Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Song for a Crappy Tuesday (Guilty Pleasure Edition)

Tuesday is working the register at Walgreens. The store is nearly deserted, and only the strains of Extreme's "More than Words" trickle into the fog of your early morning consciousness.

You reach the counter and plunk down your orange juice.

"Would you like to try our Wow Buy today? Two Reece's Peanut Butter Cups for 50 cents."

"No thanks," you reflexively answer. Then you let out an embarrassed chuckle. "I have to keep a tight reign on my 50 cents right now."

He smiles and tells you to swipe your card.

When you get to work, you reach inside the bag to discover, next to the orange juice, a Reece's Peanut Butter cup. According to the receipt, Tuesday didn't charge you for it.

You are so overwhelmed by his gesture that you never return to that same Walgreens.

To say that I have philosophical problems with Britney Spears should come as no surprise. Some of these issue arise, sure, from her lack of vocal ability and her commodified hyper-sexuality, but these are pretty well worn gripes. There is little new to the complaints about her overly produced lip-syncing or her overt pleas for sexual attention.

The presence of Spears in our celebrity continuum highlights an interesting tension for those inclined as Free Women. There's a hastening to shake our fists at her booty wiggles, but it's these same women who dress up as Sexy Dorothy Parker for Halloween and dance with abandon to "Womanizer". It can be difficult to reconcile the desire to be a thinking, progressive female with the secret wish to be considered a crazy sexy hot mama.

These two things are not mutually exclusive. And this is where some of my problems lie with the Britney. I'm not squeamish about a woman's expression of sexuality in music, art or movies. There are some schools of thought that hold conspicuous displays of female sexuality as a reclamation of gender power - sometimes I agree with this. Not in the case of Ms. Spears.

My problem is not in her gyrations, her lip-licking, or sex-driven lyrics. My problem is that I don't feel invited into her sexuality...nor is it particularly interesting.

Watching her videos and listening to her songs, the message is clear: we are her mirror. Her level of narcissism is intense and most certainly brought about by years of unceasing public scrutiny and an entourage willing to say yes to her every whim. Song after song is about us watching her, how we all want to get on that, and how we all want to be her. But is this true? After a while of being told how sexy she is, I kinda don't believe it anymore.

It's also a little boring - videos comprised of her dancing in some costume, writhing half naked, and then dancing in another costume using a series of thrusting power moves, over and over.

So, my problems with Britney don't come from her being all sexed up. They come from how pre-fab and unthoughtful it seems.

(However, do I own a few Spears singles on my iPod. Of course, I do.)

To be fair, my sexual iconography tends to run in the area of the "The Quirk":

Something odd, a touch of kink...maybe a little grandiosity to boot. This stuff is invigorating. Hell, I have to give Madonna her props for maintaining a sense of style, image, and message in everything she does. Sex is used as a tool in her arsenal...not a plea for a love that she never got. (I'm sure it started there, but it evolved.)

So now we come to Lady Gaga.

I'll wait while you stop laughing.*

I was quite happy to brush her off as another Brit wannabe, with no real ability. Her single Just Dance was one of the first I heard and was unimpressed. Standard pop beat, no interesting lyrics to speak of. Simply a fun little ditty, and that's it.

More singles followed (Love Game caused me to morn the death of subtlety), I would hear her name brought up. My sister once remarked that she'd never be able to say for sure what Lady Gaga looked like because she's constantly covered in all kinds of makeup and fur.

My friend Casey was talking to me about her one night before a show. In his assessment, she is a performance artist. I laughed. Then he showed me her performance at the 2009 VMAs:

I have to admit...I was taken. This is pretty impressive performance, done by a woman who is quite willing to take a substantial risk. And without lip syncing. (If you are not impressed by this, go try to sing Happy Birthday while doing jumping jacks. Then come talk to me.)

Gaga, in tandem with her extreme theatrical presentations, has a shape-shifting voice. Again, I first thought her voice the product of over production. Then I saw this performance on SNL. (which shows off her vocal prowess and a little sense of humor about herself.)

Watch Lady Gaga on Saturday Night Live HD SNL in Music | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Do the music and lyrics to Poker Face test the limits of human profundity? Nope.

But, I have to say, this chick is an active participant in her sexual image. I feel invited and intrigued. Not told something, male or female, is sexy just because it's naked.

*HT to the Fake AP Style Handbook.


S. E. Johnson said...

I was able to watch for three seconds, which was precisely enough for my heart to quit it.

Dianna said...

I adore her.

She's everything the pop "princesses" aren't. She knows her songs aren't gonna change the world, but she wants you to SEE and EXPERIENCE something different.

I have a Britney song or 2 on the iPod, coupled with a couple of Christina tracks.

I have Lady GaGa's entire album on my iPod - there isn't a sing I don't like.

(did you know she got her nickname from the Queen "Radio Gaga" song? She loves Freddie Mercury - she's ok with me!)

joe g said...

"Sexy Dorothy Parker?"

Why oh why was I in tech on Halloween?!?

That SNL performance is cool, but I am not convinced that the VMA performance is not lip-synced. Let me be clear: I don't have a problem with Britney/Madonna/Gaga etc. lip-syncing their shows. Like you said, there's enough dancing going on that a perfect vocal performance is not something we can reasonably expect. And that's fine--the show is about dancing and lights and costumes, not about a killer vocalist. And that's an incredible piece, I love where it goes. (Freddie Mercury is clearly an influence for SOMEONE involved in that show.) I'm just not entirely certain she's really singing. It's too consistent, too "perfect." Perhaps I'm just a cynic.

To the other thing...Britney stopped being sexy awhile ago...if she ever was to begin with. It's hard to remember.

gredlip: shote firste.

-j-j- said...

A) I'm sorry I missed Evil Dead on stage. The Fates were not being helpful. Boo me.

B) The official word from the Gaga camp is that she is a non-lip sync-er. Now, of course, this is to be taken with a grain of salt, but I am familiar enough with the song to see where she deviates and saves her voice. for the bigger notes.

joe g said...

a) no worries. I missed several shows this past couple of months that I really wanted to see as well.

2) I wasn't aware that they'd gone on record about a lip-sync issue. that holds some weight, since it'd probably not take too much digging to find out otherwise (see for example the iso'd live Britney vocal track that leaked onto YouTube where she's clearly only singing half-phrases, out of breath and waaaay off pitch). If she's singing all that stuff live, that's pretty stellar.

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