Monday, September 9, 2013

Do You Know (What it Takes)?

Since I decided to go through every music video on my mother's old VHS back in 2011, I've reviewed about two songs that were on it because it re-ignited my interest in the song and/or the video. One was 'Enid' by Barenaked Ladies - a neat video that has a concept I'd want to do myself - and the other was Split Enz' 'Message to my Girl,' a sweet ballad of a song that also used an interesting video technique wherein the lead singer roamed through a seemingly massive studio on his own before coming to the rest of the band on the other side - though he hasn't really travelled that far.

As you get to the end of the tape, the songs/videos suddenly start to get more modern in time. My mother stopped recording stuff on it around 1997/1998 (she says it's when she then got a CD player) so the last few videos are from that particular time. Most of the tape centres around songs from 1990, 1992, 1987, etc. Musically, the late 90s was in the midst of Backstreet Boys, NSync, Hanson (hundreds of times better than today's One Direction) and other boy/girl bands. That was the pop of the time - and the very end of the tape reflects it.

Out of the music videos that stood out to me as favourites at the time - there were several, particularly 'Where's the Love,' 'D'You Know What I Mean?' and 'Do You Know (What it Takes)' (Hanson, Oasis and Robyn) - I'm going to review the latter by Robyn because while the Hanson and Oasis videos were mostly what you'd expect (performance videos with some slight backdrop or story mixed in) Robyn's had a different approach. And it's a good song that I feel some relatability with.

Looking at it again in recent years it's become a visual part of my childhood, watching it. But I've gotten into the song and the lyrics as well. The music is the standard late 90s pop sound but the lyrics I find I can relate to in a small way, even if it's sung from a woman's perspective.

When I was young, like everything on the tape, it was the video over the song that caught me. I know now that the song is about looking for commitment and assurance of monogamous love, particularly for someone who is very deep and obviously passionate about it.

The singer, Robyn (born in Sweden as Robin Carlsson) was only eighteen at the time of the song's recording and her debut album's (Robyn is Here) release. At that I feel I can applaud her efforts at such a young age; perhaps she could be considered a pioneer of female dance-pop music, hailing long before acts like Hilary Duff or that crazy Miley character, a young woman I have no applause for at all.

Since I've already detailed that the lyrics seem to be about seeking assured commitment, I'll just go into the video details. There were a couple of them, but the one that I saw back when I was six-seven was the video filmed in Los Angeles. I don't know why two videos were filmed, especially one in America when the artist is Swedish, but I guess it was perhaps to market her to American audiences.

It's simple. Intercut with shots of her in a revolving, egg-like chair (Evil Genius?) she drives a nondescript black van through the streets until she stops abruptly at an intersection. By which I mean right in the middle of the intersection. She makes a half-turn in front of an oncoming car, intentionally, stops, and parks there, blocking it. Every direction subsequently becomes blocked and clogged by gridlock as she locks up the intersection.

Upon parking, she turns on a large amp, climbs on top of the car with a microphone and stand, and immediately starts singing the rest of the song while people start milling about below.

There's another story involved that caters to the song's lyrics, in which a young, good-looking man leaves his house and gets in his car. Obviously this is the person she's referring to (in the video). Eventually he finds himself stuck in traffic caused by her van, so he investigates only to find her there, addressing him through the music. The video ends with him smiling up at her in understanding as she happily finishes the song.

I've found out through YouTube comments and Google Earth that the video was shot on the intersection of Wilcox and Yucca Streets in Hollywood. You can even virtually go to the intersection using Google Streetview. I shouldn't say that the street names weren't difficult, actually, since the street signs are quite obvious in certain parts of the video. What I find funny is that the egg-seat scenes were actually filmed in the back of the van, with the vehicle parked in an awkward position at the corner of the intersection where people would normally wait for the light. The street sign is the most obvious here. I guess after she messed up the street by being in the centre, she somehow managed to get the van to the corner afterwards, waiting until nightfall to spin around in the chair (before it closes on her you can see it's nighttime around the van).

The Intersection in Streetview

Watching it again, I kind of like the cinematography and point of view shots, the way the camera's at the corner of the man's car as he drives or the brief shot of Robyn through the side mirror. The overhead shots are very nice too, especially when you can see how the traffic's done up. It must have taken a lot of coordination to get the cars in place, choreograph the gridlock, get a helicopter overhead to shoot everything from above. It's interesting to compare shots from the video with the Google Streetview image, and that provides some more background on the video - for example, that it was shot only a block north from Hollywood Boulevard (and three away from Sunset Boulevard). The streets themselves were very minor collector ones, not big arterials, and she was driving east down Yucca before she stopped to face northeast in the intersection.

For the music and song itself, it's a traditional late-90s sound that largely brings back nostalgic memories. I think it's pretty good, simple, and kind of girly as well, in terms of the music anyway. One thing I actually don't like is the very introduction - the 'Always be around...' her layered voices all together make her sound too angelic and perfect and almost hypnotizing, as if it's a hypnotic chant, too positive as if you feel you must obey those words. That and the little bridge that leads right back into that same chant. The 'don't waste my time with your lies' part. It sounds like it was sung by a group of old women, as if Robyn's mother came for support in her message and decided to ensure the boy involved was responsible for her daughter's feelings. Then the too-positive, too-perfect angelic voices chant the 'always be around' part again, and the song launches back into its normal vein.

To finish this, I'm impressed with the then-young artist's success and and efforts. Eighteen and already singing on top of a van for the cameras. And she didn't end up at all like any of virtually every other female standalone artist in the past fifteen years - I've never heard of her shaving her head, or posing for naked photoshoots, or strutting around half-naked onstage at performances. I know she's still releasing stuff these days, and I believe her music is still to some degree popular. Sweden's came out with all sorts of neat stuff over the past century, from Robyn to Roxette, and even Pippi Longstocking. This song was her breakthrough to America (probably why the video was filmed, for audiences to see her fully on MTV, etc.) and it's still with me all this time later.

Music: B
Lyrics: B+

It's just a huge nostalgic memory to watch and listen to. Those were fun days back then. '97...I was only in grade one. We still had huge garage sales in the courtyard. There were great people around in the neighbourhood. It seemed sunny all the time. I look back on then and smile.

Justin C.

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