thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Replay: “Turn Me On,” David Guetta Ft. Nicki Minaj

In hip hop, music videos, Replay on May 1, 2012 at 8:09 am

Nicki Minaj never ceases to amaze and intrigue the GLG ladies, and this video is no exception. David Guetta’s “Turn Me On” plays off the Frankenstein story, with Guetta as Dr. Frankenstein and Nicki Minaj and others as the Monster, or in this case doll-like creations. Nicki Minaj becomes Barbie here, as she is literally a doll–flesh built over complex mechanics–who runs out into the night and away from Guetta’s character.

Read on for some thoughts on “Turn Me On.” And we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

I must admit, while this video is interesting and weird, I didn’t think it did enough with Nicki’s weirdness – a critique I have of all her recent videos. Have you seen “Starships” yet? What a let down (though I love the song, despite its alleged mainstream,  bubblegum pop sound). While I haven’t yet heard all of Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, many reviews suggest that critics, too, are disappointed when Minaj settles for autotuned chart-blasters rather than her signature mix of wide-eyed crazy and snarly, sassy lines. So, for instance, what this video highlights for me (but was also true in the song) is the limited amount of time the song spends highlighting Nicki’s unique talent –  there is only that one bridge where Minaj starts rapping, and I start thinking, “Oh man, yeah, get it girl!” and all too soon its over! She sounds awesome singing the entire song, but I think what the critics over at MTV said resonates with me: why sing bland poppy tunes when there are dozens of singers that could front a David Guetta song right now…but when nobody can rap like Nicki can rap? Yes – there are lots of awesome female rappers out there, and I’m not arguing whether Azealia Banks, Iggy Azealia, Kreayshawn, Lil Kim is the best. I’m just saying, nobody, male or female, can rap the quicksilver, crazy, personality-shifting way that Nicki can, and it seems like what critics (and I) don’t get is why her recent releases have been tamping that utterly irrepressible attitude down into something so…reproducible.

What interests me about the video is the way it plays with this artificiality. By making all the artists’ bodies in this video into mechanical creations built in pursuit of the same ideals of beauty, the video also draws attention to the technological, artificial homogenization of pop music that’s been happening lately in mainstream electronic music. I have no proof, but Nicki sounds Autotuned to me on this track, which is interesting because it’s the exact opposite of the volatility that made her the top of the rap game – that let her utterly steal the show on Kanye’s 2010 “Monster;” that let her turn a throwaway track like Ludacris’s “My Chick Bad” into an unforgettably hilarious throwdown; that made her solo in Lil Wayne’s poptacular “Knockout” snarlier than many a rap track.  She sounds great, and the song is grooveable – but Nicki as a personality is utterly forgettable. In fact, I didn’t even know it was her in this song until a friend showed me the video last week. I agree with Phoebe – by showing the construction of the dolls, the video highlights the artificiality of the “Barbie” concept, and I think it also points to the artificiality of the pop song overall. Nicki’s voice, like her doll-like body, is a recreation; her body here is only unique because of its accessories. In fact, I think the song interestingly shows the interchangeability of pop singers by having the doll body start as a skeletal, mechanical frame; adding a white face to the doll; and then ultimately having the doll become a black singer. Identity becomes somewhat interchangeable in the universe of the mechanical pop song; the attitude-filled, unique Black Barbie becomes one plastic body amidst other plastic bodies.

Phoebe B.:
I think what you’re getting at Melissa, is super interesting in terms of the slippage between the mechanization of, for example, Nicki Minaj’s body in this video, and the mechanization of pop music. Specifically too, given the way you argued that Nicki could be interchangeable in this song works interestingly with your assessment of the way the video figures bodies as all rooted in the same complicated, yet basic, but also beautiful machinery. And, in the video David Guetta, at least initially functions as the kind of mechanic (slash Dr. Frankenstein) of the beats and the track, I think it is interesting in that it has a real life, for Guetta, counterpart or component. Or rather, his job in the video is also his job in real life. That said, I actually love this song and LOVE Nicki Minaj’s voice in it. In fact, she is both my favorite part of the song and the video. And, I also love the kind of 19th century dandy style (like Oscar Wilde or something) of the video.

I do think though, that the video foregrounds Nicki Minaj’s uniqueness. She is the only “doll” with a voice (and an amazing one at that) and her pink hair and outfit definitely create her as the center amongst the other dolls or creations. As she walks down the street singing, all the other dolls look at her, their eyes follow her, which to me makes her seem daring and exciting, in their eyes. And, I like too that Guetta becomes, or so it seems, one of his creations (just more sparkly). Near the end when she raps (which is, I agree, amazing), all the other dolls stand statically around her in mechanical positions highlighting her centrality. And, it is only Nicki Minaj, whom it seems becomes fully human or mobile or with a will of her own. At the end, she does ride off on a horse (which might be my favorite part) leaving the scene of her creation, or birth. For me, the ending, rather than becoming a Barbie that is like all the other Barbies, Nicki Minaj’s position in the video reveals the tension, perhaps, between conformity and individuality, between becoming one of the masses and pushing back on that assimilation, or even between pop music and her own individual style. Lastly, I find it interesting that the lyrics of “Turn Me On” keep asking a Doctor, presumably Guetta, to turn her on, to fix her, to help her come alive. However, once that’s happened Nicki Minaj is out.

Lastly, GLG folks & Nicki Minaj fans: any thoughts on how none of the naked dolls are sexed one way or the other? Or, other thoughts on race in this video?

Last week on Replay, Melissa and Sarah T. tackled Iggy Azalea’s “Murda Business.”

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