Since I’ve lately dived headlong into heart-on-sleeve blogging, I may as well keep things going, even if that means losing a few of you hardcore lurkers out there. You see, I’ve been wanting to gush for a minute now about — believe it or not — Ne-Yo’s “Miss Independent,” which has been on heavy rotation on JAM’N for the last several months. Here’s the video c/o that lovely new MTV service —
Although the lyrics are actually quite laudable in an era when women are more likely to appear as strippers than equals in R&B and hip-hop depictions, I confess it’s the instrumental that initially caught me and continues to tickle me all over.
Where to begin? There’s the dancehall drum track, which I’m happy to hear now completely absorbed into R&B’s all-encompassing palette. (I mean, who even hears this beat as a reggae beat at this point, except for nerds/headz like me?) And then there’s that plucky little harp melody, reinforcing Ne-Yo’s tunefulness. But what really gets me is when that rippling, tactile, crunky/trancey synth comes in to propel the chorus (as also heard in the intro).
I have to admit that when I first heard these techno presents find their way into hip-hop, I was a little skeptical, especially when garageband loops were substituting for actual experimentation (even if one can argue that the very practice is itself inherently innovative — introducing unlikely material, etc.). But they’ve grown on me, big time. Indeed, I’m totally delighted that hip-hop has embraced synths (again, of course, if we remember our history) — so much so that the new Akon & Weezy joint sounds like Vangelis meets Van Halen, or sump’m.
Not to rehash debates about drug determinism, but there is something about these synths that wash over you all MDMA-like — they’re tingly, soothing, effervescent. And of course it helps that the producer of the Ne-Yo track (who did it, btw?) has structured the synth-line to follow a two/three-chord, lilting harmonic progression that feels at once melancholy and uplifting. This seemingly “old school” approach to arrangement — harmony, rly? — takes macro shape at the level of the song’s form, which includes a classic “bridge” (see 3:13) that sets up expectation for the return of the chorus (3:36) and those affective effervesynths. You’re not likely to hear a bridge in hip-hop tracks, but they remain a common compositional device in R&B despite the genre’s “recent” embrace (going on 10-15 years now) of hip-hop’s rhythm-driven aesthetics. (Perhaps it goes without saying that hip-hop has been borrowing more recently from R&B’s harmonic language, oddly enough as filtered through sentimental trance-loops.)
What’s the point of all this? I don’t really have one. I just really dig this song right now and wanted to talk about it and how it relates to contemporary pop aesthetics and affect. And I’m really glad that MTV has made it possible to so easily share hi-qual versions of videos in this way. Although all the distributed, “illegal” labor on YouTube has made it a pretty amazing source for pretty much any audio or video one might seek — especially for indy/alternative/foreign/obscure media — the possibility of takedowns and the varying (but usually low) quality are two major problems with that repository. So I have to welcome MTV’s latest venture, making available high quality video streams from their extensive (and presumably perpetually-licensed) video archive. And even though I bristle at the ever-expanding commodification of our social and cultural lives, I’m heartened by their announcement to partner with MySpace to monetize, rather than penalize, instances where people embed popular music videos on their websites.
As I’m hinting here, at least as important as making them available, MTV has also made these videos spreadable, as Henry Jenkins calls it. Not only is it, rather literally, marvelous to have such a trove of music videos at one’s fingertips, but it’s wonderful to be able embed these rich little things into our increasingly multimedia conversations. Even if we have so little to say (initially) as, I like this, don’t you?