My friend and I have this game we like to play.
We take a music video. Then we do one of the two following things:
1) We pair the song from that music video with a different music video’s video.
2) We pair the video from that music video with a different music video’s song.
It’s easy to accomplish. First, we let both MVs buffer in YouTube, muting the one we want to watch. Then we play the one we want to listen to. Then–and this is important–we hit play on the “video” video as quickly as we can.
OK, so it’s not much of a game. But it occasionally leads to interesting and/or hilarious results.
One of my favorites? Setting the video for Adam Lambert’s “Better Than I Know Myself” to Bruno Mars’s “Grenade.” Lambert is emoting almost as hard with his physical performance as Mars is with his crooning, over-the-top vocals, and the whole thing just works–and is much more visually interesting (to me, anyway) than Bruno Mars dragging a piano around. (It also helps that the two videos are roughly the same length.)
One of my very first posts on this blog was on P!nk’s music video for “Try,” and I think one of the reasons that that video got to me so much was because of the cognitive dissonance it created in the space between its visuals and its lyrics.
All of that being said, I am not sure what to make of this new music video, to Shakira-featuring-Rihanna’s new single, “Can’t Remember to Forget You.” Because … well.
::Cough:: Male gaze, anybody?
So, “Can’t Remember to Forget You” is about some boy[friend] that Shakira and/or Rihanna remember fondly even though she/they know(s) he is bad for her/them. The problem, as both singers put it, is “selective memory.” Shakira says, “I keep forgetting I should let you go / But when you look at me, the only memory, is us kissing in the moonlight.” Her/their love for this unnamed “you” in the song is so intense and destructive that it plays out like an addiction. Most clearly in Rihanna’s verse: “I go back again / Fall off the train / Land in his bed / Repeat yesterday’s mistakes.”
Then things get even more disturbing in the bridge:
I rob and I kill to keep him with me
I do anything for that boy
I’d give my last dime to hold him tonight
I do anything for that boy
Yeah, both women sing that.
To be honest, I don’t really have any problem with the song itself. Being so emotionally dependent upon someone that you feel like you would do anything for them–or just to stay with them, even though you know you should stay away? And realizing that the very fact that you know that about yourself is only further proof that you should stay away? That seems like a decent portrayal of how some people experience some toxic relationships.
And, let’s face it, the song is pretty entertaining. There’s an energy to it, Shakira utilizes that cool catch in her voice, and all of those “Ohohohoh”s are super fun to sing along with.
Nope, my problem is with the video.
Now, my problem with the video isn’t exactly that it pairs a song about a toxic, addiction-like relationship with two conventionally attractive women in revealing outfits, dancing “provocatively,” with much shaking of their hips and bottoms. (Though I’m not head-over-heels about it either.)
My problem with the video also isn’t exactly that it plays with the idea of a faux lesbianism clearly intended for the titillation of a presumed straight male gaze. (Not that cuddly Shakira and Rihanna on a bed together wouldn’t necessarily appeal to other kinds of audience; I just don’t think that lesbians, bisexuals, and the bicurious are the target audience in this case.)
My problem with the video is that it’s pretending so hard that this is a brush-off song. Because Shakira and Rihanna don’t need that toxic “you” character, see? They have each other. And they have cigars! Manly, phallic, implied-to-be post-coital cigars. They are clearly satisfied without “you,” you toxic man-thing.
Except that all the lyrics they sing imply that they clearly are not. Which means that everything else they do in the video–gyrate, wear revealing outfits, caress each other, smoke phallic cigars–seems like it is done in the service of the gaze of this toxic “boy.” Shakira and Rihanna aren’t moving on; they want him back. And what better way to entice your man than with faux lesbian performance with another hot woman? After all, as Steve on Coupling reminds us, we womenfolk love ensnaring men with the implied promise of threesome:
Three-stage strategy indeed.
So, I could go into more detail about the video, and why/how/if I find it offensive, but I think instead what I would like to do is try a little thought experiment. I am going to try to find some arbitrary number–let’s say three–of music video videos that I think work better with “Can’t Remember To Forget You” than its official video does. Because sometimes showing is more fun than telling. If you feel so inclined, you can set up the “Can’t Remember to Forget You” audio and play along at home.
Remember, play the audio only for “Can’t Remember To Forget You” and the visuals only (mute the audio!) for these other videos. Also, the closer you can sync the videos, the better the results will be.
Contender #3: P!nk’s “Try” Video
I’ll be honest: this one is hard for me to watch. In their original incarnations, the positive message of the song “Try” softens the intensity of P!nk’s video (even if that very disconnect is problematic in and of itself), while the playfulness of the video for “Can’t Remember to Forget You” takes the edge off of that song. In this hybrid form, however, the aggressive tone of “Can’t Remember To Forget You” matches the violence of P!nk’s video, and the end result is something kind of brutal, which highlights the darker aspects of both projects. This means that the pairing works really well, in a way, but it makes for a really heavy-handed, dark mash-up. Also, “Try” is a good half minute longer than “Can’t Remember to Forget You,” which means that the song cuts out before the video is over. It does end on P!nk about to throw that chair, though. Which kind of works.
Warning: May make the viewer profoundly uncomfortable.
Contender #2: Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want From Me“
OK, so I like to pick on Adam Lambert’s music videos a little. I don’t know what the motivations were behind the production of the videos for both “Whataya Want From Me” and “Better Than I Know Myself,” but I’ve wondered ever since I saw them the first time if they were made with the intent of creating ‘love stories’ starring the out gay celebrity Adam Lambert that would neither deny his homosexuality nor include actual same-sex romance. I haven’t researched this at all, but these two objects really make me wonder if the producers were hedging their bets, just a little. And the videos sure don’t give us gay romance. Oh, no. What we get instead is time-traveling Lambert clonecest (“Whataya Want From Me”) and interdimensional Lambert dopplegängercest (“Better Than I Know Myself”).
Or contemplative musings about Lambert’s relationship to his own fame. Pshaw. My version’s funnier.
Anyway, this mash-up is subtler than the last one I mentioned, but something about Lambert’s restrained, muted visuals contrasts interestingly with the aggressive sound of Shakira and Rihanna’s song. And of course, there’s nothing restrained about Lambert’s performance itself, so all those “Ohohohohoh”s fit right in. Unfortunately, this video’s still a little too long, but we can’t have everything.
Bonus: “I never met someone so different” is a moderately hilarious line when all the cuts are Lambert-to-Lambert.
Contender #1: Beyonce and Shakira’s “Beautiful Liar“
On the surface, this might seem like an odd choice, as these two videos already have a lot of overlap. The are structured similarly, both focus on two women dancing in skin-exposing outfits, both have lesbian (or at least homosocial) overtones, both have Shakira, et cetera.
And yet–for lack of a better word–the “Beautiful Liar” video is so much less pornographic than the “Can’t Remember to Forget You” video. Now, let me be perfectly clear: neither video is porn, and both have some interesting, artistic things going on with them, visually. But there is something about the way in which “Can’t Remember To Forget You” is shot and staged that just evokes the idea of pornography. A lot of it has to do with the framing. “Can’t Remember to Forget You” includes a lot of dance moves in which the performers shake their hips and buttocks. Same for “Beautiful Liar” (though, to be fair, “Beautiful Liar” is much more aware of the waist than the other video is). However, in “Beautiful Liar,” the women are shown in full shots (with all of their body in the frame) or medium long shots (head to knee) during such moves–with only a few, short, non-lingering exceptions; in “Can’t Remember to Forget You,” the women are cut off, as the camera centers their lower bodies in the frame (waist to hip). Beyonce and Shakira’s laughing, breathless performance “Beautiful Liar” reminds the audience that this kind of dancing–which uses tightly controlled, small movements–is taxing, difficult work; “Can’t Remember to Forget You” makes similar dance moves look like foreplay.
There is also something about the way the two singers face off in the “Beautiful Liar” video that is not matched in the “Can’t Remember to Forget You” video. When you set “Can’t Remember To Forget You” as the soundtrack to “Beautiful Liar,” the result starts to seem like a legit lesbian breakup song (in spite of all those references to “that boy”), rather than a titillating performance of ‘lesbianism’ for a male audience.
The women in “Beautiful Liar” look both seductive and strong. The women in “Can’t Remember to Forget You” just look seductive. And flirtatious, I guess. And a little desperate. For myself, I like “Can’t Remember to Forget You” set to the video for “Beautiful Liar” more than I like either video on its own. But I freely admit that that’s just a personal preference.
Anyway, I think it’s interesting how two similar videos can each lend the same song such a different vibe.
It might also help that the costumes in this one look a little bit less like lingerie. Or at least like less frilly lingerie. Or less like figure skating costumes that are also lingerie. Something.
I think I’ve more-or-less covered wanted to say about the Shakira/Rihanna video at this point. Also, after writing this post and hunting for videos to match up with the song, I’m getting pretty sick of listening to it.
Most people probably won’t respond to either the “Can’t Remember to Forget You” video or these video mash-ups exactly the same way I do. And of course, there are a lot of other things going on in the “Beautiful Liar” video (both visually and musically) that I did not go into here, as it was not the focus of this post.
Right now, however, that’s where my thoughts are on the music video for “Can’t Remember to Forget You.” Make of this post what you will.
That song really is catchy.