A looooooong time ago in what only feels like a distant galaxy, MTV played music videos. The Buggles and their beautiful warning, “Video Killed The Radio Star,” was the first of many, a doorway to a surprising new world of possibility. “Thriller,” “Take On Me,” and “Buddy Holly” were the best high concept short films, and shone brightly among the mindless concert footage and tour clips. Now, there are no videos. There is Catfish, Ridiculousness, Challenge, Teen Mom, and the unholy sequels of the Hills and Jersey Shore. Maybe there’s more, who knows? The only music is the 8 seconds in and out of break and to soundtrack long pensive drives.
I loved music videos and I’m really sorry they’re nearly extinct. Only nearly, because I can still see an hour of them every day on the Planet Fitness corporate channel on the informational (time, temperature, local advertisements, promotions, etc) tv’s.
Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” though fairly old, is still on a pretty tight rotation, which means I see it 3 or 4 times a week. The song isn’t great but it’s not terrible – better now that I know most of the words and can sing along.
“Yeah, breakfast at Tiffany’s and bottles of bubbles. Girls with tattoos who like getting in trouble. Lashes and diamonds, ATM machines. Buy myself all of my favorite things (yeah)…My wrist, stop watchin’, my neck is flossin’. Make big deposits, my gloss is poppin’. You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it. I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it (yeah). I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it. I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it. You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it. I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it (yeah)”
I recognize that there’s something absurd about a man like me singing these words, but just because I have no idea what it means to have a neck that is flossin’ or a gloss that is ‘poppin’ doesn’t mean mine isn’t, right?
Anyway. (What’s next isn’t new or earth-shattering, but it is worthy of our attention and lament.)
MTV was invented as a vehicle to move product – like a big, shiny bulletin board of advertisements. The difference (and I can’t pinpoint when it happened…probably Madonna, I suppose) is that the product was the music: albums, singles, t-shirts, concert tickets, posters. Now, Ariana Grande’s songs (we can’t even talk about albums, NOBODY but me buys albums anymore) are not the point at all. As far as I can tell, the video for “7 Rings” is an ad for an internet porn site. It’s not a commercial for a song, it’s a commercial for only 1 aspect of Ariana Grande, her sexuality.
I’m not here to say what she’s doing is wrong, or why she’s doing them is wrong (or even if there’s even such a thing as right & wrong in pop superstardom.) She’s an adult. What I am here to say is that I believe that Ariana Grande is a smart, strong, funny, unbelievably talented woman, a daughter, sister, who has opinions on politics and spirituality, who loves her parents, grandparents, is loyal and generous to the friends she had before she was famous, still mourns the breakup of her marriage, laughs too loudly sometimes and in places she might not talk about openly is insecure and feels totally inadequate. I believe these things about her because I believe these things about everyone.
When she is reduced (as she is in the video) to only the 1 part of herself that is deemed important to people like me and you, it minimizes her AND it minimizes us – as if we are only capable of the most obvious, least nuanced understanding of another human being. No one is just one thing. We are each the most wonderful mosaics. When we categorize another based on just one part of their humanity – whether it is race, sex, ethnicity, height, weight, occupation, whether they are left-handed, or whether or not they are ‘hot’ – it wrongly implies that that isolated superficial label is all we are. As I watched “7 Rings,” I wondered if/when she is no longer what music executives brand ‘sexy,’ will her talent still be valuable? Would she still be beautiful?
I mostly like to listen to songwriters and read magazines and bios and liner notes because I’ve always care about who is making the music; who they are, where they come from and what they are all about. They are more than pictures, more than notes, more than songs and certainly more than genitalia.
I know, it’s probably an old-fashioned notion and there probably isn’t much room to bring this up without being branded something or other. And maybe I am that something or other. Maybe. But I am absolutely, positively much more.