Sunday, August 17, 2008

More thoughts on the shitness of Australian music video. I have often wondered about why Australian pop and R&B music videos (especially those set in clubs) always come out looking shit and awkward compared to the glossy look and feel of American and British mainstream pop and R&B videos. I've thought about this a lot, particularly when it comes to the oeuvres of Guy Sebastian and J-Wess, had this discussion with other people and we've brought up issues of lower budgets in Australia, the smaller market size not fostering a large enough pop/R&B culture, etc.

But now I think some more about it, Australian music videos of this sort are just too naturalistic when what the form demands is artifice and stylisation. Naturalism works better for rock and acoustic music videos where all you really need is to see the musician doing their thing, but pop and R&B demand either high-concept videos or a super-performative singer who is capable of being a singer, dancer and actor. Sadly, many Australians are only singers.

Actually, I think the video for 'Pictures' by Sneaky Sound System is actually one of the best Australian pop/R&B videos because its concept is stylised and well executed. Also, I actually really like this song, although I deliberately made up incorrect lyrics including: "Lycra, like a sneaker in my left eye", "I've got lots of peaches in my hat, you'd better not save your mum for later" and "Oh, Skippy on fire". My favourite wrong lyric, though, comes in the second verse: "You can bite, and no one will do a wee".

Anyway. I was watching the video for Ricki-Lee's excellent song 'Can't Touch It' - such a great exception to the shitness of most Australian R&B songs - and yet the video is terrible in that typically Australian way, from the hokey acting from the beanie-clad (and vaguely Enrique Inglesias-meets-Colin-Farrell-looking; perhaps it's just the saggy beanie) 'love interest' to the awkward dancing.

And I think it's because it's not stylised enough. Ricki-Lee is a wonderful singer; there's a throaty quality to her voice that I really like. But she doesn't have the theatrical presence or the kinetic dancing ability of the singer to whom obvious comparisons invite themselves... the mighty Beyoncé. Here is my favourite Beyoncé video ever, 'Get Me Bodied'. (Embedding has been disabled for this video.) It's a good contrast to the Ricki-Lee video because it has a similar narrative: the girls' night out in a club.

As Ricki-Lee unfortunately demonstrates, performing in a music video is so much more than smiling, pouting and mastering choreography. I love the way Beyoncé uses her eyes when she performs. It's almost reminiscent of classical Indian dance; the eyes will flick, the head will cock, the neck will arch. Unlike Ricki-Lee's generalised smiling and pouting, Beyoncé's repertoire of gestures seems very precise and deliberate.

As far as the dancing goes, Beyoncé is simply a joy to watch. Her energy reminds me of Tina Turner; that's why they made such a great pair at the 2008 Grammys. And despite her teetering heels, there's a groundedness to the way she moves, a solidity to her legs and particularly her thighs. I love the sequence in which she and her male partner do a kind of boxstep really close to each other, bodies almost intertwined. It relies on absolute coordination. I also love the breathtaking athleticism of the scene where the line of dancers shimmy after Beyoncé on their knees. Also, watch the fat chick go - being a good dancer has nothing to do with the size of your body. It's more about your awareness of how you occupy space.

Most of all I like the way that she, Kelly, Michelle and Solange make these moves look natural and fun, like they'd dance like this on an ordinary night out. Trained dancers always make their social dancing so effortlessly spectacular. The rest of us can just shuffle along or, like me, not dance at all out of embarrassment at how we must look to others.

Months ago I remember reading that the dance call-outs in 'Get Me Bodied' were reminiscent of a New Orleans subgenre of hip-hop (I remember watching video clips of crowds doing bizarre, complex dance moves on cue when an MC shouted out each one) and it was really annoying me that when I came to blog this I couldn't remember what the subgenre was called. Thankfully, I read an Opulent blog post that put me out of my misery - it's called bounce.

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