[To read an introduction to this column, please see the first paragraph of the initial post here]
This week I would like to feature a poem I found recently that I think is powerful and important to read. It is from the accomplished poet R. Erica Doyle, and her words about the poem are given at the end.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I love Jimmy Fallon, and during midterms week I may have slightly overdosed on YouTube videos during study breaks…or instead of study breaks. Oops.
But no, I’m not going to talk about Jimmy Fallon yet again, he was merely the mechanism for how I found out about my current topic.
Sasha Fierce. Lemony Snicket. Gorillaz.
What do all three of these things have in common? It’s not music, because Lemony Snicket isn’t a musician, he’s an author. At first glance, it may not be obvious, but when you think about it, they all do have something in common.
They are all alter egos. Think back to when you were a kid, reading A Series of Unfortunate Events (or, if you’re like me, you were probably reading them in the recent rather than distant past). Do you remember how the mystery about who Lemony Snicket actually is intrigued you? Do you remember wondering if this was actually a true story because the narrator was so convincing?
I don’t know what it is about alter egos, but they always seem to fascinate me, especially when they reach a certain level of dedication. When I met “Lemony Snicket,” or rather Daniel Handler, I was fascinated by his willingness to play with this alter ego to entertain all of the kids sitting in front of him on the carpet of the library we were in. And I was thrilled when I walked up to have my book signed by him, only to get witty sarcasm and a note in my book that said “Jeannie! Hi! How are you? Me, too.” Alter egos are simply fascinating to me.
Which is why, when I first saw Miranda Sings playing pictionary on Jimmy Fallon, I became mildly obsessed with her.
The skit is hilarious, but where Jerry Seinfeld and Martin Short were obviously making jokes, Miranda was not. She was withdrawn, and yet I found her the best part of the skit. Instantly I looked her up on YouTube where most of her audience comes from. I scrolled through the videos and though I didn’t automatically realize it, I intuitively knew that this wasn’t a real girl, this was a character and there was a “real” Miranda somewhere.
But I couldn’t find her real YouTube. If you’re familiar with the way YouTube famous people promote themselves, you’ll know that typically the YouTuber will have the “famous” channel, the channel for skits and parodies and music videos, and then will have a separate channel for behind the scenes content as well as personal vlogs for those who are interested. This is meant to separate the two “lives” of the YouTuber in a way that TV and film rarely does – it separates the creator from the creation, pulling the curtain back and showing the audience that yes, these are real people rather than just funny script writers/actors. So as I scrolled through Miranda’s videos, I tried to find a link in the description for the real Miranda channel, the one that isn’t playing to the camera. There was none.
I tried the website, figuring in some small part there had to be a note that said “Miranda Sings is the creation of Miranda Smith, an actress from Atlanta, Georgia” or whatever. There was none. Her entire YouTube channel was completely in character, and her bio was simply her character talking about herself (like she does on YouTube). There wasn’t even a hint for who she was.
This intrigued me further. It’s one thing to have an alter ego, like Sasha Fierce. But there wasn’t a whole lot of mystery; Beyonce was still Beyonce, and she just became Sasha for a short time. Miranda, on the other hand, seemed to do everything in character, purposefully keeping her true identity a secret.
Unfortunately, after about five more minutes of searching, I typed “Miranda Sings” into Google and one of the suggestions read “Miranda Sings real name” and the first result that came back was a video by Colleen Ballinger entitled “Becoming Miranda Sings.”
As you can probably guess, this cracked the code, although I still found her video to be hilarious as she still keeps the character a mystery. Colleen in the beginning claims her and Miranda are “good friends” and once she “becomes” Miranda Sings, she says “Colleen who was in the beginning of this video with me will be in my shows with me,” referring to the Colleen/Miranda comedy tours she takes.
The mystery was solved, and I began watching Colleen’s videos, finding her to be a lot more tolerable than the…um…special Miranda.
And yet, I’m still willing to believe in the mystery behind the ego. I know who she is now, but that doesn’t ruin Miranda’s videos for me. In fact…it makes me like her more.
As I was watching Miranda videos, looking at comments on the Jimmy Fallon video (Miranda’s first big television debut), and thinking about her “acting” with Jerry Seinfeld, I not only gained respect for her as an actress/comedian, but also started thinking more about comedy than I ever had before.
I knew that comedians like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler often talked about the gender inequality in television and media as a whole, but I never stopped to think about women in comedy because I never wanted to be in comedy. But as I thought about it, I realized that the majority of famous stand-up comedians are male, and here I’m talking about stand-up as a genre rather than stand up as a gateway to acting in comedy. When Amanda Seales went on CNN to slam some dude about catcalling, I looked up her YouTube channel and watched her hilarious stand-up. And that’s the only female stand-up comedian I think I’ve ever watched. Ever. Maybe this isn’t telling because I don’t really watch stand-up ever, but when I think about stand-up Bryan Reagan, Louis C.K., and Dane Cook come to mind, rather than Margaret Cho (bless her) or Sarah Silverman.
I know I talk about female equality a lot in my blogs, but it’s only because I’m not only passionate about it but I also see women disproportionately represented in the arts. Like I said, I’ve never wanted to be a comedian, but I have huge respect for them, especially the ladies of SNL (you kill it Leslie Jones), so seeing a young comedian like Colleen makes me so incredibly happy. It’s also interesting that she isn’t doing stand-up (though that could be part of her live show line up), and to me, her character work would shine somewhere like SNL. However, for now, I think she’s happy with YouTube.
Okay, so, Taylor Swift. I talked about her in a previous post but honestly I’m not ashamed I’m talking about her again. Why? Because she deserves it. And she’s been making me proud since 1989 dropped.
So I guess first is the album. I’m actually really happy with the way it turned out. I’m especially happy with the longer tracklist of this album, making it definitely worth the wait and a lot more accessible. Not a big fan of the opening track “Welcome to New York”, or you don’t really wanna “Shake It Off”? Well, good news for you, there’s 17 more for you to choose from. I haven’t listened to it enough to give a definite ruling on it yet, but I’m satisfied at the moment, though I’ll always maintain Red is her best record to date.
But really though, I have to admit, half the reason I’m satisfied as much as I am is because of “Blank Space.”
You’ve heard of “Blank Space,” right? Because it’s pretty dang good. Like…really good.
First, there’s the song. It’s midtempo, which is a rarity for casual Swift fans, but hardcore ones will know how well she can pull off a midtempo track (think “State of Grace,” “Tell Me Why,” “Long Live,” etc.). And “Blank Space” is no exception. Her lyrics are also on point as usual, being easy enough to remember to constitute a good pop hook, but also clever enough to surpass one-hit wonder status.
And not just the lyrics are clever, but the whole premise. It’s a dark-humor parody of herself, which actually doesn’t surprise me coming from Taylor – she’s not stupid and she does know everything people say about her – and she’s using her favorite medium to get back at everyone in a really clever and tasteful way.
But man, them lyrics.
Screaming, crying, perfect storms
I can make all the tables turn
Rose garden filled with thorns
I like this verse especially because of the rose garden image, which goes perfectly to my next point, which is the video.
This video guys. This video is it. And it’s why I’m not ashamed to talk about her after one post about her. Because she deserves it.
Now, okay, maybe she doesn’t deserve all the credit since she didn’t actually direct the video. But its no secret that she’s heavily involved in her creative process. And even if she didn’t have any say in how this video went, she wrote the song. The song is a parody of herself. But it also applies to every girl like Taylor, every girl who gets beaten down and ridiculed for being “boy-crazy” or “too clingy” or “too emotional” or any of the thousand ridiculous things girls get ridiculed for.
So, the video. In case you’ve been living under a pile of homework (which, okay, I’ll admit, is very plausible), a quick synopsis: boy comes to Mansion di Taylor, Taylor’s chilling with her cat when ding dong, she meets boy and smiles creepily, boy and Taylor do that dating thing in this abandoned castle thing. Boy texts some other girl, Taylor gets jealous and a little violent, cries a lot if her mascara is any indication, stands on a horse at some point, and scares away the boy because of her “emotions.”
Why I love this video is because the parody goes even further than a parody – it becomes a satire, akin to Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Taylor isn’t just making fun of her haters, she’s doing exactly what they say she does and exaggerates it to show how ridiculous it is.
Which leads me back to rose garden filled with thorns. Okay, I’m gonna show off my English major skills a bit here and talk about why this line is so brilliant, especially in context of the video. So, if a girl’s a rose, right, she’s pretty, she smells nice, delicate, yada yada stereotypes. But then she has thorns…but she’s not supposed to. She’s supposed to be pretty, perfect. Pretty, perfect things aren’t supposed to have bad things like thorns. But roses are made with thorns…there’s no way to make a rose without thorns, unless you cut them off. They can’ come thornless. So it’s ridiculous to expect a rose to come without thorns.
Now, if you get the metaphor and go WAIT BUT I’M A GIRL AND I’M NOT EMOTIONAL I’M COOL WHATEVER HAHA I DON’T GET EMOTIONAL DON’T STEREOTYPE ME please don’t jump down my throat. I’m not saying all girls identify with this problem, or all girls are like Taylor. You don’t have to be emotional if you’re a girl, just like you don’t have to be emotionless if you’re a boy. But for those of us that are on the emotional side of the spectrum and do get criticized for it, well, this song comes as a much needed relief.
Because calling girls crazy for having emotions, for being normally jealous and sad and possibly even angry…well that’s not cool. And Taylor got it right.
Now, besides all that, I loved this video because of how absolutely gorgeous it is. From her outfits to the setting, the video is so artsy without being like “oh this is artsy because art.” I mean, there is that apple part that I get but not really, but other than that, it’s treated like a piece of art, with the colors and the set and saturation and I love that. Overall, it’s well made, and quality in music videos is something I’ve actually forgotten over the years, since Internet killed the Video Star.
So, there you go. My praise-rant on Taylor’s awesome video/song combo. You go for that 2-1 punch, Tay. I’m proud of you. You’ve grown and gotten complex and you tell those haters. And after, go Shake it Off. You deserve it.