Thursday, November 16, 2006

What We Waited For?

Gwen Stefani returns with her first single from the hotly anticipated album The Sweet Escape. The video for “Wind it Up,” directed by superstar Sophie Muller, begins promisingly but falls flat quite quickly – a lot like the song itself…

VIDEO: "Wind It Up" directed by Sophie Muller

Gwen Stefani’s “What You Waiting For” was one of the best videos and songs of 2005. Centering on an Alice in Wonderland theme, Stefani expounds on the creative process and the overcoming of self-doubt that one must go through in order to produce truly “wonderful” art. There are a series of visually glorious set pieces and camera tricks, everything from distorted perspective to CGI animation is used to literally create a different world.

“Wind it Up,” directed by Sophie Muller (who also did the gorgeous “Cool” with Stefani) is somewhere between the fantasy of “What You Waiting For” and it’s meager follow up, “Hollaback Girl.” While creatively Stefani is once again challenging herself by using references to musicals and big band, the beat of the tune is also very reminiscent of “Hollaback Girl.” So it’s not surprising that Muller chooses to place much of the video in the same blank spaces that made up the pseudo marching band visual theme of Stefani’s most popular single of 2005. There is no attempt at necessarily creating an alternate reality, rather it’s at all times apparent that this is a music video, and that is perhaps it’s greatest flaw.

The opening sequence is an ironic take on the yodeling nuns of a certain famous Julie Andrews musical - Stefani isn’t among hills alive with the sound of music, she’s on a sound stage standing on props dressed in a rather provocative short dress. From there we get the literal “winding up” of the harajuku girls who will once again be Stefani’s back-up dancers. They play the trumpet, dance in a rather robotic way and follow the strict orders of Ms. Stefani who plays both teach and taskmaster in the next few scenes.

The song and the video hinge on the metaphor of “the key that makes us wind up.” So the first verse of her song is dedicated to deciphering what that is, and why it is so important. The music itself is perhaps the greatest force giving life to the characters in this video and thus the “key,” but the reason it seems to be, at first, is that it makes the “boys all stare.” The huge golden key itself turns into a number of things in the hands of Stefani, from a tool to a guitar and then a sexual metaphor.

Stefani is intentionally speaking to women, as she often does in her songs, and not to men. She encourages girls to “get it” and find their independence, eventually separate from a man (“don’t let him steal your light/I know he thinks you’re fine and stuff/ but does he know how to wind you up?”). The best set in the entire work is the last one in which Gwen is chained to a fence (like the women who are too reliant on men etc.) but finds the key to freedom inside of herself, in her own voice. It’s not only the most beautiful scene of the video; it sums up the theme rather succinctly as well.

But the final verse and the final scenes of the video are speaking in direct dialogue with “What You Waiting For.” Stefani makes reference to the “tick-tock” of her key, and the re-energizing of the artistic spirit. Yet what is most tragically ironic about this reference is that in that song she was adamant about her “million-dollar contract” not influencing where she would take her song. But the most memorable images from this video are the gigantic “G”’s that permeate everything from the curtains in her room to the reflections in her sunglasses. Stefani has become a brand, both commercially (she even makes reference to her “LAMB” line of clothing), and musically – she is selling creativity here, not artistically producing it (the first verse of this song is so bad it almost makes one wish for the coquettish absurdity of Fergie, almost).

Everything from the blatant reference to both old-school film and to her own previous work reeks of an attempt at selling records rather than reaching back into that figurative rabbit hole. The “tick-tock” of her inner clock, which once mimicked her own heartbeat and panting sexual desire, has now turned into the horrifying banal sound of robotic production - what she fears the most, but ironically, represents perfectly in the image of the infantilized “toy” wind-up women.

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