Yeah, Taylor Swift writes songs about her ex-boyfriends and uses their real names, and in a lot of ways it’s immature or obnoxious. But why do people act like she’s the only one in the history of music to do that? Remember “Cry Me a River”? We all love JT, the song is a jam and the video is hot—but holy jesus, why was there not more of an outcry about how fucking creepy it is?
A couple of tangentially-related points:
1. This video is fucking creepy. Music video directors don’t usually get a ton of recognition, but it’s worth noting that Francis Lawrence – in addition to directing music videos for just about every major pop artist of the last twenty years- would go on to direct Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video, as well as Constantine and I Am Legend. I wonder how much of the video’s vision came from Lawrence, and how much came from Timberlake.
2. The most famous example of public-figure-as-song-inspiration that I can think of is “Layla”, a song for which Clapton garnered almost universal acclaim. I’m not denying the gender angle, but some of the backlash toward Swift might come from the fact that while Clapton and Timberlake both sound heartbroken, she comes off as a little petulant. Take a song like “Forever and Always”: sure, the lyrics are sad - but the music? It’s upbeat power-pop.
3. Julia, before you say it: no, the Unplugged version of “Layla” is in no way whatsoever superior to the original.
4. One thing that I think gets overlooked about modern pop-music is how weird it can be. My favorite example of this is actually “Viva La Vida”. Coldplay was a group that, until that song, had played conventional soft-rock music. But that song is a weirdly orchestral thing: gone are the electric guitars and the drum kit, and in their place is literally a string quartet. It sounds more like a genre cover of a Coldplay song than it sounds like an original Coldplay song. Yet it was a smash-hit by any standard.
”Cry Me A River” is the same way. The song is introduced by a weird organ solo that sounds like it was lifted from the soundtrack of a film about a haunted carnival. There’s a bass-line to the song, sure, but the rest of the percussion is all a-capella, a bunch of weird mouth noises. And the coda to the song features an interplay between Timberland’s backup singers and a string section.
Of course, pop music is generally a conservative medium, but that’s precisely why I wish there was more attention paid to those songs that wildly appropriate musical conventions from other genres.
When I got the email from Tumblr that “Fitful Murmurs has reblogged your photo,” I thought, “Please Jesus, not the Cry Me a River post.” But this was not as bad as I expected, besides the fact that you deleted the gif (what, you can’t handle the sexiness?). I’m more upset about that than I am about your refusal to admit unplugged Layla is completely superior to original Layla.
I actually didn’t know that Layla was about Pattie Boyd, although if it were a multiple choice question I’d probably be able to guess correctly. I have a soft spot for that love triangle—as someone smarter than me once summed it up, it’s so perfect because Eric fucking Clapton could have any woman in the world he wanted, but he only wants the wife of his best friend, who happens to be a fucking Beatle. Why have they not made a Walk the Line-style movie about this? And get Rebecca Hall to play Pattie Boyd, please.
So, your #2 point, about heartbroken vs. petulant—it’s a valid possible explanation (and Better than Revenge is SUPER petulant, which is why it’s the biggest jam on the album), except that your two examples are very poor representations of heartbreak. Justin Timberlake singing “Gone”—that’s heartbreak. JT singing “Now it’s your turn to cry”—that’s cutting and cold. Eric Clapton singing “You’ve got me on my knees” on the Unplugged Layla—completely heartbroken. EC wailing “Darling won’t you ease my worried mind” on original Layla—that’s frenzied desire. Which is why Unplugged is better, the end.
You’re spot on about how bananas the music of Cry Me a River is. But you know what song (also produced by Timblanad) is even more awesomely weird? Are You That Somebody, by Aaliyah. That beat goes everywhere, and the baby noises—all in a song from the Dr. Doolittle soundtrack.
Jumping back to point #1, about the director—it sounds like you’re trying to take the blame (or credit) for the video’s creepiness away from Justin. I could buy that the storyline came from the director, and it might even have been his idea to hire a tan blonde and stick a newsboy cap on her. But Justin had the opportunity to take the high road and say, “Yeah, of course I’m pissed off that this girl cheated on me, but we dated for years, knew each other as kids, lived together, lied about losing our virginities to each other—maybe we could get a redhead in a fedora instead?” And he clearly didn’t, and he deserved to get criticized for that. (Though now I’m sort of talking myself out of this, because which is a bigger betrayal: sleeping with someone else or fake-stalking a doppelganger in a music video? Probably the former. My thought process on this video is starting to resemble a snake eating its own tail.)
Last thing: I’m very curious about whose idea the wirework was. I have a strong suspicion that Justin said, “Yo, Francis, I just saw the Matrix—that shit was dope [remember, this was during Justin’s BET phase]! Can we do some of that?” And he said, “…sure, why not.” MTV really failed in not doing a Making the Video about this one.