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"Best Shots" and Plentiful Words on VMA Nominees

Presenting: a "very special" (ahem) edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot in which Nathaniel climbs on a speeding train of thought for an impromptu journey into this year's celebrated music videos. Lots and lots more after the jump...

now we got problems. and I don't think we can solve 'em.

Last night while following the Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj "feud" in real time (it was less of a feud than Nicki complaining she didn't get a Video of the Year nomination and TayTay making it about herself *surprise* by interjecting and then getting defensive) Twitter became quite fascinating as people took sides and others demonstrated (with screencaps and headlines) the quite visible ways in which the media was instantly framing Nicki as "Angry Black Woman" even though she had calmly pointed out what she felt was a disparity in treatment. I was uncomfortably reminded of a recent comments section right here but this time I totally understood what was going on. The crazy thing about the "feud" headlines is that Nicki was nice to Taylor about it and suggested she use her considerable power to speak out but Taylor did only make it about herself. (sigh)

IN THE HEAT OF THAT MOMENT I DECIDED WE SHOULD PICK BEST SHOTS FROM THE VIDEOS NOMINATED FOR "BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY" and it turned out that I'd only actually seen one of the videos "Bad Blood" (since Manuel wrote about it right here and Jeffery Self hilariously spoofed it). So now I must actually go through with it. Only I'm not talking 5 videos but 8. I've added in: Nicki's video so she doesn't feel left out; Madonna's video because it deserved to be nominated in this category; and Sia's video because it's the best of the year, nomination or no.


Flying Lotus - Never Catch Me ft. Kendrick Lamar 
Directed by Hiro Murai. Shot by Larkin Sieple.
(Also nominated for Best Choreography) 

This is an absolute stunner of a short film, challenging any simplistic feeling around the soothing "they've gone to a better place" messaging that greets unthinkable loss while also respecting the spiritual and not contradicting its possibility. It leaps off from any possibly reductive "social message" hashtag origins to touch on painful and beautiful truths: the innocent joy of children, the waste of lives cut short, the simple pleasures of movement and wind in your face, the sad but all too human push and pull between the temporal and the spiritual when we're mourning. I can't stop thinking about this video. So many images work but I was especially moved by this shot which starts out of focus, and snaps into focus briefly in slomo, and back out again. It's an ineffable bit of grace, sadly invisible to the mourners around it, as the kids dance happily out of the church. (Their escape vehicle is, tragically, a hearse.)

Other Opinions:

Ed Sheeran - Thinking Out Loud 
Directed by Emil Nava. Shot by Daniel Pearl 
(Also nominated for Male Video, Pop Video, Video of the Year) 

Sheeran's Dancing with the Stars audition. Perhaps he filmed it in anticipation of some future non-platinum time when "the crowds can't remember my name." This simple by the numbers dance video, one set, good choreography, can probably thank its (gulp) 624 million Youtube views for its plentiful nominations. This actually reminds me a bit of Dirty Dancing. It's cheesy (spotlights forming hearts!) but it has a kind of dorky appeal nonetheless. Also I am a sucker for bright warm spotlights blowing out the image. And a bit of leg strumming... 

Other Opinions:

Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Bad Blood” Shot by Christopher Probst.
(Also nominated for Direction, Art Direction, Editing, Visual FX, and Video of the Year)

What does it say about the form and the 5 videos nominated that though this one is easily the crassest "I am a commercial for a record!" mission statement with the imagery that's the most computer processed, it's the one I had the most trouble picking an image from since so many of them are tasty. Highly processed fast food tasty, sure, but sometimes one craves that. What to choose: The hilarious image of the teddy bear impaled? Or its sibling image of sorts, indestructable scratch free Taylor on a wrecked car? All those saturated Tron colors reflected in Taylor's helmet or wardrobe? Any of the movie references? In the end I had to go with Hailee Steinfeld's best work thus far as "The Trinity". I especially love that final image of her in triplicate, which is more than enough on its own. But the winning touch? See, Taylor can't have you thinking about her guest stars even though she went to the trouble of corralling all of them, so the helmet suddenly seals off the actress's face and leaves us with yet another hilarious commercial, slightly subtler than the opening cards, for Taylor's record. It's funny. It's memorable. It's gloriously single-brained even with triple-heads. It shouts "Buy My Record!"

Other Opinions


FKA Twigs - "Two Weeks" 
Directed by Nabil Elderkin. Shot by Justin Brown
(Also nominated for Best Visual Effects) 

Music videos can sometimes engage with only half an appeal (a great song with lousy visuals or great visuals with lousy song) but when neither are appealing to you... even four minutes can feel overlong. I'm baffled as to the appeal of this one (maybe the song grows on you? maybe you need to be f***ing while listening to it?) so I shall eagerly read takes from other Best Shot participants. The image I chose is the one that I thought best captures the song's autoeroticism, as one of the mini Twigs drinks from mega-Twig who is crooning...

Feel your body closing, I can rip it open
Suck me up, I'm healing for the shit you're dealing
Smoke on your skin to get those pretty eyes rolling
My thighs are apart for when you're ready to breathe in 

I assume this album has a Parental Advisory sticker... and Robert Pattinson is having a good time. 

Other Opinions:

Alt-J - "Left Hand Free" 
Directed by Ryan Staake. Shot by Mike Simpson
(only nomination) 

Eh, I don't get this one. A random collection of youthful Americana, some images more successfully observational than others which feel more staged. But have you ever gone tubing? It is so fun! 

Other Opinions



Nicki Minaj - "Anaconda"
(nominated for Female Video and Hip-Hop Video)

I'll admit that I'm not remotely comfortable with handing out award nominations for popularity. Nicki's "I should've been nominated" argument boiled down to "but look at my sales and youtube views!" which made me shudder. Imagine if Oscar played like that (the media, its worth noting, often bemoans them for refusing to) it'd be "And Best Pictures Goes to... Jurassic World". But she did have a point since the music world actually DOES vote like that. (so so so grateful that movie awards do not - that's what sales charts are for. Why hold an awards show if that's what you're after... just look at the sales charts. Done!)

I'm also never super comfortable with the exploitative aspects of music videos when it comes to women. The men use women as props but, let's face it, the solo female artists often display themselves like props in their own videos, too. (This video is so much raunchier than videos that were banned in the 90s). Which is why a sense of humor and the suggestion that you find pleasure in your own body that is wholly removed from whether other people enjoy looking at it is absolutely key --  otherwise you're Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights and you just feel dirty all the time and hate your life! I like Nicki Minaj in general but I never really liked the sample-heavy "Anaconda" apart from the places where she laughs maniacally. Because it IS ridiculous. As is the video. But I love the moment when she is pouring cream all over herself suggestively (trying to pleasure the viewer?) and then seems suddenly annoyed to be holding a banana (ha!) and tosses it aside with this look on her face. Yes, ma'am. Pleasure yourself!

Madonna - "Ghosttown"
(Zero nominations. Should've been nominated for Art Direction & Cinematography)

Everything about this image, early in the Post-Apocalyptic Romantic Tango Melodrama (new genre!), is perfect. From Madonna's carefully messy hair, the green of her jacket bleeding into the distorted color tube work on the television, her leaning into the image like she's caused the unnatural nuclear disaster (seems plausible given how seismic her impact on the world has been over her 56 years)... even trees sway with her. Plus it recalls a great Madonna-with-TV beat from "Take a Bow," which happens to be her Pre-Apocalyptic Romantic Tango Melodrama.

Well done Mo. Love you 4ever, my queen.

Sia - "Elastic Heart"
(Nominated for Female Video. Should've been nominated for Best Choreography, Best Cinematography, Video of the Year)

This video stretches and then breaks my heart. It's not just that the short film preserves the mystery of the song - videos that emphasize one meaning of elastic (sorry), if you will, songs rob of us our own interpretations.  It's not just that dance movement can illuminate or expand emotional content in a dissimilar but just as valid way as language. It's that it does all of this and does it well, without straining itself, and while roping in a film star who I'd argue is way more interesting than his other half in art poseur restlessness (that'd be James Franco). I love every single second of this video but the part that hurts the most is in the middle when he can't reach her outside of the cage, she keeps trying on different emotional response, and then calmly slips back into his smaller world, unencumbered by whatever traps him but unable to fully leave him. When he's finally holding her again, he still looks haunted and uncomforted, the bars stretching out before him.

Best Video of the Year goes to Sia. So saith Nathaniel from his throne room far removed from the castle of MTV though still fond of it (in theory, not in practice).

The 2015 MTV Video Music Awards will air live from L.A. at 9 p.m. EST Sunday, August 30.

NEXT WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Todd Haynes' 1995 slowburn classic [SAFE]. You'll want to see this one. The movie is fascinating and we gave everyone an extra week to take a look at it. 


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Reader Comments (10)

NGL, I'm just a teeny-bit surprised that the slug used for my Bad Blood write-up wasn't "they heard me talk shit about it and decided to hit me where it hurts - my paranoia about my internet connection"

July 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSTinG

I'm late, I know, but here's the entry:

July 22, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

The thing that's actually awesome and feminist about Nicki Minaj's Anaconda is the fact that she took a song that was all about a man sexualizing women and a certain part of their body--also, only deeming them as worthy if their backside was large enough--and made it all about her reclaiming her ass, her sexuality, and even throwing the sexualization back at men a bit. It's great. It's much different than say, Fifth Harmony, that new girl group, who are barely legal and wearing skimpy clothing and singing about sex in every song, because you can tell they're merely puppets being told to do all of that. If a woman chooses to sing about it and show herself in that way it's a different story.

Also, I get what you're saying about her argument and how it's about popularity, but it's true. She knows how the VMA's work. If you break records, you get nominated. Her video was a massive cultural phenomenon--it was everywhere on the internet, even Ellen parodied it. She broke the Vevo record for amount of views on a single video in one day. Usually all of that will get you a video of the year nomination. But nope.

July 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

I sent you an email with my picks, must've gotten lost in your inbox.

Anyway, can you link me?


July 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCoco

Aside from all that, the video and song are just so fun/funny. You can tell she was just having fun with it.

July 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

it's fascinating that music videos are getting this much attention when no one (including MTV) airs them. People just want to go to the awards show. Miss Minaj has a point that if her video was big why not nominate it with the others, but it reminds me of old butt videos made for men and I miss real singers. And what's up with females being bitchy to each other on social media? I do wonder if we are in a crazy retrograde time.

July 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Cleo

Taylor's tweet was so far off the mark and missed the point -- I'm at a loss as to what she is doing and what exactly is going on with her lately -- but Katy's rejoinder is even more incorherent: These bitches...God!

July 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

It's so bizarre that they would nominate twigs for "Two Weeks" when she has far better and more inventive and interesting videos. "Pendulum" for one, which she was nominated for in 'Artist to Watch'.

July 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNicola

Retrograde media catfight (with Katy Perry now jumping in) using modern day social media.

July 23, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterrick gould

Forgot to include mine on the list I guess. Here's my picks if anyone is curious.

July 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterR Wagner

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