Monday, August 22, 2011

Head Over Feet

There are a lot of reasons why I love this. Firstly, it's a great song (in my opinion). It's an expertly crafted pop song, but the lyrics in their specificity give it a greater meaning.
To craft a great pop song (lyrically), I feel like an artist could either speak in generalities that can be interpreted in many different ways to gain a broader appeal, or speak intimately and on a small scale (first one that comes to mind is Bob Dylan). Writing about the small things in relationships between people is difficult; it demands a very intense focus on experiences that you are supposed to lose yourself in with another and breaks them down and examines them. This focus is my favorite part of novels, and can often be the main focus or purpose of a novel; to slow down the rush of feelings that accompany intense moments and preserve them in a fashion that shines light on our human experience. 36 seconds into the song, she sings "You ask how my day was". Before this line, it was a general account of a man pursuing a woman, but that one line zooms in on a part of the pursuing that is important to one person, in this case the author of the song, which would be the one singing it. It takes an abstract idea and brings it closer to what all of us experience in one way or another. There are general things that I find attractive in a prospective mate, but it's those small things that really make the relationship blossom or break the relationship from blossoming. Something as small as smiling when I walk through the door and asking how my day was can save a relationship when times are tough. This theme of taking a general idea about relationships and then focusing in on a small part of what makes it special and what makes it work goes on throughout this song. At 1:55, "You held your breath, and the door for me" is another example. So to move on now from just looking at the crafting of the song, let's move to the video. First of all, it's all one take. This is rare for a music video. There are artists (and directors) that try to create this, but also allow for the shots that make it possible for post-editing to create the illusion of a one-take shot if it wasn't possible for it to happen because of a number of factors... extras, inconsistent delivery to the camera, any number of reasons. So seeing that it's one take, you think of how many takes it took to get the one that was decided upon as being the best. This might take away from a music video for some, but for me it adds to it. 
The music video is an inherently dishonest experience. I think by now everyone knows that the audio track that is heard on top of a music video is just that... on top of the video. It was recorded before the filming of an experience to go along with the song; the video is an after-market piece of advertising to help sell the song, thanks to MTV. That's not a bad thing, just the way that it is, and I think some fabulous pieces of art (yes, art) have come out of the niche of adding moving pictures to music. But when we see Alanis moving her lips and tongue on the screen, it's not the same thing as her singing in the studio recording this song. This video and her performance does a great job of highlighting this psuedo-experience. She is completely inconsistent in what she lip-syncs to and what she doesn't. She begins with a delivery that matches the delivery of the audio, and then lets it go. They're not trying to fool us into thinking that the video is the experience of the singing of the song.
This does two important things: It allows us to disassociate from the video to listen solely to the song, and it allows us to disassociate from the song and focus on the video. This may be the most important part of a successful video. It makes us want to watch it multiple times because the song and the video have two different aims. I almost want to compare it to a live concert. There is the music, but there's also everything else going on around you. There's a dichotomy that's happening in the brain, and being limited as we are, we can only focus on so much at one time. How many concerts have you been to that you wish you could go back and experience so that you could either pay attention to only the music or only the concomitant happenings? This video allows us (because it's preserved) to go back time and time again to narrow our focus to different segments of the experience.
What may be the most important factor is Alanis Morisette herself. She starts by looking into the camera with no fear. What I mean by that is that she stares as if she's looking in to YOUR eyes, not a piece of glass. She's giving herself up for inspection. I think this is the most important part of a person who is successful in performing. This could be Alanis Morisette, Freddie Mercury, the guy that does karaoke at your local bar. You feel like you're allowed into another person's life, and it's such a powerful experience, because most of us don't let ouselves go unless we're completely, completely sure and have some measure of control over the audience. Think of yourself when you meet someone for the first time. You won't necessarily give all of yourself to that person, you want to keep up the image of yourself that you want to portray. It's not until later that you feel comfortable enough to let yourself go enough to let them know who you really are (if you think that they're worth it). Maybe that's why we have such a celebrity culture... We idolize those people that are able to give themselves to us unconditionally. Maybe that's why Jesus is such an enduring personality. He gave all of himself without expecting anything in return (and now I'll just steer clearly away from Jesus). There are so many moments of her performance in this video (not the song) that she shows (what I perceive as real) her own psyche. I see in different parts of her face and her delivery almost all of the parts of girls that I've been in a relationship with. I have a few examples that I want to highlight.
Right away, at 00:23, there's her slow sleepy eyes as she says "You treat me like I'm a princess" immediately follwed by a genuine smile. At 00:40, she stops singing along with the song, which helps seperate this from most other music videos. She looks away and down to the side. You could extrapolate and say it's related to the lyrics of the song, this part, because this is the first time in the lyrics that she's admitting that she may have already been won over. I've admitted this to people I've been interested in before, and it's something that's hard to say while looking someone in the eye. You want to look away so that if you are rejected, the full force of the denial doesn't hit you directly in the heart. She also starts to shake her head along with the shaking of her right leg. Is this her natural reaction to letting go of part of her ego, telling someone how much they mean to her? Or is it just impatience and possibly boredom in singing the lyrics to the song however many times it took to get this performance in one take?
At 1:20, the second chorus, she stops singing along again, but this time doesn't look immediately away. This time she looks directly into our eyes. If you've told someone once that you were invested, and weren't turned down, the second time you may be a little more bold. You give a little more of yourself, but maybe not all. And now she has no relation to the camera at all at 1:29. This can be like any number of girls I've been in relationships with, and there's a secondary reason that makes this point in the video so compelling. I'm not going to try to cover the first point, but the second reason is that she's not perfect. This is the point where you can see and start to notice that her hair isn't perfect. There are strands that don't quite make it into her ponytail. Maybe after you notice that you notice how little makeup she's wearing. You can see the small slight perfectly imperfect bumps on her face that make her not have a perfect complexion, but make her that much more human. I don't expect perfection from everyone I meet in life, but I find myself expecting it in my entertainment. If a girl in a video or a movie is not perfetly gorgeous all the time, I notice it and I find myself wondering why she's not perfect, because it seems as if that's the standard that we have set. At 2:03, we have the harmonica solo. I'm not totally sold on this part of it, but everything else in this video makes me okay with it not being totally great. I think it's another example of this director highlighting the difference between recording a song and making a video, because it's obvious that she's not actually doing the harmonica solo. This may be a time filler so she doens't just stare into the camera for 20 or so seconds, but I would have preferred her just staring into the camera for that time.
At 2:35 is the reason that made me fall in love with this video. She comes out of the harmonica solo, and is just singing for us. The line is "You're my best friend, best friend with benefits". It's a damn cute line. What makes me fall in love with it is that I smiled at that line the same way that she did. I think this is why I love this video so much. If we can have similar smiles to a line like that, then she's enjoying herself as much as I am. I said earlier that part of why I loved this video was the light that it shined on the difference between the recording of a song and the making of the video for promotional purposes. This sharing of an expression between myself and the artist makes me feel less like a consumer and more like a partner in crime. It makes me feel like she is enjoying the song, and enjoying performing it for the benefit of the camera, and the camera operator, and the director, and is yet another example of her giving up part of herself; the honest enjoyment in an experience that makes certain performers so compelling.
3:23 is just another example of the difference between the video and the song, where she's talking to whomever is behind the camera, instead of to us, the prospective audience, with no relation to the song that is still going. It's a beautiful sign of strength in the director and in the artist herself. This entire video has been concious of itself, but it's here that it expressly expresses itself as only a representation of reality, not reality itself.
From 3:45 to 4:22; Alanis, you have pretty eyes.

1 comment: