28 June 2011

Dueling Banjos: GaGa's "The Edge of Glory" vs. Katy's "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)"

During my very heavy daily pop culture intake, I noticed some similarities between two major videos circling around from both of our Greatest Pop Queens, Katy Perry and Lady GaGa (go cry your glitter away, Ke$ha). Lady GaGa's "The Edge of Glory" is a departure from her usual insanity, it's stripped down, elegant and boosts the merit of a good song. Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) is an 8-minute long bad 80s flashback with all the requisite bad acting and awkward moments that should put no dent in an insane career this year. Let's start the duel!

Dee do dee do dee dum do dee dum

dum dee dum dum do do dum dee do

dum dum...whatever

There is this 80s obsession with both of these songs, though unique in distinction. GaGa has presented an transposition of the decade by making something that looks like it could have sprung from it. The neon lights, the leather, the solitary street dancing evokes "Billie Jean" mixed with "Express Yourself." If we look at two other videos released this week, you can notice a handful of contemporary trends that "The Edge of Glory" lacks: 1) Aggression, 2) CGI and 3) a plot. GaGa has thrown away all the innovations that she had started with epics like "Telephone," "Alejandro" and "Judas" - the return to the longform video, the complex plotting and themes and an escalating sense of purpose and self-congratulation. "The Edge of Glory" thus slides perfectly in sequence to what GaGa seeks to attain: unpredictability along with refusal to be pinned down into a stereotype or genre.

The only thing shining through "The Edge of Glory" is GaGa's obsession with the 80s. Her whole Born this Way (2011) album is musically obsessed with the 80s and this video is no different. Smoke fills the streets in monochromatic blues and pinks and GaGa prances around a limited set, only interrupted by Clarence Clemons (who passed away just ten days ago) blasting some Sax on a stoop. The problem with GaGa imitating Madonna is that it ruins both of their originality. Madonna used to change her look and style all the time, it's part of what made her interesting and an attention-grabbing icon. Of course nowadays the only way to grab attention is to wear Meat Dresses and Giant Egg Shells (doesn't Weird Al in drag look creepily like Jenna Krakowski [or at least Will Forte impersonating her character on 30 Rock]?). Copying Madonna tends to wreck them both. Then again, it's really only as bad as Madonna began to rip off Marilyn Monroe.

Anyway, while GaGa completely steeps herself in 80s nostalgia through basic themes and emulation, Katy doesn't really get farther than simple homage. The video of "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" contains tons of really obvious 80s tropes, from the clothing style to the house party...actually that's about it. It does revolve around this Suburban World that was more prevalent in the 1980s via flicks like Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) and...well, just about any John Hughes movie. It's 80s but only really on the surface. "Last Friday Night" seems like it's jumping on the bandwagon zeitgeist in almost every possible way, which is a likely reason that "The Edge of Glory" has only had around 11,000,000 views to "Last Friday Night's" 35,000,000 in roughly the same timespan. GaGa videos typically average over 100,000,000 lifetime and should do better than this in their first two weeks. It's a tough vid to get into though, it doesn't require many repeat viewings to process the entire message.

"Last Friday Night" is positioned beautifully in the zeitgeist. It's basically a good song for Fridays to answer against Rebecca Black the way "California Gurls" answered "Empire State of Mind" on behalf of the West Coast. Naturally Rebecca appears herself in the "Last Friday Night" video as the official Queen of Friday who must teach the horrible looking Kathy Beth Terry (who looks and acts retarded by the way, another departure from Katy's boobs on constant display. Oh there they go. Aw c'mon, they kept the braces on her?!). Anyone notice Rebecca actually looks pretty good and cute in this vid? Like, she looks better than Katy for most of it? Wait, why the fuck are they playing a Kinect featuring 70s style avatars? This vid really makes Katy into an absolute attention whore even if that isn't her stated intention. Bullshit, by the way. And Clarence Clemons really does play mean 80s Sax on that GaGa vid. The real Sax for "Last Friday Night" is Lenny Pickett. And Katy is 26, GaGa is 25, how come the latter is the one that seems years ahead of her time already?

This is a strange analogy, but I think of these two videos like two of my favourite movies that came out last year, MacGruber (2010) and Hot Tub Time Machine (2010). MacGruber sought to emulate 80s action movies, for viewers to place it among the best there is - satirically of course. It's 80s nature springs from its own internal world. Hot Tub Time Machine's 80s Nostalgia is externally generated - it's about clashing cultures across time periods with successful homage and commentary. "The Edge of Glory" is MacGruber and "Last Friday Night" is Hot Tub Time Machine, but in this case the commentary fails beyond surface level annoyance rather than generational insight (and hilarity! Ugh! Did you have pineapple today?!).

Oh and I still have no idea why everyone loves the 80s so much. I hate the fucking 80s. Let's bring back some 90s! Z-Bots and Legends of the Hidden Temple! Ugh that decade also sucks.

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