19 June 2010

Too Many Instruments Drown the Vocals

On the Visual Ambition for Kelis' Acapella Video

Acapella is the new song from Kelis' upcoming album. The song begins with David Guetta's kick drums and electric toms, that reinforce the song as its skeleton onto which the rest of the song is framed. Serving its purpose the driving dance beat makes your head nod, feet tap, hands clap, shoulders bounce, etc...But there really isn't anything new about the music, if heard as an instrumental, it wouldn't strike me as anything other than just another dance track, that when combined with a right euphoric club crowd will successfully initiate a trance. That being said, Kelis' voice is the true star of this song. Without her contralto sensibility, Acapella would pass right by me, unregistered--Dismissed as another Gaga, Pink, or some other voice that means nothing to me.

Watching the video for Acapella left me with mixed feelings. Its overloaded with non-sequitor images, all of which are visually inviting on their own but irresponsibly jarred together, seemingly desperate to impress the average ADD viewer. The video in my opinion suffers from its visible need to out-do Lady Gaga, who is considered the top example for today's pop visual conceptualization. My problem with both this video and Gaga is that they exhaust themselves trying to come across as transient and hyperactive, and no doubt they do achieve this but I holdfast to an idea that song and moving image should unite in holy synergy. That this parasitic symbiosis should be the goal of the music video medium.

Had Acapella kept only 25% of what actually made it pass the editing room; had the final product been 100% materialized out of that quarter, a better video would stand before us. The music, the lyrics, even Kelis' vocals which I love on this song, none of these elements are complex enough to compliment the disarray of visual information tossed across the camera for Acapella. And the song itself is about the contrast between a full circumstance and one that is missing its elements--The instrumental factors that make all the difference when determining whether a person is living life a cappella.

I don't fault Kelis, in fact I congratulate her daring, her courage and faith. She seemed out of place in some of the shots, out of her comfort zone but its great nonetheless that she attempted something she's never done before. Who ever conceptualized the video however, seems to be overzealous--Someone who insincerely utilized an opportunity as a platform for ideas they've selfishly executed at the expense of sound/visual coherence. To this person or persons I say with the help of an analogy fitting to the song's title, this is like producing a track around recorded vocals with no regard for the tempo or structure of the intended song.

There is a video for the Saul Williams song DNA. It is a perfect example that one: less is more and two. its all about understanding the song and how to communicate this information visually. Now to avoid being pegged as biased to any commercially mainstream artist I'll site two other examples from artists generally more familiar to the radio-faithful masses than Saul Williams. The first is the video for Beyonce's recent Why Don't You Love Me;.the second is a Kylie Minogue single from 2003 called Slow. Both of these follow what I've stated for the Saul Williams song--a successful music video understands conciseness and relativity. A successful music video does not overwhelm itself, does not use filler content--It practices strength in decision and knows when to say no. After all, muscle with no brain is either a spasm or paralysis.

To briefly quote from one of my favorite films,

"Destroying is better than creating when we're not creating those few, truly necessary things...Better to quit and strew the ground with salt, as the ancients did to purify the battlefields. In the end what we need is some hygiene, some cleanliness, disinfection. We're smothered by images, words and sounds that have no right to exist, coming from, and bound for nothingness. Of any artist truly worth the name we should ask nothing except this act of faith: to learn silence."

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