the Best Female Video award, and was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Overall Performance.[47]
And here she is again with the gloriously ironic track that helped make her a household name, and cemented her appeal to a broad male and female audience:
[Madonna - Like a Virgin]

Again, the wiki entry on this is superb:
The music video, directed by Mary Lambert, who worked with Madonna in her video for "Borderline", was shot in Venice, Italy and partly in New York City in July 1984. Madonna was portrayed as a knowing virgin, a figment of the pornographic mind, as she walked through marble rooms, wearing a wedding gown. It alternated with scenes of a slutty-looking Madonna on-board a gondola.[44] She commented, "[Mary] wanted me to be the modern-day, worldly-wise girl that I am. But then we wanted to go back in time and use myself as an actual virgin."[45] The video starts with Madonna boarding on a boat from the Brooklyn Bridge and travels to Venice. As she steps down into the city, she moves like a stripper and undulated sinuously. She wears a black dress and blue pants with a number of Christian symbol embedded jewellery around her neck.[46] She sings the song at full volume as she watches a lion walking between the columns of the Piazza San Marco of Venice and along the statute of Saint Mark.[46] A number of game-playing involving carnival masks, men, lions, werelions are portrayed with allusions to eighteenth-century practices and Saint Mark.[47] Sheila Whiteley, author of Women and popular music: sexuality, identity, and subjectivity, felt that Madonna's image signified a denial of sexual knowledge, but also portrayed her in simulated writhing on a gondola, thus underpinning the simulation of deceit. The intrusion of a male lion, confirmed the underlying bestial discourse of both mythological fairytale and pornographic sex. Whiteley observed that in the video, Madonna's lover wears the lion's mask and while cavorting with him, Madonna sheds the veneer of innocence and shows her propensity for wild animal passions. Having instilled desire, metaphorically she turns her lover into a Beast.[48] Madonna commented about shooting with the lion:

"The lion didn't do anything he was supposed to do, and I ended up leaning against this pillar with his head in my crotch... I thought he was going to take a bite out of me so I lifted the veil I was wearing and had a stare-down with him and he opened his mouth and let out this huge roar. I got so frightened my heart fell in my shoe. When he finally walked away, the director yelled 'Cut' and I had to take a long breather. But I could really relate to the lion. I feel like in a past life I was a lion or a cat or something."[45]

With the video, scholars noted the expression of Venetian vitality in it. Margaret Plant (2002) commented: "With the lion of Saint Mark and the virginal city to the forefront, old sacrosanct Venice was propelled into a pop world of high-energy gyration, and endless circulation."[49] She also noted that Saint Mark was a symbol of a time when sexual crime was punished severely in Venice and acts of rape, homosexuality and fornication incurred the loss of a nose, a hand or sometimes life itself. Madonna appeared to challenge such brutality and stretch the boundaries of tolerance in the video. As the lion-man carried Madonna to the Venetian palace, it symbolized an instance of the Saint taking the simulated Virgin, where Madonna became a symbol for La Serenissima, the Republic itself.[50] Plant also noted that Madonna, in the video, restored the energy and eroticism of Venice, which had its name taken from Venus in familiar elision. As she exchanged her blue top for a black one during the video, Madonna demonstrated her mastery and bravery of the city, which had a reputation of turning out its visitors as victims.[46] Carol Clerk (2002) commented that with the video, "Madonna's days as a cheap and cheerful video star were over. She was moving into serious spectacle."[6]

In 1985, a live music video of "Like a Virgin" from The Virgin Tour filmed in Detroit, was used to promote Live – The Virgin Tour video release. This version was nominated for Best Choreography at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards.[51] The live performance of "Like a Virgin" from the Blond Ambition World Tour in Paris, France was released as a music video on May 9, 1991 to promote the documentary film Truth or Dare. This version was nominated for two awards at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards in the categories of Best Female Video and Best Choreography.[52] This video was ranked at position sixty-one on VH1's 100 Greatest Videos.[53]

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