Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - VMA Nominees

Look, I don't make the rules.

For HMWYBS nor for MTV's VMA Awards. The VMAs have always been somewhat arbitrary (consider: neither Michael NOR Janet Jackson has EVER won Video of the Year, and Madonna has only won ONCE), but it used to be that actual merit, as opposed to popularity, actually did play a role in nominations and wins (or maybe we just had better taste in the 80s and 90s?). Nowadays, though, they are primarily about spreading the wealth; nominating and awarding as many (popular) people as possible. I don't really understand this, since MTV barely even plays music videos anymore (if at all), so what do they care if a starlet gets pissed off?


This year's VMA nominees for Best Cinematography, which Nathaniel has asked us to give the HMWYBS treatment to this week, are neither particularly strong nor particularly weak. I'm hard pressed to choose which one I would award (although there's one that I know I wouldn't), but not because they're all of top quality. It's more that most of them strike me as being more... competently lensed, as opposed to strikingly or evocatively so. They're all well-shot, but none are really inspiring. Which is more frustrating the more I think about it: Music videos are supposed to be visual representations of a song. So why aren't more of these more visually exciting or compelling? And why on Earth was the one that is MOST compelling not even nominated for Video of the Year?

But I digress.

Anyway, my favorite shots were mostly pretty easy to pick out.

"Bad Blood" (Taylor Swift, Joseph Kahn, dir.)
Makes me giggle. I kind of find this video stupid. I mean, good on Taylor for making with the grrrrl power like it's the 90s, and recruiting a million stars to do her bidding, but giving each of them roughly five seconds of screentime? Why even bother?  I suppose the clip is supposed to make a statement about how women are encouraged by the industry to be at each other's throats, but then shuns them when they do? Or something? It's typically slick for director Joseph Kahn, but tough to differentiate in look from any number of his other videos (particularly Britney Spears's similarly future-esque "Hold It Against Me"). Anyway, I love how this moment perfectly says "I am SO NOT a little girl anymore," with the perfect combination of humor and menace. (I should note that I actually kind of LOVE Taylor Swift and her music, but the girl does NOT put out good music videos, other than "Shake It Off")

"Never Catch Me" (Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar, Hiro Murai, dir.)
I think I like this one and how it relates to the song a lot, but I'm not really a rap fan and haven't REALLY listened to the song enough to know. But what I love most about the video (other than those two FABULOUS dancin' kids) is how it tips its hand as to what is going on. In this shot, you can see dead dancing kid in the background, out of focus, and a parishioner at the funeral looking into the distance, clearly not seeing the performance. Before this, especially with the gospel choir clapping hands, it's hard to tell if the kids are actually being revived or if they're ghosts or what. This is exactly the kind of subtle shot that more music videos (hell, even more films) could use.

"Left Hand Free" (alt-J, Ryan Staake, dir.)
I kind of can't stand this song, and the clip did absolutely nothing to make me change my mind, much less make a case for itself getting a nomination for cinematography. But I like pictures of people taking pictures of things, and I love how the two girls in this shot could have absolutely any type of relationship you want to read into it - friends, sisters, lovers... could be anything.

"Thinking Out Loud" (Ed Sheeran, Emil Nava, dir.)
Look, Ed Sheeran is an annoying little ginger hobbit, but he can occasionally write a good song, and he clearly worked his ass off to get this NappyTabs choreography looking good. The clip is lit really, REALLY well, but I could write a whole separate entry about how annoyingly cliché this choreography is in the post-So You Think You Can Dance world (PS - I haven't been watching this season because I've had better things to do with my evenings. Should I be? I almost feel bad). I mean, I rolled my eyes a few times, it's that annoying. But this was the only nominee for which I had multiple choices of Best Shot, despite having some of the worst editing in a dance-heavy clip I've seen in quite some time. What I like about this one is how the lighting goes from light to dark to light again just based on the dacners' movement and the camera position, to paint a picture of love that's more complex than the simple, sweet lyrics present.

"Two Weeks" (FKA twigs, Nabil Elderkin, dir.)
As far as one-take wonders go, this is one of the most striking ones in a long while, with Twigs (a former backup dancer) giving us some Aaliyah, Queen of the Damned realness, along with about fifteen other little Twigs around her, dancing, pouring water into a pool, or... whatever it is those ones in white are doing. It's an oblique interpretation of the lyrics to basically turn her into a goddess  warning you not to go around worshiping any others but her, but it's a pretty fucking fierce one, and to do it all in one take with multiple iterations of her in different positions is hella ballsy. BUT, it's one of those videos that has a great concept and absolutely NOTHING ELSE. Doing it in one take matches the song's mysterious, hypnotic pull, but that's the cinematography. That's it. Repeat multiple times with Twigs in a different place, and you've got yourself one of the most striking videos in ages. As an introduction to an artist who can be difficult to say the least, it's fabulous, presenting exactly who she is in a package that's (relatively) easy to digest and beautiful to look at - it pulls you in and you want to know more, listen more, watch more. But in the end, cool as it is, there's not much THERE there. I can't pick a single moment that's my favorite, but the standard YouTube preview image presents a pretty great picture. If you can only watch one of these videos, this is the one I would recommend, since it's easily the most unique (both aurally and visually).

BONUS: "Two Weeks", with its heavy, impactful use of the notorious f-word, and weird, icy-hypnotic pulse, seems like a song that would be impossible to pull off in a late night talk show performance. But DAMN if Twigs didn't pull out one of the greatest televised performances I've ever seen with this one for Jimmy Fallon. It's stunning, and if possible, it's even more hypnotic to watch than the music video.


  1. Was the Ed Sheeran video really choreographed by NappyTabs? If so, cool.

    As for SYTYCD, I didn't see any pre-Top 20 episodes but I couldn't not watch and you know what, they still have good dancers despite this silly Street vs. Stage thing they have going on. I DVR the episodes and entirely skip judges comments/commercials. Makes for a far more pleasurable viewing experience.

    1. Believe it or not, yest it was! I watched the behind the scenes video on YouTube to see who did the choreography and I was shocked at first and then totally not surprised at all.

      Yeah, I think skipping judge comments is the only way to really enjoy SYTYCD any more since they only have one articulate dancer on the panel (Paula Abdul is fine since Mary Murphy is gone, but Jason Derulo? REALLY?!?)