why yes, I am to blame for this.
I’m leaning towards Body of Evidence. Though no one can live up to Tommy Wiseau, the acting’s about as bad, and the sex scenes - though between far more attractive people - are EVEN MORE AWKWARD. Madonna dripping hot candle wax onto Willem Dafoe’s chest, anyone? Plus, awesome defenestration twist ending.
One of the best scenes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duBFQkZYGbM
“And I don’t use the word fierce very often, only when it needs to be used, like Nicki Minaj. She is fierce, oh and also she went to LaGuardia. REPRESENT. I buy every song she raps in and fast forward it to her part…”
Lourdes Leon on Nicki Minaj - too much concentrated amazing in one place.
Jay Sean - Me Against Myself
Lately, I’ve been listening to, and thinking about pop music a lot - and with it, the fact that so few pop artists start out great. As much as I love the latest albums by, say, Fall Out Boy and Rihanna, there’s much more to pop than melody - I can barely listen to their early output simply because it’s bereft of the artistry that makes them great. There’s no better argument for the organic nature of pop than the fact that even the Beatles had to grow into their genius.
Though hating on Justin Bieber is now so cool as to be meaningless, I can see in him the roots of something deeper. He’s objectively talented - and though I have no love for the marketing-over-talent Baby etc., I’ll gladly say “I told you so” to the kneejerk masses in a few years’ time.
Which brings me to Jay Sean, one of the least likeable - least anything - popstars in recent memory. The sappy, contrived Down resembles Chris Brown with a lobotomy - in its inescapable transatlantic crossover success, Cash Money seem to have sold the pure idea of the sensitive, romantic man as reassurance to the masses; romantic cliché served on a cafeteria platter, with nothing of the little, personal details that truly make us fall in love with another person.
Then I heard Me Against Myself - and I’ve honestly never been more shocked by an artist’s prior talent in my entire life.
Me Against Myself, the title track of Jay Sean’s fairly underground 2004 debut, has a concept to make Eminem jealous - a 3-minute, no-chorus battle between his rapper and singer personas. His raw talent and personality is stunning - the rapping in his native British accent as nimble as any 21st-century rapper, his R&B singing as melodic and nuanced as Justin Timberlake. But the lyrics, hilarious throughout, are even more unique - the (other-)self-deprecating rapper hurls every possible criticism, whilst the singer confidently articulates the difficulty of walking the line between his ambitions for fame and artistic integrity. It’s an internal dialogue many artists go through - but airing it in public is both fascinating and brave, and a powerful defense against accusations of selling out.
He presents part of Me Against Myself at the end of his video for Eyes on You, from 3:17 onwards, depicting the singer as the clear winner, with the audience’s (metaphor for the public’s?) support. But that’s problematic - in the full song, the singer’s short final response feels like an afterthought, and with the benefit of hindsight, it’s the rapper who has the greater attitude and charisma. The singer’s defense is reasonable, but it doesn’t even apply to post-Down Jay Sean, his personality so sanded-down he’s ditched his British accent in favour of sounding like an emasculated, auto-tuned puppy. Even his skin colour’s lighter - and yes, back then he’d marketed himself as a distinctly Indian popstar in the British/Asian markets, but really?!
For the most part, I think the concept of “selling out” is a rockist-perpetuated myth - even in questionable cases like Metallica and Weezer, their commerciality stemmed from artistic choice, and good music did come of it. But Jay Sean may be the single purest, most contrived example of commercial desperation I’ve ever seen.
So pure vocal talent may not be a prerequisite for good pop music, but for the aspiring popstar, nothing is more important than personality. Jay Sean merely has a target market without a unique marketing angle. Maybe he’s trying to establish a commercial presence before revealing his abilities - but why play dumb in a world that wants Lady Gaga-sized ambition? In fact, Me Against Myself is a better song than anything Lady Gaga wrote prior to 2009!
The signs don’t look good. 2012 (It Ain’t the End), the first single from his upcoming album Freeze Time, is more of the same generic sound that’ll date well before the year arrives, and, unlike the future/present/past-tense swap Prince’s classic 1999 has undergone, its concept is about as enduring as Y2K Bug (It Ain’t the End). Nicki Minaj demolishes him in her usual effortless style, but it’s not true proof of her overwhelming talent - knowing what Jay Sean’s capable of, it’s outright depressing.
By oversizing her personality, Nicki Minaj’s developed the strongest of cult followings. Even if she doesn’t have a Bad Romance-sized event song to indicate her popstar ascendancy, her debut Pink Friday is guaranteed to hit #1 in November, and (hopefully) establish her for years to come.
By downplaying his personality, Jay Sean’s had the most successful song in the U.S. by a British male since Elton John’s Candle in the Wind 1997, spending two weeks at #1. Comparatively, his 2009 album All or Nothing peaked at a mere #37 on the Billboard 200. His problem’s obvious - really, who gives enough of a shit to buy an album by someone as talentless and indistinguishable as Jay Sean?
My necessarily over-the-top plea to Jay Sean (and really, anyone who wants to make it big) is this: A few of us may know the truth about you as a person, but what’s no longer on display may as well not exist. So great, you have a platform for now - use it for good. Three minutes can change the whole world’s opinion of you into respect - it changed mine. If you really have had a lobotomy, let us know! Otherwise, I ask, for your benefit as much as everyone else’s: will the real Jay Sean please stand up? We know you’re in there somewhere.
Madonna - Vogue.
I never attended ballet lessons as a kid. I was the only girl in my class who’d never worn a tutu. I had never been instructed in the art of gracefully pointing your feet in opposite directions. I could do all that perfectly well without wearing anything pink, thank you very much, and so I stuck to twirling round on the smooth lino surface in the kitchen while watching the telly, pointing my leg out straight to touch the back of the chair. It never felt girly or feminine. I just liked how it felt when I balanced my weight in different ways, knowing and testing my own strength, my young muscles easily dealing with the problems a weaker power-to-weight ratio would incur later in life. If you’d asked me then if I wanted to be a ballerina, I would have made a vomiting noise at you.
Watching the smooth, clean flourishes that Madonna and her backing dancers execute in “Vogue”, it’s easy to pinpoint the flexibility and discipline Madonna gained through years of ballet training. There’s an element of OCD about the neat lines and super-slick quiffs on display, total control over both their bodies and their environment, making sure that nothing detracts from the glamour of the subjects. Before the stars arrive, a maid tidies up a jacket from a chair, one butler adjusts a pedestal to be parallel to the window and another flicks away a speck of dust from a bannister. Everything has to be perfectly arranged so that Madonna and her immaculate dancers can project the illusion of effortlessness: lounging around, draping themselves on the furniture, looking cool.
A large amount of screen time is spent close up on Madonna’s face, usually surrounded by fluttering hands miming a luxury massage — or fanning her as if mimicking the big Cleopatra fronds that open and close the video. She gazes into the distance wondering where Cary Grant’s got to, inhabiting the same positions and expressions that Hepburn or Harlow did 50 years previously, looking up to the heavens in case Marilyn’s up there ready to give out some tips, knowing she’ll up there in the pantheon herself soon. There’s a little bit of snobbiness there too, the Hollywood arrogance that demands its own trailer and the best lines in the script. Everyone in this video holds their heads up high with minimal eye contact (with the viewer or each other), aspiring to greater things than mere mortals can achieve.
When I use the word ‘vogueing’, I am usually thinking of the bit during the second chorus between 2.30 and 2.47, where the three male dancers go it alone. At first it seems strange to me that Madonna herself doesn’t feature in the most memorable part of her most memorable video, but of course these guys are where she got the idea in the first place and they deserve their turn in the spotlight. They’re clearly not making up the moves off the top of their heads but this section seems more organic than Madonna’s own formal attempt in the first chorus. No, ‘organic’ is not quite the right word - perhaps a better description might be that each dancer has been given their own ‘motivation’, and they’ve been left to improvise the dialogue between themselves. Compare it to a mass-participation dance routine like Britney’s “Baby One More Time”, where the entire braindead classroom does exactly what it’s told (with perhaps an extra credit backflip for Britney at the end). This seventeen second stretch is just as rigorous as Britney’s exercise yard workout, but here the three guys are doing their own thing, coming from all directions. Yet instead of trying to outdo each other like peacocks impressing potential mates, they work as a team, magically combining their different complex elements to make a sum more impressive than its parts (NB: the first episode of Captain Planet was screened a few months after “Vogue“‘s release - coincidence? I think not).
All this starched snooty posing may be iconic and memorable, but its real rewards come from its contrast to the massive release at the climax of “so get up on the DANCE FLOOR!”, all the aloofness dissolving into pure hedonism. Madge and her mate start jacking away like the Reynolds Girls, her hair falling into her face, fancy evening dress ditched for a sharp suit. Brimming with passion and energy, Madge can relax and enjoy herself, knowing that the hours of hard work and dedication she’s put in will produce something awe-inspiring yet still inch-perfect. Even when she’s not dancing she radiates out self-confidence: her eyes half-closed, letting the head-rush wash over her, absolutely comfortable in her own skin, smiling and smooching at the camera. Her drive has finally made her a superstar, ready to be tacked onto the end of the list of her idols. The beautiful people who were standing around posing at the beginning of the night have finally been caught up in the magic, too. They’ve let their hair down and are making Marcel waves on the dancefloor, letting instinct take over.
If Fred and Ginger had popped a few pills in 1990 I’m sure they’d have been the most graceful and stylish ravers in history. But I was eight years old, so I just twirled around in my socks on the slippery kitchen floor and struck a pose. So much better than bloody ballet.
I came to my (slightly similar) own conclusions a while back, but this is excellent. Well worth reading!