Tag Archives: Britney Spears

Top Ten Music Videos of 2008

Though there is no cultural center of music video exhibition anymore (MTV’s venerable Total Request Live closed up shop this year), the music video as a form is alive and well. You just have to seek them out on YouTube. The following are my favorites from the last year:

10) Justice, “Stress”: It’s a manic song from French dance genius Justice, and it’s a suitably manic video.

9) Radiohead, “House of Cards”: This video was made not with lights, but lasers!

8) Britney Spears, “Circus”: After a string of misfire videos, Brit Brit returns to form with this stylistically cohesive, energetic video.

7) Bjork, “Wanderlust”: Bjork is crazy. Nothing new there. But this Where the Wild Things Are-esque video is her strangest video yet.

6) Vampire Weekend, “Oxford Comma”: It’s a total Wes Anderson knockoff, but I’m okay with that!

5) M83, “Kim and Jessie”: Not to be confused with that abysmal sitcom “Kath and Kim”…

4) Weezer, “Pork and Beans”: A fitting homage to the short history of viral video sensations.

3) Kanye West, “Heartless”: Kanye sure does love his Pop Art!

2) Beyonce, “Single Ladies”: This is how dance videos should look. And that metallic hand!

1) Sam Amidon, “Saro”: Repurposed archival and vintage American footage creates the perfect visual landscape to this deeply evocative song.

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Have You Seen His Childhood?

On August 29, Michael Jackson celebrated his 50th birthday. It was a low key affair, with the King of Pop hanging out with his three kids, eating candy, giggling, “watching cartoons” and “just relaxing.” No Macaulay Culkin, no Elizabeth Taylor, no Chris Tucker. Just Michael and his kids (Prince Michael, Paris, and Prince Michael II). Just like a normal family.

It’s crazy to think that Michael, the kid who not so many years ago blew our minds with the insane dancing of “Thriller” and “Beat It” and repeatedly set records with album sales, is now a half century old (joining Madonna and Prince, who also turned 50 this year), living in relative obscurity somewhere in Bahrain (and recently Las Vegas), supposedly working on a new album. Will he ever return to the glory days again?

Probably not; not in this day and age when the new royals of pop are Disney Channel stars (Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, etc) or otherwise talentless prefab teen-pop confections. Being a superstar is not about talent anymore; it’s about being cross-marketable and cute. Michael Jackson was once adorable (back in the Jackson 5 days), but now he is a haunting, disturbingly post-human specter. I’ll be surprised if he ever has a hit record again.

It’s funny what happens to pop stars after they peak, after they grow up. We’ve already watched Britney loose her grip on reality after she left her teenybopper days behind; Lindsay Lohan is fast on her heals. These are the kids who were once the icons of sugar-pop, Disney kitsch. Now they are grown up and trying to remain relevant, often to little success (at least Britney seems to be on a semi-upswing… she’s readying a new single and staying out of the headlines).

Alas, it must be immensely disorienting for a person to reach such high levels of fame and fortune at such a young age. When you reach the top before you are 20, where do you go from there? Perhaps this is why aging popstars are always trying so hard to be edgy and new, to remain in the public consciousness. Did you see Christina Aguilera at the VMA’s? Her remix performance of “Genie in the Bottle” was kind of cool, but does anyone really care about her anymore, when there are new singers like Rihanna and Jordan Sparks to worry about? And can anyone really believe that the New Kids on the Block have reunited and attempted a comeback? Is there anything sadder than that?

Actually, I shouldn’t pity these people. I’m sure I’ll be like them one day, trying to remain cool and relevant even when I’m clearly out of touch. I already feel that way, actually. Neither I nor Michael Jackson will ever again be as cool as the Jonas Brothers are now…

Transmedia Superstars

When Scarlett Johansson announced she was going to release an album of Tom Waits cover songs, she was just the latest in a long line of celebrities who have “crossed over” from one media form to another—in her case, film to music. Celebs have been doing this for a long time, but these days it is happening with increasing frequency, it seems. Indeed, the “media-specific” star is pretty much dead; instead, we have “transmedia” superstars—those stars who transcend media forms and disseminate their personality in a multiplicity of forms and outlets.

It’s easy to see why this type of star is increasingly the norm. It has to do with shifts in the industrial landscape of Hollywood and the entertainment business. In a word: conglomeration. Disney was the first Hollywood “major” to introduce the concept of horizontal-integration back in the 50s, when it began cross-promoting Disney’s brand on television, in film, and in theme parks, earning money from each but also from the synergistic effects of the whole enterprise. Then in the 80s, government deregulation paved the way for more and more entertainmnent companies to combine and form massive conglomerates, so that one parent company (Viacom, for example) had control over film companies, TV channels (both network and cable), record companies, book publishers, etc. The result was an explosion of cross-promotion and intertextual dialogues: films based on television shows, television shows featuring the music by so-and-so, books based on films, etc… Throw in the Internet and it all adds up to a convergence in which media forms more fluidly relate to each other, telling the same stories just in different, though complimentary, ways.

Success in this sort of environment lives and dies on the strength of brand—namely brands that are strong enough to thrive on a multitude of media platforms (think The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, or Sex and the City)—and what better brands are there than celebrities? When you see a celebrity’s name on a movie poster, you know what that movie will offer. Quentin Tarantino is a brand. So is Beyonce. And Oprah, well, she’s the mother of all celeb brands.

For these celeb-brands, it makes sense (both for themselves and for the industries that finance them) to expand to as many media forms as possible. If I’m Oprah and I know millions of people will do whatever it is I do (or say), why not have a TV show, an entire TV channel, a magazine, some made-for-TV movies, a book club brand, and so on… In this day and age, there are no longer “movie stars” or “TV stars” as much as there are just “stars”… famous people with their hands in a little bit of everything.

American Idol epitomizes this whole idea. The point of the show isn’t so much to make music stars as it is to make stars. It’s a show about how to become famous; and once famous, its offspring can make money in a variety of ways. Idol alums have sold a lot of records, obviously, but they’ve also made a lot of money for FOX as TV stars, and some of them have become movie stars (Jennifer Hudson), Broadway stars (Clay Aiken, Tamyra Gray), and so on…

Obviously some transmedia careers are better than others, and some “brands” are just not strong enough to thrive in multiple platforms (and sometimes the talent isn’t there). As an example of this whole phenomenon, here’s my list of the best and worst of the transmedia superstars:

Best

Beyonce – Media conquered: music, movies, fashion, Jay-Z
Miley Cyrus – Media conquered: music, television, movies, live concerts, theme parks, awards shows, magazine covers, basically the whole world.
Justin Timberlake – Media conquered: music, movies (he’s actually a very good actor), MTV.
Oprah – Media conquered: everything imaginable.
Jared Leto – Just kidding! Though he has been in some good movies (Fight Club, Requiem for a Dream) and good TV shows (My So-Called Life), his rock band (30 Seconds to Mars) is pretty terrible.

Worst
Jewel – Media conquered: music. Media failures: movies (she wasn’t bad in Ang Lee’s Ride With the Devil, but it was totally a one-and-done for her as an actress), poetry (A Night Without Armor, anyone?).
Britney Spears – Media conquered: music. Media failures: movies (Um… Crossroads), television (Britney and Kevin: Chaotic was a disaster, though she was pretty good on How I Met Your Mother), motherhood…
Paris Hilton – Media conquered: nightclubs, television (The Simple Life), adult video, prison. Media failures: music (one and done with the self-titled Paris), movies (House of Wax), and general classiness.