Thursday, January 14, 2021

Maybe We'll Love It

Continuing this week's impromptu theme, yesterday's post barely came closer to what I'd meant to write than the day's before. I did always plan to use the promo video for Guild Wars 2's upcoming Champions: Power update but only as an example of a point I wanted to make about how promotional videos can sometimes work against the purpose for which they're made.

This was something I found myself thinking about after I'd watched the spectacular official video for Chemtrails Over The Country Club,  the title track from Lana del Rey's follow-up to what is now one of my top five favorite albums of all time, Norman Fucking Rockwell

We should probably have the video right away so we know what we're talking about. Watch it to the end.

Objectivity can be hard to come by when you love an artist 's work as much as I love Lana's. It gets harder yet, when you find yourself dealing with a sequel, not just to what may turn out to be the artist's career high but to what is probably also one of the highlights of your own lifetime spent listening to popular music. When Mariners Apartment Complex dropped back in 2019 I played it over and over like I hadn't played anything since... well, since I first found Lana back in 2012, as it happens, but perhaps more meaningfully since I was buying vinyl back in high school.

Even that breathtaking impact did little more than hint at the glory of what was to come. Next we had Venice Bitch, clocking in at just under ten minutes, suggesting something like Ride's epic sweep, opening with what seemed a simple, sweet pop song, only to subvert and shatter those expectations in a psychedelic surge that felt like decades compacted, spiking. 

Those two promos created such pressure. The visuals perfectly, ineffably melded with the songs. They're works of art but so are many pop videos. The Venice Bitch video, though, it's also a drug. It's psychotropic. I'm guessing it works the way ASMR works. Or something like it. 


Back in 2019 I watched it over and over and I rarely got to see the end. Or the middle, sometimes. Even if I watched it in daylight, by somewhere around the six or seven minute mark I'd be in a trance state. Usually the coda would bring me back, Lana intoning "If you weren't mine I'd be jealous of your love"  like a mantra, phrasing like Marilyn, splitting "weren't" in two until everything came clear.

If I watched it at night, well, chances were I'd be fast asleep before the end. I haven't watched it for a while but yesterday I did, thinking about writing this today, and the magic's still intact although repeated exposure has built some limited immunity. I managed to keep my eyes open, at least. Just barely.

Norman Fucking Rockwell, when it arrived, turned out to have a dozen more tracks all as good as Mariners or Venice Bitch. Some, arguably, better. And there were more videos, made to the same standard. The whole thing had "career high water mark" stamped all over it. You'd have to be David Bowie to move on from something like that.

So releasing a superb collection of spoken-word poetry was a masterstroke. Could have been a calamity but not if you have the literary chops and especially not if you have the voice. And Jack Antonoff.  

A palate cleanser, anyway. And here we are, two years later, a few months late, waiting on the reveal. We've had a taste already. The official video for Love Me Like A Woman, the first single off the album, released at the tail end of last year, comes replete with  handheld camera shots and faux Super8 home movie filters and it also uses some of Venice Bitch's choppy tricks to similar effect. 

I find it disorientating but instead of inducing a trance state it gives me mild motion sickness. Also, the last few seconds, when the song's ended but the incidental conversation continues, brings me out of one moment into another in a way I'm certain is intentional but which I find oddly exclusive.

The "live" version of the same song from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon though... Oh, my. That has an entirely different power. It focuses attention wholly on the song and the performance and in doing so opens up a world. As a tempter for the album I find it compelling. 


And so to Chemtrails itself, or the video, at least. It was linked on Pitchfork when I checked Feedly a few days back. I watched it immediately. For some reason the link wouldn't open the YouTube original so I foolishly watched it in the embed. Too small. Impact blunted. Rookie error.

Then I went to YouTube, as I should have from the start, and watched it fullscreen. It's a stunning video that follows Lana's long-established fifties technicolor fetish with a horror movie twist I didn't see coming. That twist took me right out of the song, although the color keying was already so strong I wasn't fully inside to begin with.

Chemtrails Over The Country Club is a great song. It's even a great Lana del Rey song. But I wasn't sure of that until I watched this simple lyric video. It lets the song speak for itself, without all the drama. 

Lana's songs attract a lot of fan videos. Some of them, like the ones Mermaid Motel makes, are as good or even better than the official promos. There are always plenty of lyric videos, too. This may not be the prettiest made for Chemtrails but it's the one I watched first and now it's the one I keep watching.

Here's a thing. Watching that lyric video has something of the same ASMR effect on me as the Venice Bitch. Less intense. Mellower. But my skin tingles. It's a physical sensation. I have it on in the background as I type and I had to stop, tab out and stare at the lyrics as they reveal themselves. 

And this lyric video makes me more excited for the full album than the spectacular mini-movie I saw first. Not just because the song can breathe free but because of something in the simplicity, the inexorable, rolling inevitabilty.

A great video is a great video. A great song is a great song. Put the two together, you might get something greater still. You might get Venice Bitch. Or you mightn't. It's a gamble. Maybe just make a movie?

And the greatest gamble of all must be whether something greater than the two parts is even what you want. If you're making art, then, yes, of course. If it's commerce? Maybe not.

Getting back to games, if anyone who's mostly interested in those is still reading, which has to be doubtful, it's something we see a lot. I wrote about it, in some detail, nearly three years ago. The same links I'd use here are there, if anyone needs examples. I'm sure you can all think of plenty of your own.

That GW2 video I linked yesterday falls squarely into a category I call "Hey, guys! Remember our game exists?" It's the default for trivial updates in ongoing franchises. Mmorpg players see it a lot. When you have your income stream locked in you can afford to tread water that way. For a while.

When you have an expansion coming, though, you need to bring your A-game. For all my reservations, that Chemtrails promo is doing what it needs to do. Just not really what I need it to do. But then, much as yesterday, Lana doesn't need to sell me. And I guess neither does GW2.

For entirely different reasons.

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