Fairy Tale Fest: Ten Postmodern Pop Fairytales for your iPod, Part Two!
WELCOME BACK, AVID POP CULTURE ADVENTURERS, TO THE AMAZING CALVALCADE OF FAIRYTALE POP AND YOUTUBE CAR CRASHES.
The drill, as per Part One: to take a look at some fairytale-inspired pop songs (and occasionally, where appropriate their music videos). Just a personal list, no order of preference, and please do leave your own links and recs in the comments! And now, ONWARDS.
PART TWO OF MIRANDA’S PILE OF POP PRINCESSERY, FROM 5 to 1!
5. Paramore: Brick By Boring Brick
Continuing the pop-punk theme from number 6 (Skye Sweetnam), here’s Hayley Williams, demanding that you GO GET YOUR SHOVEL so that we can BURY THE CASTLE. Heavy handed and earnest the sentiment may be, but I won’t hear anything against it. Never did like the video much – it’s like a depressing version of the 1980s Clarks Magic Steps shoes ad (remember that?). Hayles is a ball of energy when she sings live, but here she spends most of the sequence dolefully marooned on a giant swing while her younger self gets lost in a castle – but the song’s catchy as hell. BA-DA-BA BA-DA-BA-BA-DA!, etc.
4. Sara Bareilles – Fairy Tale
Piano-hammering, bluesy Sara Bareilles nails it with this neat slice of deadpan songwriting, and the video’s a delight. The tall blonde lets out a cry of despair, says/”Woulda cut it myself if I knew men could climb hair!/I’ll have to find another tower somewhere / and keep away from the windows…”
3. Nicki Minaj: Moment 4 Life
In itself, the song’s not about fairytales per se, until you watch it with the video, and look at what R&B/rap diva Nicki Minaj has done with it.
Nicki’s Barbie-inspired image and oft-compared-to-Lil’ Kim/Lady Gaga aesthetics have inspired some debate, which I won’t go into here. This vid, on the surface, is a standard fluffy fairytale wedding sequence with some added bling. But it contains some little touches that made me smile – like the Disney-style manuscript page at the start: Once Upon a time there was a King named Nicki. One day, while sitting on her throne… The use of “king” alongside the female pronoun is striking, especially when Nicki doesn’t then show up in a Do It Like A Dude-style scenario – instead, we find her dolling up in a ballgown and sparkly ultra-femme Cinderella-style heels. In this very moment I’m King / In this very moment I slay Goliath with the sling, is her battlecry as she flounces off to her fairytale wedding (in a pink wig) to Canadian rapper Drake (who alludes a little to kingship in his own lyrics. Sorry Drake, but the Magic Kingdom belongs to King Nicki. You’ll have to be the royal consort). It’s also a nice touch that Minaj plays her own fairy godmother in the opening preamble, and that it’s not clear what either of them wants (though I concede this also owes quite a bit to the bewildering mixture of clunky dialogue, pointless Minaj fanbase in-jokes, and a cringingly bad attempt at a Brit accent). Thanks to these little quirks, the whole vid’s a slightly left-of-centre affair, and much the better for it. Within the parameters of what she’s doing, Nicki Minaj is doing genuinely interesting things, and making great pop to boot.
2. Natalia Kills: Wonderland
I include this, perhaps reluctantly, as it’s on the soundtrack to Beastly, the recent (and mind-numbingly bland) teen-movie retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It wants to be a punchy, stompy serving of electropop, but it’s somehow just not very memorable. Never mind, though: the video is here to HEAVILY COMPENSATE and hit you round the face with ANGELA CARTERY TROPES BINGO! It’s as though Natalia’s pitched a tent down the road from Nicki Minaj, but in an effort to kick some carnality into the visuals she’s kicked the heart out too. It’s like Sucker Punch in music vid form – Red Riding Hooded Natalia is arrested by riot police (off to a good start, I thought, until the words LOVE IS PAIN flashed across the screen) and escorted, struggling, to a mad hatter-style party where she eats some food suggestively and picks her way along a table littered with cupcakes decorated with Barbie-doll body parts. This all happens between bursts of GRAPHICS++ where the word CENSORED keeps appearing on her mouth and occasionally covers the whole screen. This isn’t a critique of anything, more just a reminder that THIS SHIT IS EDGY. The whole thing’s a bit like Cliff Notes: The Bloody Chamber mashed in a blender and then force fed through your eyes, and with all the subtlety of “Woman! Woe, mannn!”. It’s as thematically undemanding as Minaj’s effort but without the endearing quirks, or at least, none that don’t feel forced and nicked from Lady Gaga’s cutting room floor.
The best thing in the whole video is the rabbit.
1. The Imagined Village: Tam Lin Retold
And now, I throw aside towers, princesses and dresses (and, arguably, “pop”) in favour of something slightly different.
Rob’s post yesterday mentioned that fairy tales are more diverse than we often care to think. There’s an entire tropeful of “quick witted women” out there alongside the “passive princess” stereotype, if you do your reading, and the Scottish ballad/folk story of Tam Lin is an example.
Here’s a neat blog post about the Tam Lin story which compares it a little to Beauty and the Beast. In short, daughter of a nobleman becomes pregnant by Tam Lin, notoriously predatory forest-dwelling faery guy. She sets out to claim him as the father and learns that he is in thrall to the Faery Queen, who may soon be sending him to Hell as part of a tithe of souls she has agreed to pay. Janet decides to rescue him, and ultimately succeeds. Rescuing him involves pulling him off his horse, and holding on to him while he transforms into various wild beasts (a la Peleus and Thetis, but with the gender roles reversed and more consensual!), and hot coals, at which point she sensibly chucks him into a well.
This version of the story, recorded for the Imagined Village project, updates the setting and has the Tam Lin character as an illegal immigrant. After an initial one night stand at a club, Janet seeks him out during her pregnancy and agrees to attend his court hearing, during which his transformations are metaphorical rather than physical as the lawyers paint him as a “victim” and a “loser”, and so on. The song is a mesmerising fusion of musical styles and cultures – dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah provides vocals, with assistance from folk singer and musician Eliza Carthy.
This take concentrates on Tam Lin and Janet as a unit, which means Janet’s status as the POV character is changed, and it’s less about her sole quest to tame the wild, fae Tam Lin (and resolve the social isolation her unmarried pregnancy threatens by claiming the husband of her choosing). Instead, it’s centred round their efforts together to change the court’s view of Tam Lin as an “alien” so that they can be together. It really works, though, and I think it illustrates the fact that folk and fairy tales are enduring not simply because of “patriarchal norms” or “tradition” per se, but also because they are patient to a whole range of interpretations and ways to tell a story.
- The Mountain Goats and Kaki King: Thank You Mario! But Our Princess Is In Another Castle! - a song from the POV of Toad from Super Mario. Poor Toad! His entire purpose is to thanklessly occupy castles and tell Mario that the Princess is not in them. And then guide Mario on to the next castle. Personally I think there’s scope for some Marxist Class Struggle here; Toad should rebel! And form the Toadstool Republican Popular Front! But that’s just me. Anyway, it seemed appropriate to include a nod to the Absent Prize Princesses classic games like Mario and Zelda are built around, despite the fact they’re hidden off-screen for almost all the action.
That’ll be all from me. Feel free to rec your own songs, vids, and bands in the comments!