These days, what with all the outrageous music videos being made by artists like Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus — some of which seem to have a serious disconnect between the song and the accompanying video — it’s instructive to reflect on one of the videos of the artist these two are most often compared to, for shock value if for nothing else: Madonna.
Madonna was a trend-setter. She had beauty, talent, and brains. She went into her own contract negotiation meetings with her record label, dressed in a business suit, and handled her own career. Brilliantly.
She went to clubs constantly, to stay on top of what was trendy, exciting, interesting, and dance-able. Sorry, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being able to dance to a catchy tune, and I don’t think it makes less artistic.
She kept her body in top shape for all the dancing she had to do, in the videos and in her stage shows, but hadn’t gotten to the place where she is now: all bones and sinew, no meat or fat. Yes, she was attractive then, and though she knew it, she didn’t show off too much of her body, concentrating instead on her face and physical fitness.
One of the best videos Madonna ever made accompanied her song “Vogue”. It features Madonna at her finest, and, for several reasons, is still the classiest and Vogue-iest video she ever made.
1) It’s filmed in black & white. Call me a sucker, but I fall hard for anything brave enough to be filmed in black & white, where lighting and shadow are virtually everything, rather than letting bright colors do all the work.
2) Madonna turned artifice into art. Word on the streets (of Manhattan) is that she got the idea for “Vogue” from gay and/or drag dance clubs where men regularly did these kind of “dances” (they wanted to be recognized for their “contribution” after the song and video came out, but, hey, they could have made it themselves before she did, couldn’t they?). Yes, virtually all musicians with videos are being artificially artsy: it’s entertainment. But here, Madonna acknowledges the artifice with the phrase “Strike a Pose” — while striking a pose, of course — and raises the artifice to art, albeit only music-video art.
3) No nude or sheer bra and panties for Madonna here. She understood that a woman’s back and shoulders (in the beaded satin dress at the beginning, and in the bustier at the end) can be even sexier than nipples or slipping hands into your panties. And the black lace top she wears through much of the first part of the video is classy and sexy, without revealing anything.
4) The synchronized hand movements are easy to imitate. (They’re also easy to mock, as Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan did in their car-Vogue-ing scene in A Night at the Roxbury.) But for those of us who aren’t as physically fit or coordinated as Madonna or her background dancers, we can Vogue with our hands and arms. Just like she does.
5) The video is filled with beautiful men. I know that background dancers, male or female, are supposed to be in the background, behind the star, but in this video, Madonna lets them be onscreen, alone, front and center, at times. Brava for her. And I don’t care if they’re BGT of LBGT: a beautiful man is a beautiful man and a joy to behold. Especially in a tux.
6) Along with her “Strike a pose,” Madonna, with a gap between her two front teeth, which most people would have had fixed, also reminds us that “Beauty’s where you find it,” mentioning Bette Davis, among others, as examples of such beauty.
You can dance to it even it you can’t dance. You can sing along even if you can’t sing. Madonna is classy and beautiful. There are lots of lovely men to look at. Everybody keeps their clothes on.
Still the Vogue-iest Vogue of all time.