“When I Grow Up,” Pussycat Dolls; “I’m Good, I’m Gone,” Lykke Li; and “So What,” Pink.
Sean is in the last throes of a monstrously time-consuming project for work that has kept him in the office on nights, weekends, and basically every other waking moment. That’s left me with a lot of quality time alone with our cats, Tess and Luna (who have rewarded me for my loving attention by chewing up the venetian blinds), so I figure this is as good a time as any to indulge in music videos. Whee!
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“When I Grow Up,” Pussycat Dolls.
No one who knows me will be surprised to learn that I am not a fan of the Pussycat Dolls. (I can’t even stand the name. Sexualizing one symbol of girlhood wasn’t enough, huh? They just had to tack two together, no matter how stupid and meaningless the result.) But despite my dislike, I truly can’t get that worked up over the group. It’s too disposable, too talentless, too forgettable—just a putrid symptom of a wider plague, not a disease itself. The Pussycat Dolls aren’t worth the energy of outrage. Why bother?
Their latest single, “When I Grow Up,” is obnoxious in all the usual ways: annoying hooks, patently unreal “singing,” insipid lyrics, the blithe definition of a woman’s sexuality as something that is bestowed through the attentions of others, not something that grows out of her own desire and passion. Even old-fashioned narcissism is better than that needy, Tila Tequila–style garbage.
But whatever. What gets me is that the recurring line—after all the wanting to grow up to be a famous object of lust and envy—is “Be careful what you wish for ‘cause you just might get it.” I certainly would agree that the wishes the Dolls are expressing represent a precarious route to happiness, at best, but nothing else about the video suggests any ambivalence, any evidence at all that it’s not, like, totally cool to be a Pussycat Doll. So what the hell is that line about? It’s such a stupid, empty gesture, but given how stupid and empty the group itself is, I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me.
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“I’m Good, I’m Gone,” Lykke Li.
Lykke Li displays enough nonchalant weirdness in the video for “I’m Good, I’m Gone” to impress even Björk, the longstanding empress of weirdness, which is, of course, why I love the little Swedish pop princess. What’s not to love? Dancing school marms, muscle-builders powered white, senior citizens singing and doing the robot, twin girls on holiday from the hotel in The Shining, stop-motion animation of a crowd doing the backstroke down a wide hallway—it’s awesome.
Given the bleak institutional setting and the lyrics about “working a sweat” and “breaking my back” to “make butter for my piece of bun,” I guess it might all be a Big Metaphor for the endless labor required by capitalist economies (why not?), but the music is too fun to take too seriously. I adore the bass line in the piano, the wood-block percussion, the occasional cascading strings, and Lykke Li’s own pure voice and Scandinavian accent. It’s fun and cute and catchy.
And then she herself starts to dance—strangely boneless moves accented by hunched shoulders and the concentrated frown of an over-serious toddler—and I love her all the more. As odd as her dancing is, it’s not amateurish—she moves like someone who knows exactly what she’s doing—and it, too, is weirdly hypnotic. I’ve watched this video about a dozen times over the past month, and I’m still can’t imagine being bored with it.
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“So What,” Pink.
First, I have to admit that I’m embarrassingly fond of Pink, even now that she no longer actually dyes her hair neon pink, the goofy literalism of which always cracked me up. With the exception of “God Is a DJ” (which I love, God help me), I’m not particularly partial to her music or even all that familiar with it, but her awkward, blunt, in-your-face manner strikes me as sort of endearing. I don’t know. I just like her.
Her new video fascinates me. I haven’t seen such open references to a real-life breakup in a music video since Justin Timberlake’s post-Britney “Cry Me a River” (which I also kind of love—the unabashed creepiness is mesmerizing), and yet despite the true-life subject matter, “So What” has a startling ambiguity to it. Between lyrics and video imagery, it crashes together three different attitudes toward Pink’s divorce: The lyrics are snarly and spiteful but not that hurt and always in control. Most of the video, on the other hand, depicts a splashy tabloid-scale emotional breakdown, complete with distraught sobs and unhinged craziness. And that narrative is interrupted by simple, unadorned shots of the singer with her ex-husband, sadly but affectionately reaching some kind of rapprochement—not reconciliation, certainly, but understanding, acceptance.
The gaudy breakdown stuff definitely satirizes celebrity culture (Pink has a history of that), but it’s not all scorn. The scene in which Pink takes a chainsaw to a tree carved with her name and her ex-husband’s, only to collapse in tears on the tool’s handle, holds a twinge of poignancy. And the scene in which she snaps at a newlywed couple vividly evokes how heartbreaking it can be to witness other people’s happiness and hope when you yourself are in pain.
I’m sure Pink and her ex-husband aspire to and perhaps even attain the restrained maturity of their scenes together, but what makes the video so interesting is that all the images—and the lyrics, too—seem to hold some degree of truth. The end of a relationship is messy, inspiring anger and sadness and forbearance, all tinged with the emotional residue of what once was there. Despite the on-the-nose mockery of breakups played out in front of paparazzi lenses, “So What” feels more universal than that. The rest of us might not be able to relate to the red-carpet shenanigans, but the emotional tumult on display is all too recognizable.