It’s really been over two months since my last post? Wow, time flies on the other side of the semester. After SXSW, I went to a conference and then it was Spring Break and now, well I’ve posted my students’ grades and gotten my own and Memorial Day weekend (along with WisCon and Christeene’s album release party) is just around the corner.
A lot has happened in those two months, hasn’t it? We keep losing great musicians (First Etta, then Whitney! Levon! MCA! Duck! Donna! Chuck!). Dan Harmon lost his job. We’re edging toward a recall election here in Harmon’s home state, which means I’m seeing a lot of Scott Walker’s hairy forearms in ads where he lies about job creation (vote against him June 5th). Kanye made a movie. So did my friend Brea. A few friends had kids–two of them made a set of twins together. Some friends came to visit. Annie Petersen wrote a piece for the latest issue of Bitch. I completed the first year of my PhD program.
I’d like to once again thank the people who came out to Get Off the Internet during SXSW and supported us financially or emotionally (often, it was both). As I was but one player and often not the engine driving the train, I’d also like to thank Tisha Sparks, Jax Keating, and Lynn Casper, who I would work with again in a heartbeat. I’d next like to acknowledge why I got off the Internet. This was a busy semester for me. We hired a new faculty member to our program. We brought in five new students for the fall. And we are sending off four graduates.
I also took a cultural theory seminar, a seminar on feminist research methods, and a seminar on director Agnès Varda. The first two were really tough classes and I wanted to make sure I was present enough in my studies to do justice to the reading material and the seminar papers I produced. The third course, as my friend Mary put it, was dessert. Varda’s a damn treasure. After each screening I was so full and giddy from feasting my eyes and brain on this filmmaker’s dizzyingly brilliant work that I often needed to savor the moment, which usually meant talking for hours with Mary. I also pitched a book proposal, which may or may not get picked up.
It also promises to be a busy summer for me. I’m working on a book chapter for an anthology and revising a term paper for publication. I’m also serving as acting co-editor for Antenna–my program’s media studies blog–for the next three months. I’m going to be an instructor for the first session of Girls Rock Camp Madison. I’m doing preliminary research on two projects I’m planning to turn into term papers (and then articles, because that’s how the game works). I’m going to Console-ing Passions to talk about Zooey Deschanel anti-fandom. I’m grading for some cash during the summer, and (like my partner) vying for some temp work as well. Hopefully I can score a little freelance money too. I’m prepping the class I TA next fall (goodbye, Intro to Public Speaking! hello, Intro to Television!). I’m going to spend some quality time at the Center for Film and Theater Research, because it’s ridiculous that I haven’t gone over there at any point this school year. I’m plant-sitting for my girl Sarah and I hope nothing dies. There’s other stuff I want to keep on the low for the moment. And I’ll be watching Girls because y’all, we need to talk about Girls.
I might also get some coffee with a former student because I’m that kind of instructor. You know, the kind you can call by her first name. And today I’m making a cat cake with Mary for the Varda seminar’s end-of-the-semester party. Well, and for Zgougou obviously.
But I miss writing. I miss being in the conversation. I miss sweating over a sentence in my pajamas. I miss the immediacy of having my fingers fly over an opinion. I miss you. I miss this part of me. So my plan is to adopt a MWF posting schedule. I have a back log of stuff to write about–those pieces on Before Sunrise and Chavela Vargas I promised, as well as Norah Jones and Faye Wong’s film work with Wong Kar-Wai, Girl 6, seeing YACHT and EMA in concert, and stuff I don’t know I want to write about right now.
I’ll say one more thing about this blog’s future. I’m taking a digital production course this fall. I’m not sure what all of this will entail, exactly. Since I try to go into at least once class a semester without a paper topic in mind, I find the uncertainty rather thrilling. But part of the point of this class is to get graduate students comfortable with TAing a new course on the subject that we’re offering in Comm Arts for undergrads. I’m absolutely taking this class so that I can TA the intro class later. For one, I think media scholars should have a handle on production.
For another, as a feminist media scholar I’m invested in closing the gender gap in university production programs and I think this is the next logical step. I fully take to heart Mary Celeste Kearney’s charge to melt the celluloid ceiling (y’all–she presented a paper on this at SCMS and went on a rant about this later at the conference #stillmymentor #whoiwanttobewhenigrowup). But one of the objectives of this course, as I understand it, is to have us work on media projects. All of my work in that class will go toward this blog, most likely toward developing a podcast series that I’ll launch in earnest after I finish course work the following spring. So keep that on your radar.
Finally, I thought I’d close with some stuff I’m listening to–at least when I’m not listening to Rihanna‘s Talk That Talk or the new Beach House record (sidebar: this thoughtful Pitchfork review once again proves that 2012 is critic Lindsay Zoladz’s year). Though I abstained from blogging, I never took off my headphones. Also, Sarah said she was looking for some summer music. So let’s kick out the jams.
That Grimes record is good y’all. It’s, to use music critics’ parlance, a grower. Her other records are good too and this song is not my favorite on Visions (it’s “Be A Body”). But I like that this video was shot at McGill (Canada reprezent), that the album art recalls a Routledge book that’s been masterfully defaced by a bored college student (Claire Boucher knows her audience), that this song–stripped away of its electronic affectations–basically sounds like something Roy Orbison would write, and that we get some naked, riled-up, male, sports spectator booty in the video. I hope you kill it at Pitchfork, Claire.
Santigold’s Master of My Make-Believe is an early contender for Album Art of the Year. So good. Like Annie Lennox before her, Santi White masters the art of passing as both male and female, and occupying the slippery space within the binary. I wonder how different the video for “Disparate Youth” is from Duran Duran’s “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” and if it’s because–to extend the comparison–Santigold is Simon LeBon-ny enough to wear floral prints with stripes while not using the shoot as an excuse for sex tourism. Then I watch it again.
Is THEESatisfaction’s “QueenS” video of the year? I think so. Party of the year? Without rival. Music journalist and personal heroine dream hampton directed the clip and I just love it. I smell the incense, I love the outfits, I’m humbled by the level of self-possession and skill with home decor. I also love their bell hooksian way with capitalization. awE naturalE is one of my favorite records of the year. So mellow, so subtly sexy, even more subtly complex, and so self-assured. This is music for brainy, grown-ass people. If you’re ever wondering what I listen for in a record, I listen for music by women and girls who know who they are and are open to share it with you; guitars optional.
As a culture of pop music engineers, the Swedes know their way around a groove so well that this song once again convinces me that we should buck the career Republicans and demand socialized health care. Charli XCX wrote this song and it would fit in Robyn’s canon, but it has its own snarl that I can’t get enough of. Bottom line: I’ve jogged to Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and I’ve toasted Lindsay Zoladz’s freelanciversary to it as well. It gets results. It’s that good.
Staying on the Reynolds piece for just a bit more, I wanted to give the nod to Maria Minerva because she’s got an album called Cabaret Cixous, she’s completing a masters in art and theory at Goldsmiths, and because if you really want to refine a search for music you think I’d like, focus on women who play electronic instruments. Just as I believe that the rural United States has a special relationship to punk, so too do I think that working with synthesizers and sequencers can be an inherently punk gesture. If you only need to know how to play three chords on your guitar to have a band, you often need even fewer faculties to play electronic instruments. When David Bowie began working with Brian Eno, they’d amass a bunch of keyboards for the studio and throw out the manuals because they didn’t want to know how to “properly” operate them.
Following my friend Ricky’s example, I’m a champion of the Shondes. Power pop should, above all else, hold sorrow and triumph closely in each hand yet not so tightly that both emotions slip through your fingers. Based on their music alone, this Brooklyn-based quartet has a profound sense of empathy. I recently caught them at a show in Madison, wherein bassist-lead singer Louisa Solomon made the following observations: 1. as you wrap up your 20s, more people you love die (preach, girl) and 2. as “Give Me What You’ve Got” intimates, women can be mean to each other. She offered both of these observations as inquiry, which is why I love her and this special band.
K.Flay gets my-my dark moments better than everyone and nobody can hellllp. Also, off-trademark Muppets.
If you follow Rookie, then you know those grrrls are spearheading this Scottish goth-pop outfit’s comeback. And just in time for tube top weather (help me embroider an upside-down cross on mine, Rookie staff).
And if you want to know what I’m cooking in my kitchen, that’s none of your business unless I invite you over for dinner. But Little Dragon is usually the soundtrack to time spent stirring the pasta, sauteing the onion, and sprinkling the white pepper.
Summer is ready when you are, y’all.
Recently Logan Hill contributed a piece for Vulture on the invigoration of music video production on the Internet following a dry spell for the medium on television. Of course, folks have noted this as YouTube, Vimeo, Vevo, and a host of other clip-sharing sites became ubiquitous alongside MTV’s continued programming choices to inundate their audience with reality shows. The network recently took “Music Television” out of its logo. For a moment, it seemed like DVD collections like Palm Pictures’ Directors Label series would step in and make music videos more available to the public, but clearly the Internet has won, even invigorating the careers of Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry.
While I don’t see this move as little more than a shift indicative of how we consume media, I would also like to point out that many of these headline-grabbing Internet sensation music videos are notable for another reason. The scandal and celebrity associated with these big-budget clips center on female pop stars. In the past year, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Shakira, Janelle Monáe, Erykah Badu, and M.I.A. have made garnered attention and controversy with clips inundated with sexual and/or violent imagery that might not fly on post-network television but keep the blogoshere typing, Tweeting, and uploading. Alongside those artists, fringe acts like Peaches, Yo! Majesty, and Gossip — all peopled by queer musicians — have garnered some recognition for their work.
On the surface, the presence female pop stars have in reviving the music video format also recalls MTV’s nascence. Many note that the first clip the network aired was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” But Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run” followed it, along with a whole host of female pop stars who battled rock acts and hair metal bands for programming supremacy. The Go-Go’s, Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner, Madonna, Janet Jackson, and Eurythmics’ lead singer Annie Lennox all catapulted to stardom during the network’s infancy, as art rock acts like Kate Bush also received some stateside recognition.
While the current stable of video stars seem to subvert conventional femininity by playing with camp and excess, I’m actually inclined to read many of these artists as ultimately normative. Many of the video narratives, regardless of costuming or cultural references, tend to rehash contrived narratives about young women getting rowdy in the club and letting her (hetero)sexual inhibitions run wild. I believe Badu’s “Window Seat” and M.I.A.’s “Born Free” challenge these offerings however, by either making female nudity at once mundane and endangered or by dispensing of the female pop star altogether to focus on government-sanctioned ultraviolence. Monáe’s approach might be the most refreshing as she recontextualizes rock and R&B’s cultural origins within a female body covered up in menswear that’s ready to teach you some new dance steps.
In addition, many of these musical artists are working with established male video directors. Gaga revived the career of Jonas Åkerlund, who originally made a name for himself working with Madonna. While it’s easy to read these directors as auteurs, I’m inclined to point out that some of them have established collaborative relationships with these women across several projects. This also recalls how Gondry came into the cultural lexicon. While we may now think of him as the visionary behind White Stripes videos and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, an Icelandic pop star named Björk selected him to direct his first English-language music video after years working in France. The clip was for “Human Behaviour,” which launched both of their careers in the states.
I’d like to bring up in the current emergence of female pop stars on the Internet is that almost all of them are solo artists taking sole focus on big-budget music videos. While I don’t want to suggest that these women are not musicians, or overlook the fact that Beyoncé tours with an all-female backing band, I find it disheartening that we aren’t seeing as many images of women and girls creating video images as collaborators, whether between female artists and directors, as members of a band, or female artists who collaborate with one another. While Lady Gaga and Beyoncé have been known to work together, as have M.I.A. and Santigold, it would be nice to see more music videos with a group of women or girls as the focus.
Likewise, I also find it frustrating that so many of these big productions have to be so moneyed, most notably Lady Gaga and Beyoncé’s “Telephone.” Perhaps a new group of bands and musical artists in collaboration with one another will also make names for themselves as music videos continue to thrive on the Internet. Who says you need a big budget and an iconic pop star to make a clip for the ages?
I finally saw The Blues Brothers a few weekends back. Even for someone who hasn’t seen the majority of SNL-related movies from the 1980s, it’s pretty weird that I haven’t seen this one. My parents were moving from Chicago to Houston around the time it was shot. They actually lived near the mall that got demolished by one of the movie’s many car chase sequences.
Barring my parents’ living situation and my interest in music, it’s also strange that I’ve been in a relationship with someone who notes John Landis’s 1980 Dan Akroyd/John Belushi vehicle as a childhood favorite and hadn’t seen it in our six years together. It led one of us to a lifetime following the blues and launching KVRX’s “Blues At Sunrise.” In addition, Briefcase Full Of Blues has always been go-to cooking music at our house. So when Wax Fax decided to devote a category to the movie for last month’s game, it seemed like the perfect time to bring me up to speed.
As for the movie itself, I liked it fine. It had been talked up so as to fall short of expectations, but I like car chases, black suits, Steve Cropper, and shit getting blowed up as much as the next girl. I still don’t get the appeal of Akroyd or Belushi, but I’m not a Chevy Chase fan either. Bill Murray is another story, and a welcome second season replacement for Chase on SNL.
For me, the movie’s appeal was the music, particularly its musical cameos. Cab Calloway as Jake and Elwood’s mentor? Sure. Ray Charles as a gun-toting music store owner? Sign me up. James Brown as a gospel minister? Of course.
(Note: Do seek out James Brown’s short-lived Future Shock. My friend Evan brought it into my household before he moved to Baltimore with his partner Kit, and we’re all the better for it. Basically, it’s an Atlanta-based public access version of Soul Train hosted by Brown around the time he released Body Heat. In other words, it’s amazing. Tim and Eric can’t make this up.)
But ya’ll know why I really wanted to see The Blues Brothers. Her name starts with an “A.” Before she wore the most amazing hat ever to sing at Obama’s inauguration, she’s was doin’ it for herself with Annie Lennox. She built Atlantic Records. She was young, gifted, and black. She demanded R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Aretha Franklin has a cameo in The Blues Brothers. The general premise of the movie is that Blues BrothersJake (Belushi) and Elwood (Akroyd) are reuniting their band upon Jake’s release from jail for shoplifting. One member being brought back in the fold is guitarist Matt Murphy. Trouble is, Murphy is manacled to his wife (played by Franklin), who runs a diner. She doesn’t want him back out on the road, and explains why with “Think,” a Franklin classic.
Rousing, right? Fuck yeah, I’ll stay home and fry chickens and toast white bread for your customers. Why would I ever leave when I’m married to a goddess? Better yet, why don’t we put our own project together because you have those pipes? At the very least we can make room for a Blues Sister.
But the scene ends with Murphy handing in his apron, a symbol of his emasculation, to split with the Blues Brothers. In doing so, not only does Murphy abide by the conceptualization of musicians as feckless nomads, but he also plays into the stereotype of the noncommittal heterosexual black man.
I feel like Franklin is totally cheated here. In addition to playing a supposedly unsympathetic character, employing one of Franklin’s own songs in this way seems a way to cuckold both the character and the actor, who is also the singer. It bums me out.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen the sequel. I know that Franklin reappears with a cadre of ladies in some snazzy duds. I also know that Erykah Badu also makes a cameo and am curious about her involvement. Until then, I’ll cross my arms and hope Mrs. Murphy gets the last laugh, or at least her own Dr. Feelgood. For now, Franklin can play herself off.
All this talk about who said what at the VMAs made me hungry for some actual music videos (if you haven’t heard what everyone else has been talking about, just read fourfour‘s assessment). And after all this discussion about Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” music video, Janet and Madonna’s tributes to Michael, P!nk’s suggestive performance, and the pop spectacle that is Lady Gaga, I started to get all sentimental for two great music videos that cement themselves firmly as gender-queer video performances. Interestingly enough, Scottish women are responsible for both of them. Feast your eyes on Annie Lennox’s man-as-a-woman-as-a-man drag performance in The Eurythmics’ “I Need a Man” and Shirley Manson’s utter disregard for public restrooms as gendered spaces in “Androgyny.” Click on the artists’ names and enjoy!
“I Need a Man”
Directed by Sophie Muller
Directed by Don Cameron
So, loyal readers, I’ve had some wrenches thrown in my schedule this past week, making it more difficult for me to blog lately. Suffice it to say, getting my car back will help. I’ve got some drafts I’m working on and hope to get a brand new entry with in-depth analysis up tomorrow.
In the meantime, who doesn’t love music videos? So, from time to time when I get a little too busy, I thought I’d share a self-curated retrospective of music videos from a female director. If she were a dude, like Michel Gondry, we may call her an “auteur”. But since there’s no female equivalent in French for “author,” I thought I’d just make up a word (I’m a quarter French, so I’m sure the Académie française is cool with it). I really wished I could do this for my thesis. With a self-authored blog, fuck it. Make up some words, says the bloggess.
Oh, and in the spirit of gynocriticism, I’ll only focus on the music videos these directors have done with female artists or female-led mixed gender musical acts. Tonight, we focus on Sophie Muller, who I kept hoping would get her own Directors Label DVD. Since she’s famous and the people she works with are often also famous, embedding is tricky business. For the sake of consistency, just click on the artist’s name.
“Walking on Broken Glass”
Live Through This
“Simple Kind of Life”
Return of Saturn
“King of Sorrow”
“Turn off the Light”
“This Is Love”
Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
“Not Ready to Make Nice”
Taking the Long Way
“Bleed Like Me”
Bleed Like Me
Unfortunately, YouTube no longer has Björk’s “Venus as a Boy,” one of my all-time favorites videos, but you can watch it here.