5 Failed Attempts At Keeping Up With Modern Pop Music
I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point in the past five years I began to lose touch with popular music, particularly music videos. I've never adjusted to the shift from music videos being spoon-fed to me on TV to having to seek them out on the Internet. I'm always genuinely shocked when I discover that an artist filmed a video for a song. It's like finding out a candy I used to eat all the time as a kid is still being sold, but in seemingly every store in the country except the ones within five miles of me.
Today's column will be a journey into the current music and music videos that have entirely passed me by. I'm going to venture out into the wilds of the Internet and track down what's being released today, if for no other reason than to get a status report on a part of pop culture I've abandoned. So let's start off with ...
Nickelback -- "Edge of a Revolution"
The world is in disarray. Governments are out of control. Terrorism runs rampant. Thankfully, we have Nickelback speaking out against the evils of the world in their new song "Edge of a Revolution." It's a protest song that doesn't know what it's protesting. The video is a scattershot of dramatic news footage that popped up after lead singer Chad Kroeger Googled the word "prostate" and misspelled it "protest," then wrote a song about the search results.
Right off the bat, I noticed that Kroeger has swapped out his flowing mane of Barbie pubes for Kyle Reese's head from The Terminator.
That, I'm afraid, is the only difference between Nickelback then (when I was musically aware) and now (as I stare at walls in silence for 12 hours a day). Lyrically, the band has made the leap from generic to thinking their lyrics are profound and meaningful but are about as graceful as a kangaroo being tased.
Hey, hey, just obey.
Your secret's safe with the NSA.
In God we trust or the CIA?
Standing on the edge of a revolution.
As far as I can tell, this video is among the first protest songs in recent mainstream pop culture, and it's a Nickelback song written in the style of an Occupy Wall Street bongo word association game. Those four lines are the same four lines Ron Paul scribbles on public restroom stalls when he takes a dump.
The band performs as a mishmash of unsettling images of global unrest is projected onto them, and none of the images were selected with a cohesive line of reasoning or logic. Nickelback is just as afraid of scary armies:
As they are of hurricanes:
That tyrannical bitch, the Queen of England, whom all of our problems can be traced back to:
And gorilla eyes:
Not gorillas, their eyes. Just their eyes.
The band must have set up their gear in front of an art-school installation, and the 4:19 runtime of the video was precisely clocked to match the response time of campus security.
Look, we live in scary times. There's no doubt about that. What's even scarier is that the only mainstream musical act to confront the frightening issues of today is Nickelback. Katy Perry won't be writing a ballad about Ferguson, Missouri. Pitbull won't be writing verses about Ukraine. All we have is Nickelback and their projector as the shining lights leading us through the darkness. May God have mercy on us all.
Iggy Azalea Feat. Rita Ora -- "Black Widow"
Within five seconds, Michael Madsen enters a diner with all the gravitas of a man who's in juuuust enough of a self-medicated waking-coma to sleepwalk through his role as a person who so aggressively orders a grilled cheese sandwich that two women train to become samurai so they can kill him. Ridiculous? Yep! But samurai training as a means of revenge for rudely ordering grilled cheese is the actual plot of the video for Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora's song "Black Widow."
Azalea is a white woman from Australia who raps like a black woman from Harlem. She's doing vocal black face. Ora is ... well ...
... Ora is white Rihanna. The racial confusion in this video is suffocating.
If rappers had to perform the skits they put on their albums in front of a crowd, the only laughs they'd get would come from the sound beer bottles make when they shatter against teeth. So a rapper opening their music video with a comedy sketch is like a chef serving a jar of fart as an appetizer. The scene in which Madsen orders melted cheese on bread like he's ordering the assassination of Hitler inexplicably goes from mildly domestic violencey to comedy sketch when the obese female diner owner crawls over the counter because Madsen's vigorous sandwich demands have caused her vagina to erupt with sexual anticipation.
From there, the video turns into a take on Kill Bill. Azalea waves a sword in a dojo for eight seconds and becomes a warrior. Then a ninja comes in and throws a dart at her face, which turns out to be an order to kill Madsen.
Does the director think assassins send each other letters by sticking them to weapons and throwing them at each other's heads? Turns out the documentary on samurai the director watched in preparation was actually a dodgeball game.
After that, Ora plays backroom poker with T.I. and Paul Sorvino, which sounds like I'm throwing together two random names of people who would never actually meet to be funny, but I'm not, and it happened, and I'm really sad about the state of Sorvino.
And so is he.
I guess getting kicked in the stomach by White Rihanna is the only way he can financially support himself and his daughter.
Unemployment runs in the family.
White Rihanna and Kangaroo Black Voice meet at a club to kill Grilled Cheese Monster. They don't. They corner him in a dark alley, and absolutely out of nowhere, with no setup whatsoever, a black widow spider crawls out from his sleeve and bites his hand, killing him instantly.
All that training and senseless kicking of Sorvino was for nothing. Madsen was infested with deadly spiders the whole time. To be fair to the director who thought this was a good idea, Madsen looks like he carries spiders on his person all the time as a way to pick up chicks -- his "peacocking" affectation. The spider biting his hand was just one of those fortuitous happy accidents that happen when the cameras start rolling and movie magic is made.
Elliphant Feat. Skrillex -- "Only Getting Younger"
I have no idea who Elliphant is. I've never heard of her, I've never seen her face anywhere before, and I have absolutely no idea if she's popular. The only reason I found this video is because I Googled Skrillex, realizing I've never actually heard one of his songs in its entirety, and I've definitely never seen one of his videos. He's featured on this song, but seeing as the guy's job is strictly behind the scenes, I think if you give Skrillex a featuring credit you might as well give the recording studio janitor a featuring credit too.
Feat. The Stench of Doo Doo and Ammonia
After the ethnic confusion I felt watching "Black Widow," I was immediately distrustful of Elliphant's intense Jamaican-ish accent. I looked up her bio and -- what do you know -- she's from Stockholm, Sweden. More vocal black face. This is depressing. Just be your own race and/or nationality. Goddamn it. Is it really that hard?
Ah, whatever. I'm done with this video. The whole thing is basically about how getting gassed with nitrous oxide at the dentist can cause dental assistants to convulse in your mouth.
I'm going to assume that's a visual metaphor for having your privates diddled by the dentist when you're knocked out. That's a shit metaphor. Moving on ...
Nicki Minaj -- "Anaconda"
I hadn't seen Nicki Minaj's video for "Anaconda" until I started this whole experiment. I was culturally aware it was a thing, and I was aware that it was basically what a boner dreams when it sleeps, but I didn't give enough of a shit to watch. Now that I've seen it, I understand why people would think it's crass, but I ultimately don't see the big deal.
Minaj shows off every millimeter of skin humanly possible without showing off her butthole and birth canal. This may be crude and pornographic to some, but to me, at the tail end of my trek through modern music videos where foreign-born women vocally mimic American black women, I see it as Minaj doing an admirable job proving to me, personally, that she is indeed a black person and not a tanned Dane.
Not Nicki Minaj.
For nearly five minutes, Minaj shows me that there are no affectations. She is an actual black person, and I know this because her skin is starkly contrasted by a pasty white banana used -- primarily, I believe -- as a point of comparison for the non-whiteness of her skin:
She also uses whipped cream to prove that the dairy product's milky whiteness does not blend in with her natural tone.
Toward the end of the video, she allows the wheelchair kid from Degrassi to closely examine her skin for verification of her blackness.
The final, profound image of the video is of the wheelchair kid deeply pondering the ethics of masquerading within the vocal patterns of cultures and races that are not one's own for financial gain.
Ariana Grande -- "Break Free"
I wasn't going to write about this video initially. I watched it and had no problem with it or the song. It's a fun little pop tune that's easily ignorable. The video is a silly, schlocky, pulp sci-fi/fantasy tale of ridiculous shit and monster masks. It's dumb, it's corny, but whatever -- no harm, no foul.
As I was watching it, though, my girlfriend mentioned that there was a rumor spreading around celebrity gossip sites that Ariana Grande is extremely controlling when it comes to which side of her face she absolutely must be photographed from. Apparently, as the rumor goes, she demands to be photographed from her left, because she has a dimple on only one cheek, her left cheek. "That's dumb," I said, incredulous that someone would make up a silly rumor like that. That's nuts. Foolishness, I tell ya ...
Hmm ... wait a second ...
So I replayed the video from the beginning and paid close attention to which side of her face is most prominently featured ... and ...
Through the entire 4:07 of the video, you see the right side of her face for a total of about four seconds. So for 4:03, it's all left. Even when the camera is capturing her from straight on, her head is ever-so-slightly turned, favoring her left side. All shots of the right cut away quickly, while all shots of her left linger on and on.
OK, OK, OK. Hold on. Maybe someone noticed it happening a lot in this video and spun it into a big thing, right? Then my girlfriend performed a simple image search: "Ariana Grande." That's it. Just her name. Do it yourself, right now. Image search "Ariana Grande" and see for yourself how many pictures of her there are that feature the left side of her face. For the lazy, I've done it for you:
I feel like I'm hot on the trail of the Zodiac killer.
There are 53 photos in that screen grab, and I've got nothing going on in my life other than this article right now, so let's tally up the lefts:
Left, right, favoring left, left, left, favoring left, LEEEEEEEEFFFT, left, favoring left, left, left, left, left, left, left, straight on, left, left, right, right, left, left, right, straight on, left, left, straight on, left, left, right, left, left, straight on, left, favoring left, so left it might as well be the back of her head, left, left, right, left, left, left, favoring right, very right, left, left, left, straight on, left, favoring left, and, finally, left.
So 38 out of 53 pictures are of the left side of her face. Only eight are of the right. Startling evidence, right? But why take my word for it when you can hear from someone who experienced the wrath of Grande's left cheek firsthand? E! network personality Giuliana Rancic recently spoke of the time she was set to interview Grande when Ol' Single Dimple elbowed Rancic to the other side of the frame without saying a word so her left side could be featured on camera.
I don't know what to do with this information, but there's only one thing it can mean: Grande is hiding a Kuato on the right side of her face.
For more from Luis, check out 4 Absurdly Specific Pop Culture Questions Answered by Fans and 4 Famous Songs Used in Hilarious Ways Around the World.