Posts Tagged ‘purity’

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Lady Gaga – Yoü And I (video review).

August 21, 2011

After the extremely disappointing clip for “The Edge Of Glory”, Lady Gaga is well and truly back on her video A-game with “Yoü And I”. In fact, one might say that there is a little too much going on, what with the appearance of both Joe Calderone (Lady Gaga’s male Italian alter ego), and Yuyi the mermaid. Lady Gaga strolls towards a barn, plays the piano, dances with a horde of clones, is making out with an extremely attractive tattooed man (played by Taylor Kinney from The Vampire Diaries) who is then seen torturing her and performing some sort of scientific experiment on her, is getting married to this same man, is a mermaid, is making out with herself as Joe Calderone, is running through a plantation… Huh? It takes a couple of views to even start sorting out what is going here, and I have no idea how it all pieces together – if you do, please enlighten me. But here are my two cents…

The Gaga that we see playing the piano seems to be the purest incarnation of Gaga in the video… perhaps this is reflective of her innocence? Compared to the bionic Gaga we see returning to Nebraska at the start of the video, Piano Gaga is very stripped down. However, Bionic Gaga is evidently returning to this place to rediscover the love interest she left behind (according to the lyrical content). It’s been a long journey both literally and figuratively – hence her bloody heels. And this area in Nebraska is not a nice place – a creepy ice-cream man, torture scenes and a snapshot of a barn that looks straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre do enough to suggest this. Bionic Gaga looks almost funereal… is she back for some sort of revenge on the sexy torturer? The first verse and chorus juxtapose innocent Gaga and Joe Calderone (smoking and drinking up a storm) with Bionic Gaga, to drive home how much must have happened in the interim.

Taylor Kinney’s character appears to be responsible for this. We see a wedding scene, and then snapshots of the experiments (with a struggling Gaga strapped to a bench). Cut to Gaga in a teal wig, dancing with a horde of clones (to a ballad, which in itself is fairly impressive). In trying to improve / redefine Gaga, her lover has diluted her originality and turned her into ‘everyone else’… perhaps some parallels for the state of the music industry and the identikit expectations of female pop artists? Again, I don’t know, but that’s what I’m getting from it. Gaga was innocent and naïve – she found love, but then love tried to change her under the guise of “improvement”. Love is pain, and love is struggle – but the more Gaga struggles, the more she is restrained, to the sound of “Sit back down where you belong…” Love is thus also linked to subjugation (again, apt for the music industry and the roles of managers and labels, perhaps?).

Yuyi appears, sat in a bath and bathed tenderly by the same tattooed torturer. This presumably took place prior to the experiments (as Gaga has a tail here and later, it’s gone). Yuyi, who is reportedly “the reincarnation of Gaga’s birth and artistic spirit”, couldn’t look more blissful to be with the man she loves. (Am I the only one who thinks that the name “Yuyi” is subtle way of saying “You (Yu) & (“y” is Spanish for “and”) I”?) Somewhere along the line, something went wrong, and as Lady Gaga has said in reference to the video, “Sometimes love doesn’t work”. Taylor Kinney tries to have sex with Yuyi, but clearly that’s not going to be successful – although he is quite attractive and I love his tattoo, so I am happy that scene is left in there! Is sexual frustration and sexual gratification the prime motive for trying to change Gaga’s character into a bionic superwoman? Could this apply to both the torturer and the music industry? Does Gaga need sex to sell? (Fast forward to the shot of a post-mermaid Gaga thrusting mechanically on the operating table.) And wasn’t she happier when things were simpler? The kiss she shares with Joe Calderone is much less angst-ridden… I guess that at first, Yuyi and her lover were happy, but as he wanted more that Yuyi couldn’t provide, he ended up ruining her body, their love affair, and Gaga’s individuality. To this end, I suppose that the wedding scene could have been the couple’s original dream (which appears as Yuyi cradles her lover at the end of the video) that never came to fruition – another symbol of this love not working out the way the lovers intended.

Gaga and her dancers in the plantation seem to have much more fun and more free reign over their movements than the Gaga clones in the factory – while the latter are all doing the same routine, whipping their hair and being sexually provocative, the former are just being weird and are not in sync. Perhaps this also represents something… through trying to make someone be the way we want / expect them to be, we homogenise them to a point where they lose their identity and purity? I think that that theory does hold a lot of weight, but I also felt a bit silly / pompous typing that last sentence… after all, this is a music video!

The proliferation of guises that Gaga presents in the video for “Yoü And I” suggests that she has many complex and differing aspects to her personality as a whole, and each of these aspects has its own story and perspective. I guess that as people, we are all multi-faceted, and some parts of each person’s story is beyond anyone else’s comprehension. The Bionic Gaga who has returned to Nebraska doesn’t seem vengeful after all; as she sings to the camera at the end, she seems to have accepted everything that happened to her to make her who she is – after all, there’s no going back now, and we just have to experience everything that happens to us, be strong and independent, and keep walking. And if a music video can be that much of a ride and make one think that much, then it’s got to be a good one.

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Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (album review.)

May 23, 2010

I literally don’t know where to start with this review.  Comparisons have been made to James Brown (the lead single “Tightrope” has a funky, dirty bass and backchat with Monáe’s band), Judy Garland (“Oh, Maker” features a stately purity of voice in its verses, only to give way to a joyful exaltation of a chorus, and is one of the album’s highlights) and even Erykah Badu (Monáe sings with a knowing voice, sometimes sounding wise well beyond her years while not even connected to this cosmos).  But Janelle Monáe is undeniably her own woman: crazy hairstyles, performing in black-tie tuxedos, employing ethereal instruments coupled with double-time beats, composing her material in suites… It would be audacious enough if it didn’t succeed, if Monáe were above her station with this Metropolis, 28th century high-concept shit.  But she’s not.  Although at times The ArchAndroid feels a bit like it’s overreaching, the vast majority of it is exciting, mindblowing and more than a little bizarre.  This makes it one of the boldest releases to come out in quite a while.

I’m not going to attempt any detail of the story behind this album; it’s only vaguely important to the running order of the songs.  In very brief, Cindi Mayweather was an android who fell in love; the cyber-hunters were invited to hunt her down; she has since discovered the ArchAndroid helmet which displays the city of Metropolis on the top – yep, that’s the album cover above! – and has transformed from pariah to messiah for the robot population of Metropolis.  Monáe creates a textured evocation of this hyper-space reality within her music, and it’s appropriate that The ArchAndroid sounds nothing like anything else in current popular music.  However, its melodies are still catchy, its production tricks are still appreciable (although the music sounds far removed from anything Sean “Diddy” Combs would touch, Monáe is signed to his BadBoy imprint, whose releases normally display impeccable production values – if, at times, little else), and the meanings behind the inventive, often poetic lyrics (from “Say You’ll Go” – “Love is not a fantasy / A haiku written in Japanese”) go beyond the specifics of the Metropolis concept to speak more generally of love, society, and human emotions and situations.  In other words, Monáe hasn’t concept-ed herself into oblivion; the songs can still have meanings to each individual listener, which is important because we still need to relate in order to truly engage with the music.

Moving to the specifics of the music on The ArchAndroid, it’s a hefty album, comprising two suites that are much weightier then Monáe’s The Chase EP; that disc had three songs which were swift, exciting and irresistible.  The special edition had two extra non-concept tracks; a plea to the President for social consideration, and a beautiful, restrained cover of Nat King Cole’s “Smile”. Monáe may not be a vocalist in the same way as Beyoncé, Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera, but she has an extraordinary control of her instrument, and displays its versatility when songs require it (similar, in a way, to Toni Braxton or Sade).  On The ArchAndroid, Monáe alternately displays grace (“Oh, Maker”), subtlety (“Sir Greendown”), uninhibited release (“Come Alive (The War Of The Roses)”) and an old-school sensibility that fuses scat, Broadway and Latin rhythms (epic closer “BaBopByeYa”).  Suite II (the first suite of The ArchAndroid) is generally more immediate and accessible to the uninitiated listener: after a classical intro (although its concept hangs together flawlessly for most of the album, the instrumental interludes may be slick but they are still unnecessary filler!), Monáe gets straight down to business with the help of spoken word artist Saul Williams for “Dance Or Die”.  Beats fibrillate below Monáe’s haughty poetry, and before the listener knows it, the song segues into “Faster”, into “Locked Inside”…; before you know it, you’ve reached subdued ballad “Mushrooms & Roses” and Suite II is nearly over.

The seamless melting of one song into the next is a neat production trick, but one that we have seen before.  It has its risks, since the listener has to pay attention to his iPod, CD player or media player of choice in order to determine where one track ends and the next begins.  If the songs are dull, they risk totally going over the listener’s head.  Luckily, the majority of The ArchAndroid has enough memorable hooks, production tricks and bizarre sections to stick in the mind and merit repeat listens.  Suite II is far stronger than Suite III for this however; Suite III, although shorter, is much denser and ethereal. Although Suite II had some lovely slower material (“Oh, Maker” and “Sir Greendown”), Suite III seems weighed down by the lack of upbeat or midtempo songs.  “Make The Bus” is an ok effort but hardly lives up to the breathtaking pace of Suite II; “Wondaland” seems altogether too precious.  However, Suite III comes into its own as it reaches its conclusion: “57821” (the serial number of the robot Cindi Mayweather) begins to engage the listener with its subtle, undulating backing, before the majesty of closing tracks “Say You’ll Go” and “BaBopByeYa” unfurls.  In all, Suite II is stronger and more addictive listening, but Suite III has its moments despite its more downbeat demeanour.

Why does it all work? It’s beyond me, as Janelle Monáe seems to have thrown everything and the kitchen sink into this album – in terms of lyrics, vocal approaches, production tricks, musical genres, concept… It’s a miracle that it doesn’t sound overblown, desperate or self-important, but for the most part – it doesn’t.  Only on “Wondaland”, “Mushrooms & Roses” and “Neon Valley Street” does Monáe sound a tiny bit like she’s faking, stalling while she scrabbles for a new idea with which to blindside us.  The vast majority of The ArchAndroid is not only severely impressive, but sounds genuine.  Which makes Janelle Monáe a hugely talented, innovative young woman, and one of the best new artists to emerge in recent years.  Take a listen to The ArchAndroid and prepare to be both mentally and aurally stimulated.