Wednesday, December 2, 2009

#31 - Single Ladies

It was the decade when...

If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.

I resisted this entry for a long time. As big as Beyonce's hit song was, I couldn't help but think that I was being blindsided by the excitement of the moment; that Sasha just wasn't fierce enough to warrant being called an Aughts landmark. I knew that more recent memories were weighted unfairly against more distant ones and so treated more current trends with reticence. Maybe 2008 felt like the year of the Single Lady, but surely the brouhaha could have just been a passing craze. And then I realized, as Beyonce slowly took over the world...I was really really wrong! Single Ladies penetrated pop culture like no other song this decade. Performed at every possible music awards ceremony, lampooned on late night television and spawning a whole cottage industry of recreations and spoofs on YouTube, Beyonce's Single Ladies became the biggest dance craze since the Macarena.

The song itself is in the tradition of classic anthems to feminine resilience and emplowerment like I Will Survive, or I Am Woman and indeed, has joined these songs in jukboxes and dance mixes at gay bars from coast to coast. Laughable lyrics aside, the song makes its point clear enough. But, catchy as the tune is, with it's hand-clapping backbeat and memorable, oft reapeated titular musical motif, what has made Single Ladies a major success is its music video. Featuring the most imitable and engaging dancing in a music video since Michael Jackson's Thriller, those with a keen (or maybe just gay) eye immediately noticed that the choreography bore a striking resemblance to an old Bob Fosse routine called Mexican Breakfast; Beyonce's rendition just nixed the cheesy lounge music, added a pulsating dance beat, and made the whole thing, well Shasha FIERCE! Shot in gorgeous black and white on a sparse bare set, the video has to be one of the simplest in memory. And it was al the better for its reserve. There is no camera trick or special effect as impressive as raw talent.

When was the last time that any music video mattered? At all? MTV and VH1 long ago abandoned caring about the art form. Leave it to Beyonce to, with a small budget and only herself and two back up dancers, create the biggest music video sensation of the decade.

Inspiring a small army imitators on YouTube, America couldn't stop recording itself dancing to the tune. Would a 300lb man have donned a black unitard, bootlyliciously bumping and grinding around his living room to the track if he weren't recording the video to upload to the world? Maybe. But it would be a lot more creepy. (His, ahem, unique interpretation has, as of this blog entry 9,337,549 hits, but I have a feeling that if you haven't seen it, it's about to be 9,337,550.) He is but one in a sea of amateur Single Ladies, a veritable follies of left feet.

Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it) cemented Beyonce's status as the reigning queen of Pop. (Sorry, Madonna.) Given how ubiquitous it is in the culture, how much longer the song will stay novel (or even tolerable) to listen to is anyone guess. Even President Obama got into the groove. When a chorus of highschool football players began dancing to the tune on the hit show Glee, I both wanted to jump for joy and run and hide. By the time Liza has her way with the song in the upcoming Sex and the City sequel all the single ladies may be married with children. But, until then, like a Pavlovian puppy, when I hear those four little words I can't help but start dancing. I bet you can't either. Now put your Hands up!

You AUGHT to remember.

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