Tag Archives: Music Video

Dance in the Mediated Francophone PostColony

This was originally posted on the blog of PoP Moves, a global organization for popular dance research.

This semester I am teaching a course called Dance in Global Contexts, a general education class for non-majors. In the first week I tried to introduce some of the larger ideas and skill sets that will carry out through the term. We talked particularly about colonialism, and about the impact of missionaries and cartesian dualism on the dance practices of colonized populations. One of the dance forms we discussed is Ori Tahiti, the complex of Tahitian dances that originated from pre-contact Tahiti and have since evolved. In addition to the history–it was banned by both English missionaries and the French colonial agents–one of the reasons it is a useful form for introducing this student population to larger concepts about dance is that while men and women perform together, there is some specific gendered movement vocabulary. For women, there is O’tea, circular movement of the pelvic girdle which Cook Island dancers teasingly call ‘the washing machine.’ For men, there is Pa’oti, a scissoring of bent knees from a first position where the knees come together and re-open.

In addition to a full performance, I wanted to show these movements separately, in order to emphasize their difference as well as to help build skill in movement observation. While the focus of this course is not expressly ‘the popular,’ I try to show a range of visual examples, and mostly what is available are modern performances on YouTube. While looking for videos, I found a tutorial for pa’oti, one of several posted by Tahiti Dance Online.

As I watched, I thought, ‘that song sounds so familiar!’ When the lyrics came in, although softly, I realized it was Belgian singer Stromae’s wildly popular song “Papaoutai.” Stromae, born Paul Van Haver to a Belgian mother and Rwandan father, is a successful dance music artist, well known for integrating diverse sonic influences like American and global hip-hop, Congolese rumba, and Cuban son, as well as for his often challenging lyrics and imagery.* “Papaoutai,” from Stromae’s second album released in summer of 2013 gained global popularity, appearing in the top ten of most European popular music charts, and at number 1 in France and Belgium.

The music video, which echoes the song’s question “Papa, where are you?” features parent-child pairs dancing happily together while Stromae appears as an immobile mannequin to his fictional son. A range of dance forms are presented: Krumper Tight Eyez is the father in a krumping duo, there is a flexing father and son, and two contemporary pairs–two women and another father-son duo. Stromae’s son turfs to get his father’s attention, itself a hybrid form. Together, they freestyle, echoing and re-imaginging the movements of the content pairs he watched. This includes the opening and closing of the legs also seen in Azonto and other afro-diasporic forms.

When I showed the pa’oti video in class, I asked, “does anyone recognize the song?” Only two of fifty students raised their hand. As is so often the case, the United States was largely out of the loop of Stromae’s global popularity. Once they and I had explained the song and who Stromae is, I asked “knowing that, why do you think this song appears in this video?” And a few students were able to work out the connection between the Belgian-Rwandan artist and song and Tahiti’s colonial past. In addition to the popularity and pervasiveness of Stromae’s song in the year the tutorial was made, I can’t help but think there is a little bit of a bilingual wordplay going on, given the sonic similarities between pa’oti and papaoutai.

While the predominate reading of “Papaoutai” is biographical–Van Haver’s father was largely absent while alive, and was a casualty of the Rwandan civil war–I think there is a reading here of the now absent but always present colonial power, father(s) with many children, whose language is left, whose mark on movement is left, a father who played favorites and left fratricide in his wake. And yet through what is on one hand the neocolonialism of global media infrastructure, and on the other the agentive re-mixing and recirculation of meaningful texts, the far flung ‘brothers’ come together on YouTube.

The official music video for “Papaoutai” has been viewed almost 300 million times on YouTube. While YouTube statistics no longer show the geographic distribution of viewers, we can imagine France, Belgium, and their (post)colonies, all in the dark green of dense viewership, their citizens singing and dancing along.

*His song “Carmen,” and the video for it, is a striking, self-reflexive critique of fame in the Internet age.

** A parody of the song criticizing Algerian president Bouteflika circulated in 2014


My (chapter’s) Book is Available for Pre-Order!

My (chapter’s) Book is Available for Pre-Order on Amazon! Click here!

Screen shot 2014-05-09 at 6.40.57 PM

I’m so excited to see a cover and an official release date (although that price, zowey!) for The Oxford Handbook of Dance on The Popular Screen.  My chapter, “Communities of Practice: Active and Affective Viewing of Early Social Dance on the Popular Screen” about the role screen technology (newsreels, film, and TV) played in the development and dissemination of Ragtime dances, the Charleston and the Twist is in the first, historical section of the book.

Are you a librarian? A book buyer? An interested citizen with connections to people like that? Pre-Order now! The book is geared towards college readership but this is the absolute cutting edge scholarship coming out of Dance Studies and useful for any Media Studies or Screen Studies researcher or teacher.

Hurrah!


YouTube Gem: Numbers in Action

My friend, colleague, and current Hip-Hop dance instructor Abby Zbikowski (more on the class soon) has been playing a number of songs this term that are really hype, and after this one had been in my head all day, I decided to use are good friend Google and track (no pun intended, actually) it down.

I just wanted to listen to it, but turns out it has a kind of rad, though subtle, music video. Check it out:

I think what I like about it is it’s self-reflexivity and that it’s not taking itself to seriously. I also LOVE repetition, so I dig that here. My one critique is that it does look a wee bit like ‘fun with Final-Cut’ but actually even with all of the editing tricks I still was surprised/interested for the duration.

Fave moment, probably: seeing him jump through the blocks. You know it’s gonna happen, but you can’t exactly gauge when, so there was a great kinesthetic unease/excitement waiting for it. OOH. Also, the sign “this is just a music video.” Interesting, right? I think any of us in the biz of talking about representation would say that nothing is “just” anything…but there’s something nice about that assertion.

The directors, the collaboration Us have a graphic design background, no big surprise there once you know! It’s got great design, especially in its attention to font, color, and spacing.

…I wanna see $$$$ I wanna see ££££…


VMA 2012 Winners!

For a full rundown of winners across categories, check the MTV site, here. To read my thoughts on the nominees for Best Choreography, go here. I’m not going to get into comments about the actual presentation…suffice it to say it was odd. But anyway,

Best Choreography

went to Chris Brown’s “Turn Up the Music” with choreography by Anwar ‘Flii’ Burton. That was my second place choice, so I’m ok with it. The video also won Best Male Video, and I mean, it’s a fine video, but I don’t find it particularly fascinating or innovative…

Other notables (to me):

Best Editing: Alexander Hammer & Jeremiah Shuff for “Countdown”

Assessment: I have to say I’m a little surprised. On the one hand, the editing is definitely pervasive, at a high difficulty level, and pretty smoothly done. If we’re talking literally who cut things together skillfully, I’m ok. If we’re talking: has a defined coherent cohesive aesthetic…I’m not so sure.

Hilarious Tidbit: In an interview with GQ, “Countdown” director Adria Perry responded to questions about the use of de Keersmaeker’s choreography in part by saying, “Of course, ultimately I’m disappointed that she wasn’t credited on the video because I know it was everyone’s intention from the get-go. But I’m assuming that’s because they were still finishing it the day that it launched and stuff, it was basically an oversight, you know?” [italics added]…note to self, I can finish something at the last minute and still win an award…

It’s weird as all get out, but the editing prowess by Eric Greenburg on “Mercy” by Kanye West, f/ Big Sean, Pusha T, and 2 Chainz is extremely impressive. The editing is so seamless and mind-boggling it makes me a little nauseous, but in a good way (?). For me either “Mercy” or “Somebody That I Used to Know” (see below) would have been good. I think Kanye is still a little bit persona non grata at the VMAs however. Like last year, he got a lot of nods but no wins. Check it out below if you haven’t seen it:

Best Cinematographer/Best Direction: M.I.A. “Bad Girls” cinematography by André Chemetoff, directed by Romain Gavras

Assessment: My chain hits my chest when I’m banging on the dashboard/My chain hits my chest when I’m banging on the radio. –I freaking love this video, in a visceral, the beat is hard, the dessert is hot, she’s filing her nails on the edge of a drifting car type way. It too (like “Where Have You Been”) trades in an Orientalist mish-mosh made possible by M.I.A.’s relative position of power…but I kind of love it. It’s certainly visually stunning and aesthetically cohesive and convincing. I’ve got a post about it sitting in drafts…hopefully I’ll get it out someday.

To be honest, there were a lot of videos nominated across the different categories that I wasn’t familiar with…I guess reading for grad school will do that to you. So, over the next few days I’m going to familiarize myself with the nominees and try to stay more on top of things. I have to say I’m a little dissapointed that the video for Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” didn’t win anything. It was nominated for Most Share-Worthy, Best Editing, and Video of the Year. Not only do I think it’s a gorgeous and innovative concept, but the sheer time-consuming detailed collaborative work that clearly went into it is amazing. Also I am hugely appreciative and admiring of the fact that the whole production team is credited by name in the description box under the YouTube video. Go here to see it!

Thanks for reading, stay tuned! What did you think about the results?


VMA’s 2012–Best Choreography

[Update: Want to know who won? See my post-show assessment here]

Hey! Important event in popular dance tonight—the VMA’s, MTV’s annual music video award show. There’s about 16 categories, so I’m not going to go through all of them, but I thought I’d run you through the 5 videos (well, actually their choreographers) that were nominated for “Best Choreography in a Music Video.” You can see the rundown here.

I’m on my way to a friend’s house to watch the show, so this is just a quick run-through. A little history: the VMA’s started in 1984, and the Choreography category has been awarded every year since (other categories have come and gone.) Michael Jackson’s Thriller (Choreography by Michael Peters) won the first year, and a range of choreographic styles have won since then. See all the winners here.

“Levels”

Performer: Avicii Choreography: Richy Greenfield & Petros Papahadjopoulos Summary: Bored 80s office worker is overcome by energy wavin’ poppin’ and lockin’ through his body + dorky toprock, and guess what, it’s contagious. Surprise: Non-dance surreal lyric interlude. References: Napolean Dynamite, Michael Jackson Big Q: Is freestyling choreography?

“Countdown”

Performer: Beyoncé Choreography: Danielle Polanco, Frank Gatson Jr., Beyoncé & Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (<–DOES ANYONE SEE THAT?!?! Check here and here to see why I’m shocked but it’s a pragmatic move) Thoughts: I have a hard time thinking about this video; on one hand it’s totally incoherent as its own aesthetic production, on the other hand the original de Keersmaeker choreography is on beyond gorgeous…I think one of my friends put this perfectly; “Countdown” belongs in the ‘adapted screenplay’ category, not ‘original’ (although I’m not sure they adapted it all that effectively…)

“Turn Up the Music

Performer: Chris Brown Choreography: Anwar ‘Flii’ Burton Summary: Chris Brown takes a futuristic cab to a dance party in the street…and other ambiguous music video spaces. Styles: Unison House/New Jack Swing plus that Afro-Carribean elasticity swag that all the cool kids are doing. References: MJ meets Usher meets Men In Black meets Gene Kelly. Verdict:  Impressively high energy, very of-the-moment, virtuosic performance. 

“Dance Again”

Performer: Jennifer Lopez f/ Pitbull Choreography: JR Taylor Summary: Orgiastic art deco meets the title scene of GoldfingerVerdict: Wait, there was choreography? Oh, you mean the awkward Dancesport moment in the middle? Big Q: How do you evaluate choreography if the dancing is terrible? But seriously, the mass squirming is way more gorgeous than any of the ‘dancing’…and I like JLo. Sidenote:  the ads that play before this video are always in Spanish!

 

“Where Have You Been”

Performer: Rihanna Choreography: Hi-Hat (amazing and prolific) Summary: Rihanna as Mami Wata/Orientalist wet dream. Styles: Hip/House, the afro-funk styles like Kwaito, Azonto, Kuduro, with hints of Belly Dance and traditional West African movement; it gets into the hip flexors in the lushest most fantastic range of motion. References: Anaconda, Indiana Jones, Indian and Aboriginal iconography. Big Q: I’ve been meaning to write about this for a long time and there’s a lot to say, but briefly put, can essentialist and exotic symbolism and iconography be reclaimed reproductively by/for postcolonial bodies?

Drumroll…

Despite some political hesitations, I pick “Where have You Been”–most innovative, varied, rich choreography, and the most well performed (although I know that’s technically not the category.) 

What do you think!? We’ll find out soon. Happy Watching!

[Update: Want to know who won? See my post-show assessment here]


OMG! FYI/WTF?!: Hands Up in the Air

A friend of mine just posted the video for “Hands Up in the Air” by Timbaland, ft. Ne-yo on Facebook, and I thought I’d check it out. Parts of the song as well as some of the footage were familiar to me, and maybe are to you, from previews for Step Up: Revolution. (There are various versions but this is one of the most in-depth.)

Now watch the video:

Putting aside the movie for a moment and looking at the music video, can I just say…WHAT!? If I were the director I would be embarrassed. The video is completely incoherent, possibly due to its attempt to be simultaneously autonomous and an advertisement for the movie. I am reserving judgment on the actual song until I hear it again, but it seems to have a somewhat similar incoherence…though I’m not a music buff.

This is certainly not the first time that specific songs have been tightly connected to dance movies–or even the first time that clips from the movie have appeared in the music video for the song (although I can’t think of any specific instances and I’m trying to write this quickly so I don’t abandon it like the other posts in my drafts folder). But here’s one of my favorite songs that was highly connected with Step Up 2–“Church” by T-Pain.

I actually haven’t seen the second Step Up, but you can see that this video has a sort of Step Up/Dance film kind of aesthetic, without referencing the actually scene the song was used in, and it’s all in a coherent setting.

As far as “Hands Up in the Air” goes…it’s not that it’s unusual to cut between different settings, scenarios, or even moods within a single video. Nor do I ascribe to some kind of strictly narrative genre of music video. But I do hope for a general theme or aesthetic that serves to hold disjointed editing and footage together. What we have here instead is complete disjunction; neither the same people, movement, costumes, settings, nor even type of footage recur or offer a throughline.

What do I mean by type of footage? Well, hopefully you can see it yourself in that video, but as an example, think about how different it is to watch a sit com than to see a movie in the theater, or even between SD and HD digital footage, let alone a 35mm or 16mm film camera.

In switching between the footage from the film and the new video footage, they’re mixing different types/quality of footage, and it just looks silly, if you ask me. In the end it’s functional neither as an advertisement for the movie nor as one for the song and artists it promotes. It does show how interconnected our media is, though I am curious about the lack of overt labeling of the song’s connection to the movie.

Womp womp.

Thoughts on the movie to follow, hopefully soon!


OMG! FYI: ASA

In an attempt to circulate good things in the world, publish more frequently here, and in turn get more traffic which in turn helps the above, I’m starting a category I’m going to call “OMG! FYI:” which will be brief posts featuring informal musings on things I like, and am not necessarily thinking critically about (although we should always be thinking critically).

For today, that’s this excellent feel-good vid, Nigerian-born singer Asa’s “Why Can’t We.” I’m so behind the times, it came out in May, but a friend just turned me on to it as a pick-me-up, and boy was it effective. …and affective. [Read about affect basically meaning emotionally impactful, here]. I didn’t know about Asa at all before today but you can read about her, as I did, on her Facebook page or her website. Can’t wait to find out more about her and her team!

Asa: “Why Can’t We”

Things That Are Awesome about This Video: (aka, why I picked the tags I did)

  • The color!!! What a gorgeous palette. On close inspection you can see the majority of the frame is filled with greys and neutrals, but it’s the pinks and yellows that really stay with you! (one could say they pop! haha, get it? Also, actually, just noticing this now, very similar to this blog…)
  • The song. It’s happy sounding. I’m trying to learn more about music so I know why it’s happy sounding, other than the lyrics. I think it has something to do with what I associate that instrumentation with, as well as the overall mood/sonority/timbre? [Those are words that one uses for music…right? Help in the comments SVP!]
  • The dancing! First, that there is dancing. Second, I just finished teaching about American Bandstand and Soul Train in the lecture course I teach. And this is a lovely abstraction of the sets and space of those shows. But it also uses the movement from those shows, particularly Soul Train, showing them in both their historical and current forms. Look out for Locking, Popping, some New Jack Swing era dances (Running Man and others), and a lot of new, current dance flavor.
  • I love Asa’s style! I would wear every outfit she wears in this video; the silhouettes are a perfect balance of contemporary and retro, completely flattering, and just crazy enough to be gorgeous. Plus, LOVE her hair, her glasses, and…well everything.
  • err…any interpretations or sentiments on the TV character at the beginning? (and could someone identify the language, I’m having trouble.) My guess is that he’s referencing another song of hers, and/or that he and the TV index her global circulation. But…it makes me slightly uncomfortable.

I think, as I sort of alluded to above, I also like this video because I associate it with other videos/media/experiences. The two below are the most resonant:

Soul Train Line 1973

This is an amazing find from 1973 which I actually just stumbled upon, and seems to have been uploaded earlier this month following Don Cornelius’s tragic suicide; amazing first and foremost because Cornelius came down the line himself! Which he had never done before and I don’t think ever did after. But also wonderful for its range of styles presented–it’s crazy to look at the footage from ST and see the kernels of many of the genres we have today–I even saw some bonebreaking/flexing!

And, this:

Prom Scene, Footloose (1984) [no video available currently]

Which, of course, is strongly influenced by Soul Train, as well as the introduction of b-boying into the movement vocabulary and consciousness of middle America through various breaking films that came out in those years, including Wild Style (1983), Flashdance (1983), Beat Street (1984), Breakin,’ and Breakin’ 2 (1984).

Signing Off!

Well. That was much more involved than I anticipated. I’ve got four posts sitting in the draft pile, better just get them out so you can read them! Thanks for reading, this has been an installment of “OMG! FYI:” stay tuned.