Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Appalling Strangeness of Top 40

Working from home is a particularly isolating activity when you live in the middle of eighty acres of woods and parkland. The grounds of the Historical House are surrounded by a stone wall of enough Historical importance that it was not knocked down in front of the parcels of land no longer belonging to the Historical House. Across a busy street from the far end of that wall is my fitness club, and that is where I get my dose of pop culture.

The treadmill faces three televisions, each showing its own station, and I always take the treadmill in front of the television showing MTV because I associate elevated heartbeat with music. Also, I  miss dance clubs. I really miss dance clubs. To be precise, I really miss dance clubs that played trance and at least the occasional Goth anthem and The Killers, which I suppose means I miss Toronto's Velvet Underground. Why do not any of my Edinburgh friends like dance clubs? (She gently bangs her head on her desk.) Some of them are really young. What is this mania for proper partner dancing?

But I digress. For 35 minutes at a time, I watch MTV and hope it won't be too violent or too boring or so distasteful I will be less eager to go to the gym. (I haven't bought my MP3 player yet.)  Above all, I hope the music will really be dance music and not boring ballads apparently about riding horses through a grimy American housing project or about rescuing one's girlfriend from a burning building before falling to one's death. I confess to being fond of the video in which ducks massacre a gang, although it does not pass my mental danceability test.

Thirty-five minutes of MTV 2-3 times a week has cleared up some mysteries while introducing others. First of all, Britney Spears still has a career, and indeed her "Scream and Shout" video is number one. She looks pretty good, and there's nothing like recovering from a highly public breakdown to turn a pretty singer-dancer into a gay icon. There seems to be no plot in the video, so I like it very much. I don't even mind that Britney drops half her verbs.

Second, I now know who Justin Bieber is--beyond a former resident of Ontario--and I have a clue to his appeal. The "Beauty and a Beat" video is hilariously manipulative, for Justin is shot from the point of view of the female viewer, whom he is apparently leading to an amazing party while declaring his undying love, etc. But his outstretched arm is usually in the shot, and I ask myself what irresponsible jerk gave a twelve year old that tattoo? However, I would dance to that song in a club, so all is forgiven, except that disturbing line in "Baby" about buying the straying girlfriend anything she wants. The idea of boys trying to buy girls' affections with stuff makes me cross.

Third, an overweight Single woman with dark red hair and a sharp, mean face can sometimes star in music videos. Unfortunately, her choices seem limited to a terrible daily grind at a cubicle in a soulless grey carpeted office and a holiday in the Bahamas where, in her dreams, she behaves with bestial lust and greed.

Sadly, I do not remember the name of the song, which was printed in very tiny letters on the screen, although it seems to be highly ironic, for a gentle female voice promises to make our Single heroine feel better or give her the feeling she wants. And I am confused by the intentions of the director. Are we supposed to feel sorry for this woman, or are we supposed to laugh at her? Are we supposed to identify with her frustration at work, and with her psychiatrist, whose answer to her misery is more pills, but not with her outrageous sexual behaviour?  Does the director love her or hate her? The implied ending of the video made me very uncomfortable indeed.

There are many overweight, unhappy, plain women in the world. This is the first time I have seen one (a white one, anyway) star in an MTV video. At first I was delighted, for it seemed to show the reality of Single adult female life in the modern world: the alarm clock, the stupid office suits and spike heels so unsuited to heavy women, the endless piles of paperwork, the mortgage, sometimes the shrink and, alas, the pills. But I was very disappointed at the proposed solutions. And, indeed, the video makes the woman look ridiculous at the one fantasy activity I thought might really help her feel better: aerobics class.

Update: Some of last night's comments have disappeared. So sorry to Alisha and anyone else who left a comment. I approved them, but I don't know where they went!

9 comments:

Sarah said...

Yeah, but why does Britney Spears have a British accent now? That's what I want to know. I'm relatively sheltered from Top 40 music nowadays, as I usually only listened to the radio in the car, and now I don't have a car... And music shared between my friends and I is usually through CD sharing or passing along Regina Spektor (wonderful, but not Top 40) through youtube links.

JustAnotherCatholicGirl said...

Auntie, if you want good danceable work out music, look up Owl City, specifically his newest album, Midsummer Starion. Bombshell Blonde and coming After you are excellent, all his music is PG rated too! Enjoy!

JustAnotherCatholicGirl said...

Correction, album name is Midsummer Station. Typo.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Sarah, I can't believe I know this, but I was on a ski trip with friends last weekend and they put on MTV sometimes during the downtime, and they talked about the British accent in that Will.i.am song. Apparently it was written by a British singer/songwriter named Tulisa or something, and he originally was going to do it with her, but then it ended up being recorded with Britney (apparently they adapted it, too for the "And Britney, b----" line). They apparently liked the sound of the British accent for the woman's talking parts so Britney did it for that. But she still has her regular somewhat southern accent in other thing usually (as evidenced from clips of American X-Factor and Ellen).

I can't believe I knew that. I also recently learned that Demi Lovato does accents well, and Nicki Minaj has a British persona.

I have become more pop culture aware in the last year and a half than in the 25 years prior...

~Nzie

Seraphic said...

Ahhhh...I will have to listen to that video for the zillionth time because I was not aware la Britney was speaking in any kind of British accent.

Seraphic said...

I wondered what she was doing with her voice. I think, though, that she has invented her very own special British accent.

Sarah said...

Haha, thanks for the explanation, Nzie! I was wondering if she was trying to do some kind of Madonna thing, or thought we would just forget she was from the American South...?

magdalen hobbs said...

Britney would not be the first in a looong line of Americans who have cotributed ridiculous approximations of the British accent.. (Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot... et. al.)

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I probably should've put quotation marks around "British accent." :D It could have been worse, I think, especially since it's doesn't stand out as much in singing. :-)