In promotion of their new (and pretty damn great) Cloud Drive streaming media service, Amazon was offering Lady Gaga’s new record Born This Way for just 99 cents. Now, I’ve never been the biggest fan of her music, but I thought I may as well own a complete record to give her a fair chance — you know, seeing as how she’s one of the most popular artists in the world.
Disappointingly, I wasn’t won over by this record. Instead, I found it even more cloyingly campy and difficult to listen to than I anticipated. It seems I’m just not cut out to be one of Gaga’s Little Monsters.
In disproportion to my interest in her actual music, it is telling that I have now written three posts on Gaga. In fact, I have always admired Lady Gaga as an art director and performer. I think that she and her team come up with some of the catchiest, strangest, most referentially brilliant props and performance conceits in modern memory (her meat dress and cigarette sunglasses come to mind). Now, I don’t find the becycled cover of Born This Way to be brilliant, exactly, but I was pleased that it recalled one of my favorite old pinball machines, Centaur. Back when I first saw the straight-out-of-the-80s Centaur machine at a bar in Seattle, I remember thinking the concept of a centaur being half-man and half-motorcycle was funny but strangely compelling. Would this form factor be a gift or a curse? It’s difficult to tell…
…and now I’m thinking the cover just might be kinda brilliant — an aptly odd metaphor for the whole pop-machine Gaga identity whirlwind… Damn! She got me again!
Perhaps the only question that remains is: who wore it better?
There is a whole lot of product placement going on in the new long-form music video for Telephone from Lady Gaga and Beyonce. Virgin Mobile, Diet Coke, Beats (by Dr. Dre) Headphones, Chanel, Polaroid, Wonder Bread, and Miracle Whip(???) are all featured prominently within the Quentin Tarantino-styled narrative. Oddly enough, most of these product placements make a bizarre sort of sense in an artistically contextual kind of way. Let’s review:
POLAROID – Polaroid has hired Lady Gaga as a Creative Director for the company — so the fact that we are treated to Gaga taking a bunch of tiny instant photos of Beyonce (contractually) follows. However, the appearance of a full-screen Polaroid brand logo on a photobooth outside the diner at the end of the video was less gracefully implemented. As an aside, this partnership has the potential to be rad. Nice one, Polaroid execs!
DIET COKE – This was my favorite brand placement in the video. The appearance of empty cans of Diet Coke as impromptu prison-style hair rollers in Gaga’s hair is one of the most creative and inventive examples of product placement in recent memory. It’s sort of a classically feminine version of a shiv. Since we never explicitly see the Coke logo, I wonder if Gaga got paid for this one – but in a just world, she certainly would have been.
VIRGIN MOBILE – I get that Gaga has (rightfully) built up a cache of credibility in the realm of music videos and concert appearances (if not with her actual music) – but I am impressed that this cache is strong enough that Virgin Mobile would acquiesce to their logo being in the same shot as Gaga stroking the crotch of a butch lesbian in the yard of a prison. My guess is that Richard Branson and his millionaire buddies are just out to prove they’re down to party, after all.
(A side not on this one… ha ha… Virgin Mobile = virgin = ironic = good joke. Too bad that Twilight: New Moon beat them to it. )
CHANEL – Ooh! Lady Gaga is wearing Chanel sunglasses! Meh. The Haus of Gaga-designed actively smoking cigarette glasses were cooler.
WONDER BREAD – This is one of those WTF!? moments in advertising. I get that Wonder Bread is associated with lower income individuals, who are associated loosely with criminal acts, which is associated with whipping up a batch of poison, but I wouldn’t imagine that the Gaga image would do much to sell Wonder Bread, and the brand’s appearance in this video in the same kitchen with food that kills people doesn’t seem like a smart PR move, from where I’m standing.
MIRACLE WHIP – All my misgivings about the appearance of Wonder Bread in this video also apply to Miracle Whip, only double. It just doesn’t make sense. The only saving grace, in my mind, is that Miracle Whip strikes me as a great name for Gaga’s next record. Now that I think about it, maybe I’ll steal it for one of my projects.
BEATS BY DR DRE – Lady Gaga also has a partnership with Beats. She designed her own line of jewel encrusted in-ear ‘phones with them that she can be seen sporting in the kitchen scenes (they just look like triangular earrings). However, the way that the Beats logo is featured in the video, arbitrarily stuck to the back of the guard’s laptop, seems like a little bit of a disconnect. Brand white noise is worth something, though, I suppose.
After beating the viewer over the head with all this product placement, you would think that the project would have lost it’s spark as it tripped over itself to sell out. However, given the many instances of blatant sexuality, ever-present lesbian undertones, gratuitous violence, group homicide, swearing, and near total frontal nudity that are keystones of both the style and narrative of Telephone, the most surprising element of all this is that the brands were willing to be associated with the project at all. In a way, Gaga seems to have subverted the selling-out process. Her popularity has forced corporations to bend to her wonderfully strange, freaky, and dirty vision of the world instead of the other way around. It obviously isn’t for everyone (Kraft, I’m looking at you), but one has to bet on any company that figures out a way to really hang with Gaga – the reigning master of brand ingenuity (sorry Bjork/Barney).
The ad man in me can’t resist posting a link to the well-done Oscar-nominated animated short, Logorama. French art/video direction collective H5 made what is essentially a shoot-em-up action sequence set in a world constructed entirely of logos. Watch the whole thing here (until it inevitably gets taken down due to copyright violation).
The film features some amusing dialogue, a lot of clever moments, and a generally irreverent feel — but the best thing about it is that it demonstrates how much of the physical world has been captured into corporate logos. This same line of thinking makes me wonder if one could reconstruct any anecdote, film, or book solely using clips from episodes of Seinfeld — a show that perhaps only came to an end because it had exhausted all the narrative possibilities known to man.
Yeah, I bet a works-of-Shakespeare-as-acted-by-Seinfeld-characters mashup channel would be a hit on YouTube.
I’ve inexplicably had this song, from Chevy Chase’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, stuck in my head all day. Watching this music video totally scratches my itch sonically, but the video itself seems so at odds with the spirit of the song as it is presented in Vacation, that I had to minimize my browser so that the song wouldn’t be spoiled. Nevertheless, enjoy. I hope it inspires a Chase movie marathon.
PS – I never knew Lindsey Buckingham sang this song. That seems weird for some reason.
The commercials during the Superbowl have become tiny cultural vignettes at least as entertaining as the game itself. These marketing one-liners are cooked up by teams of ad creatives most often made up, from my experience, of the same 20-to-30-something males that, in theory, the Superbowl is most popular with. However, also judging from my experience, many of the men that work in these agencies are anything but the type of men that are most likely to watch the Superbowl. They are pop cultural anthropologists whose goal it is to identify stress points in the culture that they can take advantage of. They are salesmen dramatists, putting their heightened intuition for human needs in service to creating stories that help corporations sell more product.
This may explain how we ended up this year with a large group of commercials that the New York Times and many others are calling misogynistic. However these ads may signal anything but a trend towards male dominance. If most expressions of aggression come from a place of insecurity, then ads that lash out at the world in the name of Men most definitely indicate a weakness in the squarer sex. I have read countless articles lately about how more women than men go to college, how it is becoming more common for women to earn more money than their husbands, and how young men are increasingly without ambition in general. If I were working in an ad agency eager to channel the minds of young men and identify where they are feeling vulnerable, I suppose the realm of gender dynamics might be a good place to start.
Does our gender really feel this compromised, though? Should we all be worried? The problem clearly isn’t that women are feeling more empowered to pursue their interests, but that men somehow feel divested from wanting any sort of responsibility at all. What happens when people follow their dreams, as they’ve been encouraged to do their whole life, and their dream is to hang out and watch TV? Even worse, do modern men feel like they are sleepwalking through a life of job, family, and responsibility, only to be temporarily reinvigorated by recreation, sex, and spending? I can only hope that these advertisements are off base — that they don’t really resonate with their intended audience — because they truly paint a bleak psychological picture of the American male. This first ad, for Dodge, presents what is perhaps the most depressing of all messages: life is one giant sucking compromise, but at least you can drive a fast car.