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Saturday, August 27, 2016

"I Made That Bitch Famous"

The VMAs, or MTV Video Music Awards, are tomorrow night, and though I won't be watching I am interested to see what is going on in the pop culture world that exists completely beneath my radar. I am either happy or displeased that I have heard of all five artists nominated this year, and had even heard some of the songs.

The most conventional song and video is Adele's "Hello," which I think was impossible to escape hearing this year. It's the kind of song that could have been a hit in any time period, and your mom or even your grandma could like it. The video, directed by Xavier Dolan, is very cinematic, shot in sepia tones with lots of wind effects and Adele standing alone, looking off into the distance. There are some nice shots, such as a phone booth covered in greenery. It's very retro, in a way, right down to Adele using a flip-phone.

Two songs are very catchy and danceable, if unexceptional, and would have earned high ratings on American Bandstand with the comment, "easy to dance to." Justin Bieber's "Sorry," directed and choreographed by Parris Goebel, doesn't feature the handsome face of the pop star, but instead consists of a dance crew that looks like a Benneton ad. It's fine, but nothing about it suggests award-worthy.

Drake is nominated for "Hotline Bling," directed by Director-X, and starts with the world's sexiest call center (all the girls have large butts in tight jeans) and then features Drake in a variety of geometric shapes with some interesting lighting. Again, the song and the video are catchy but not very memorable.

I think the winner should be Beyonce's "Formation." I don't care for the song that much--it tries too hard to be whatever it's trying to be (and I can't figure it out, musically) but the video, directed by Melina Matsoukas, is evocative, starting with Beyonce on top of a police car in a flooded New Orleans. The video is a collage of stereotypes of black women, particularly in the plantation days, as well as an indictment of police brutality. It's very well done.

The most controversial nominee is Kanye West's "Famous." The song and the video have created polarization. Here is the lyric regarding Taylor Swift:

"For all my South Side niggas that know me best
 I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex
 Why? I made that bitch famous (Goddamn!)
 I made that bitch famous."

West said that he had her approval, Swift denied it. It all stems from when West interrupted her in accepting a Grammy. I don't much about West or his music--I do like that zing at George W. Bush when during a Katrina fund-raiser he said that the president didn't care about black people--but from what I've gleaned he seems to be a very arrogant, egotistical person who thinks he's the modern-day Mozart or something. The song itself isn't very good, and the video is simply a pan over twelve figures sleeping. West, in the center (to fulfill his identification with Jesus he should have had thirteen people, for there were twelve apostles) and various other celebrities, like Swift, Bill Cosby, Caitlyn Jenner, Bush, and Donald Trump, are mannequins. They are also quite naked. Kim Kardashian, West's wife, probably approved, but it seems to be he's on sketchy legal ground to use the likenesses, especially naked ones, of people who he may not have had approval.

In any event, the video, which is over ten minutes long, is artistic but also highly pretentious. The song stops for a few minutes in between, so there's nothing but silence and a good look at Bill Cosby's likeness. For those of you wondering what Taylor Swift's nipples look like, you can wonder how right they got it. I find the video and song misogynistic and values sensation over art. But Werner Herzog liked it a lot. It will probably win. Maybe Swift can interrupt his acceptance speech.

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