In an age where popular culture is becoming increasingly voracious, it never fails to amaze me how often image makers and stylistas invoke archetypes to propel their own images forward.
In the world of contemporary Western pop culture, perhaps the fail-safe archetype is that of the Venus. Venus was the Roman incarnation of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, a woman who legend had it could make any man fall in love with her. In these seemingly more open times, I would probably suggest, not to diminish her appeal, this would be unlikely with some segments of the male community, namely those whose consumption of popular culture and pop goddesses keeps groups like the Haus of Gaga in constant work. To be sure, it would be a love, but a platonic love; a love of the sheen of her image, of her confidence, and the exaltation of her beauty. To love someone is one thing, to fall in love with her, hmmm, not sure that I will buy that.
But in this day and age, our goddesses are our artists; our musicians, our movie stars, clothes horses, and unfortunately, our reality TV/celebs who trade on their exposure more than any in talent.
The appeal of the Greco-Roman gods is usually timeless. Occasionally, ideas from the past don't translate, and to be sure, some have fallen by the wayside, but we can generally rely on the strongest of the archetypal figures to maintain their influence some millennia after they first captured the collective imagination.
But back to Venus. A little over a decade ago, in the mid 1990s, it suddenly became fashionable to share the whimsy, and remind ourselves of the eternal potency of the Goddess of Love.
The Icelandic anti-pop star Bjork, played with the attributes of the Goddess, and projected the goddess qualities into the form of a male love interest. "Venus As A Boy" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1Rd7zrvW7k, was an utterly fresh take on the age old embodiment of love, and revitalised the idea of what a modern day Venus would be like, in a peculiarly original fashion. The idea that Venus could be working around in the body of a man? Priceless.
A couple of years later, the pop cultural juggernaut that is Madonna, with the help of then photographic darling Mario Testino, invoked Renaissance interpretations of the Venus, namely, Botticelli's still awe inspiring The Birth of Venus http://artloss.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/botticelli-birth-venus.jpg for the imagery of her 1998 opus Ray of Light. Botticelli's early Renaissance work is often appreciated, widely considered a masterpiece, but dismissed as merely a beautifully painted image of a myth, but Botticelli's intention was to marry the spiritual and the physical in his exploration of man's journey in life along with the juxtaposition of the spirit. Ray of Light, even now, more than a decade after its release, was seen as Madonna's own attempt to distinguish between the spiritual and material worlds, in what is seen as one of her true watershed records.
In the time since, Sarah Jessica Parker popularised the same Botticelli-esque look, Venus became a word synonymous with lady shavers, and both Bjork and Madonna have had wildly unpredictable peaks and troughs in their careers.
But now, Venus is back, ready for another re-incarnation. This time, we're harking back to her Grecian incarnate, Aphrodite, but the idea is still the same, and just as potent.
The same woman who was said to have been born of the Uranus' discarded groin, which when thrown into the ocean by Cronus, the original head cheese of the Greek Titans, caused a bubble and foaming in the sea from which she sprung out, riding astride a seashell of course, given that Minis and VW Golfs just weren't around back then.
Aussie songstress, Kylie Minogue, has invoked Aphrodite, naming her latest album after the Grecian goddess, and has released the first accompanying single, the evocatively titled All The Lovers, with a video filmed in one of the centres of our modern culture, Los Angeles http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zixQYDeRtzI.
It's a gently insistent dance track, which the lady herself describes as being "euphoric" and "surging", but that one blogger more appropriately interprets as an 'act of rebellion' against her younger contemporaries' "hypersexual slut anthems" which are currently dominating the charts. I won't name names, but you can see who is being referred to at http://poptrashaddicts.blogspot.com/ .
But, back to the video. The juxtaposition of the heavily airbrushed imagery of Kylie's new album cover, which looks decidedly Grecian, with this modern, lighter take on Aphrodite, hopefully suggests that the visual references with which we are likely to be bombarded over the coming months, will at least be subtle and offer something new. I mean, let's face it, if you are going to go back to basics, you do need to add a few pinches of spice. The conch is just not going to cut it.
The central premise to this slightly muddled video; a growing mountain of lovers all under the hedonistic influence of the diminutive incarnate, works well, and occasionally, it has just the right amount of steam to engage with. The doves, the-so-well-lit-its-a-crime close ups make Kylie look great, and there's enough sexual and youth appeal captured on film to propel the video forward through its three and a bit minutes (thankfully Minogue knows her voice works best in periods of brevity rather than longer works).
There's nothing particularly fresh going on, other than in the sense that it looks like a deodorant commercial. Sure, everyone is pretty hot, there's a bit of action going on for every orientation, and the human architecture is almost a little Spencer Tunick-in-underwear. But, there's a lack of focus in the video, made worse by inconsisten images.
Some of Kylie's strongest videos (particularly Slow and Chocolate), worked so well because of their less is more philosophies. This video had potential to transcend into something iconic, but the jarring combinations ultimately hurt the initially strong simplicity.
Where the interaction between her consorts, her dancers, and all the lovers is strong in a subtle way, the subtelty disappears when the white horse and white elephant come along to steal the show.
The appearance of the white horse (sorry love, Madge beat you to it on that one), perhaps symbolising masculine energy or the triumph of positivity over negativity just fizzles.
And what of that pesky White Elephant that is floating around nearby, hemmed in by the maze of LA skyscrapers? Are we to think there is something going on in the room that we shouldn't talk about? Awkward. Is it a reference to the Eastern tradition of the sacred? Or is it just the biggest inflatable object the production team could get their hands on? Either way, these elements, which probably sought to embellish the Aphrodite themes of the video, take away from them instead.
That said, we don't go to Kylie for anything too heavy, anything too symbolic, or even anything too meaningful. Like Aphrodite, who was all but quarantined into marriage, its best not to look too profoundly at any possible influence Minogue might have. After all, she has been Madonna-lite for more than two decades, and has at times eclipsed her inspiration, particularly in the music video stakes.
So whilst the inspiration is the same, its a safe bet to say that the two mainstays of pop music are welcome to their own interpretations of the Venus/Aphrodite legend. All The Lovers will do little to develop Kylie's gravitas, but at least it will perpetuate any one of a number of myths for that little bit longer.
Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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