Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review: Lady Gaga's "Alejandro" Video

Since the Haus of Gaga leaked stills in the middle of May, the gays have been buzzing about the video for “Alejandro.” It was finally released today. I really want to know what was up with the delay (it was scheduled to premiere on June 7th), but I’m glad the wait is finally over.

Rather than making you read through a play-by-play of the video, I’ll just post a link to it here.

The opening scene doesn’t make any sense to me: a sort of aftermath-looking shot of a bunch of sleeping/dead/unconscious men in old-school German military uniforms. And one guy in fishnets and heels (it’s not Gaga without some cross-dressing). It’s not unlike the opening of “Just Dance” except that the latter has a clear reason for everyone being passed out. This shot just seems superfluous since the video never clearly reveals why these guys are in whatever state they’re in.

The backlit set with the silhouettes of men standing in strong poses stopped me in my (sitting-at-my-office-computer) tracks! It’s all about precision and lines, and with the dubbed in rhythm, it creates an extremely militaristic feel. The slow-motion shot at :46 is epic with just enough light to show the dancers’ muscle definition but to still keep them all anonymous. The various forms of bondage that some of the dancers are in remind me of Saw or Hostel. This scene immediately made me think of the precision (and sounds) of the dance moves in Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and the bodies of men in the factory in Madonna’s “Express Yourself.”

The first shot of Gaga comes about a minute in. She looks simultaneously classic and post apocalyptic, but undoubtedly of royalty. The early 20-th-centrury European imagery is an appropriate match for the violin (does that remind anyone else of An American Tale?). But what the hell is she holding on the pillow when she’s walking in front of the coffin? I had to assume it was a heart. A frozen, blinged-out heart.

The slow zoom in from behind Gaga’s back during the intro is brilliant. The viewer expects the shot to change when the track does, but it just keeps panning in. It’s as if Gaga, in her royal persona, is making the viewer wait until she’s ready to change the shot. It has a huge impact.

Gaga’s look, when she’s not wearing the scary eyepiece headdress, is striking (severe, even) because she’s not wearing one of the over-the-top wigs that we’re used to seeing her in. It’s a short, blonde bob. And her face is almost all white, including her eye makeup and eyebrows. It’s even more striking in the next scene where she’s wearing a plain beige/off-white panty-and-bra set. It’s the exact opposite of the over-saturated colors of “Telephone” and lacey detail of “Bad Romance.”

The scene with the beds plays with gender roles in a very overt and highly sexual way. The guys on the beds are all wearing heels and are confined to their beds while Gaga is able to get up and walk away. Gaga and one of the dancers basically act out flip-fucking, alternating who’s in control of their erotic grinding.

The dance sequence provides the quirky, simple(-ish) choreo that Gaga has become known for. The dancers’ costumes, black boxer-briefs and a black girdle-type garment (I thought it was one piece, but the most Alejandro-esque of the dancers’ lower back is exposed around 4:17), are an interesting choice with a dark set and hip-heavy choreography. But with the hair (very Jill Sander, Spring 2010), it’s a cool-looking uniform that stands out.

And the sequence from 4:50-4:59 is absolute magic.

The Breakdown starting at 5:37 screamed “Vogue” to me: it’s shot in true black-and-white (the rest is in color but very washed out); Gaga’s dancing in a black suit (sort of); shots flash in and out of light (like the breakdown of Madonna's vid with the men in the wind machines in unbuttoned shirts); and the dancers enter the frame with the mean runway walk and various poses with their hands! But instead of cones for boobs, Gaga has guns to go with the military theme.

The sequence from 6:37 to 7:35 seems like it was edited in as an afterthought to add more of a plot and drama to the video. All of a sudden, this average-looking guy appears and seems to be silently watching a retrospective of the video that just took place. His only other appearance is in the beginning scene (that I also didn't get). The choreo stops in the middle of a transitional move. Even the music sounds improperly cut. If you literally cut this part of the video out, it makes the dance sequence a complete unit.

My main thought as to why they included this sequence in the video was a possible commentary about the Catholic church’s silence during the earlier part of Hitler’s reign over Germany. There’s endless catholic imagery throughout the video, from the latex nun’s outfit (swallowing the rosary) to the Sound of Music-esque robe with those funky crosses (anybody know the significance of that kind of cross?). This supposed Alejandro at the end is the one whose heart Gaga was carrying before. He looks like more of an officer than a dictator, but it would make sense that they show him watching rather than participating with the other soldier/dancers. This is, of course, a long shot, and I was a horrible history student. Any thoughts on this would be much appreciated.

And the very last few frames? That gets a big WTF from me.

So what’s my verdict: I think the video’s a bit much. It’s quite possible that I just didn’t get it (see my initial response to Britney Spears’ “If You Seek Amy”), but it seems like it’s forcing plotline where one isn’t needed. “Bad Romance” is a visual masterpiece that confined its story arc to the time of the track. “Telephone” is ridiculous, over-the-top, and doesn’t take itself seriously. “Alejandro” seems like it’s the younger brother that’s trying really hard to be something it’s not. The one thing that it may gain points for over the other videos (from some, not me): no overt product placement.

That said, the the visuals are stunning, and it’s technically on point. There’s a good chance I’ll be learning the choreography. In heels.

Click here to check out my review of Lady Gaga's Fame Monster.

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Anonymous said...

(anybody know the significance of that kind of cross?)

I think that the cross on the robe is similar to the cross of the Knights Templar and the Cruades... so she's probably alluding to the Illuminati or something, especially given her Catholic theme in this part of the video.

The Blackout Blog said...

It does kind of look like their cross.
Thanks, anon!

Fung Wah said...

Alejandro music video = tribute to Evita (my take). Among many other things, the descamisados (shirtless ones), the military strife, trubulent sex life, and deathbed (due to her cervix, perhaps one center of sexuality). Also the homage to Madonna. Note, especially after the 7:10 long music video for Paparazzi and the 9:31 long music video for Bad Romance, Black Eye Peas goes experimental with a 10:20 long music video.

Oh and Bad Romance = tribute to Blade Runner


The Doc said...

IF it's a reference to the crusade-style cross, then it's almost certainly a reference to St George (patron of England) which is often erroneously labeled as the source of many crusades in the modern media (we think of King Richard I being on a crusade). It also looks like the cross has been changed a little to look like a sword almost...
St George's cross is the red-on-white one seen in many flags.

Wikipedia claims she's dressed as Joan of Arc? Although I find that hard to really see... (possibly the St George reference to England - the folk that knocked Joan off?)

*shrug* maybe we're thinking too much into it, and they just wanted to match it to the red nun's outfit...