Sunday, July 25, 2010

New Videos from Christina Aguilera, Nicki Minaj

Their cunnilingus-celebrating collaboration may have been 86ed (for now) as a single, but you haven't heard - or seen - the last of Christina Aguilera and Nicki Minaj for a while. The two spunky divas each released new videos last week for their respective sophomore singles, each attempting to regain ground after shaky performances by their previous single releases. It follows, therefore, that both the hard-edged solo artists went with a pointedly softer attack for their latest singles and accompanying videos, and while they have various levels of success, few would argue that each of them has improved her trajectory in doing so.

Aguilera, still following the uncannily familiar path as with her 2002 sophomore album Stripped, follows up the graphic video to lead single "Not Myself Tonight," whose chart performance was, in a word, disappointing, with the markedly dialed down ballad "You Lost Me." Although it was the catchy, vulgar stomper "Woohoo" (featuring Ms. Minaj) that was first slated to be Bionic's second single, negative reaction to "Not Myself Tonight" and, to a lesser but still notable extent, to the album itself apparently reminded someone on the Aguilera team of a little debacle called "Dirrty," and news of "Woohoo's" impending release was quickly hushed. (Read the Vertigo Shtick review of Bionic.)

After Aguilera performed the soaring Sia-penned ballad at the American Idol finale in May and for seemingly the first time received no barrage of critical vomit in response, the tune was quickly hoisted into place (somewhat like another little album-/career-saver known as "Beautiful"). Then, this week, the video arrived, with none of the over-the-top antics that made "Not Myself Tonight" so unlikeable; in fact, it's so stripped down some might find it downright dull. I, for one, happen to appreciate its bleak, simple art direction, with Aguilera perusing the symbolic remains of a ruined relationship with Kool-Aid color hair worn down and makeup (or lack thereof) achieving the astonishing effect of making the 29 year old look like the teenage naif of "Genie in a Bottle." Not a bad move, but as a friend pointed out, the video for "Beautiful," another ballad, was ten times as interesting as this subtle, simple mea culpa.

Nicki Minaj is rightly hailed as the most exciting new face and voice in rap music right now, and her talents have graced countless hit singles by some of the top artists currently working, from her star-making turn on Ludacris' "My Chick Bad" to being Usher's "Lil' Freak" to a segment of the number 2 hit "BedRock" in collaboration with Lil' Wayne's Young Money. It's easy, therefore, to forget that the 25 year old has yet to release - or even name - her debut solo album, which is currently slated for release November 23 of this year. Her first solo single, "Massive Attack," was a Nicole Scherzinger-worthy dud, peaking at number 22 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 singles chart - underperforming even among the also-rans. It didn't help that the bizarre music video was not just a mess, but a mess that all-too-closely resembled Rihanna's only slightly less disastrous if far more well-known "Hard" video from several months earlier.

Minaj's second single, "Your Love," is a down-tempo crossover track that can easily seem, to a pop audience at least, rather out of the ordinary: a slow rap song about love? Well actually, a quick glance at the top of the Hot 100 shows that those are hardly a scarcity: B.o.B. weaseled two top-ten hits recently with "Airplanes" and "Nothin' On You" (thanks in large part to the singing talents of Hayley Williams and Bruno Mars, respectively), while T.I. spent much of 2008 subjecting Top 40 listeners to his promises of "Whatever You Like." But female rappers talking about love? Not if they fancied a crossover hit and a spot in the upper regions of the Billboard Hot 100: leave the lovey-dovey stuff to Rihanna and Kelly Clarkson, we want our rap girls talking about their mad skillz at fellatio and their general hotness. It is encouraging and remarkable, therefore, that Minaj's sweet, Annie Lennox-sampling "Your Love" had a dazzling debut at number 18 on the singles chart last week, which is as much a testament to the charming newcomer's immense popularity as anything.

The accompanying video, too, tones down the spasmodic verbal and visual style for which she is primarily known, instead going with a simple narrative involving a samurai love triangle, using a visual theme inspired, appropriately, by that of Japanese drama (a fact most critics and commentators seem to have missed). The result is a visually enthralling, thematically poignant surprise of a music video that contradicts any preconception one might have when approaching a Nicki Minaj production (she even loses the climactic battle for the hunky samurai teacher, and even her death is tasteful and beautiful). In all, it's more than enough to make a skeptic fall for Nicki Minaj, even if practical sense suggests that it would be unwise to rush out and buy the upcoming album expecting a bunch of G-rated 80s throwback love songs.


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