Thursday, September 18, 2008

Just sit back and enjoy...

Lenka, the Australian songstress, is just a little bit caught in the middle. Like all of us. Just enjoy the show, she implores.

The video shows us a young singer, who smiles coyly at the camera as she is summarily jerked around by an unseen hand, moving her into and out of the situations of daily life.

This is probably how it feels when one is at the center of a media campaign like the one promoting her debut album, Surprise. But is she really promoting the kind of passivity depicted in her music video?

Certainly, this is an idea with its supporters: Buddhistic withdrawal from the world is, I think, a kernel shared by many religions. It's what allows for the Christian capacity for suffering. And there is no doubt that it is a useful tactic at times when one cannot affect the world around them. At some point, everyone needs to learn that there are things they can't change.

But let's not forget that it's this passivity which allows the great injustices of the world to continue: without it, would the serfs of Europe supported the rulers of Europe through the middle ages? Would the caste system have flourished so long in India? It seems to me that the current citizens of the world are already quite good at passivity: it is the implicit message of the television medium, and most of us have been indoctrinated by it from an early age; this culture of passive media consumption has been extended out of the home by the iPod. Lenka, it would seem, is preaching to the choir, through iTunes.

I should mention that it's an idea with which I've never been entirely comfortable. This world may well be a false one, as the Buddhists and Gnostics have it, but nevertheless it's the one in which we live. To completely embrace passivity is to give up on the possibility of improving the world for future generations, which seems irresponsible to me. It should be possible to live within the ethical and spiritual guidelines of a religion and also deal responsibly with the problems with which we are daily faced in this world.

The song happens to be a fairly inspired bit of pop candy, aside from a nagging similarity to Avril Lavigne's "Complicated." But the lines are longer here, lilting easily into the choruses; the melodic resemblence only serves to make it even catchier. The material is also easier to take without the superficial dressing of teen angst and watered-down punk. One wonders if Lenka is giving us a hint that she knows what she's doing as she emphasizes the word "pop" in an early verse.

Throughout the video she is mostly passive; at one point, however, she reaches out and holds on to a microphone as the unseen hands lift her from the stage, delaying her exit for a few lines. This, and a certain slyness in her smile as she mugs for the camera, makes me wonder if she's as dedicated to utter passivity as her lyrics might suggest. She might be enjoying the show now, but I would imagine that she's worked very hard to put herself into the middle of this media blitz; still, there's not more than a hint of sarcasm or wit in this confection. We'll see how long it lasts.

I've been reading about pop music for the past hour or so, and I'm starting to feel a bit unwell. Here's a some footage of Django Reinhardt to clear the palette.
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