Sometimes you hear the kids talking about something — or complaining about its overexposure — so frequently that you know you need to check it out. It could be a book you need to read, or a TV show you need to see, or a movie, or a song. Please lock me in the Home for Irrelevant Ministers if I ever become one of those NPR-Only Unitarian Universalist clergy. You know the kind. They’ve never seen a reality TV show, they don’t know what’s on the radio because they’re entirely devoted to streaming Pandora mixes of Peter, Paul & Mary and old Woody Guthrie social justice songs. Oh, wait. No they’re not. Because they don’t know what Pandora is. You won’t catch them dead reading “Twilight,” let alone attending the movies and getting a guilty delight out of watching all those vampires and werewolves have at it.
I don’t want to get like that. I want to be able to knock around with the kids and be part of their conversation. It was with this in mind that I found the insanely popular hit single “Call Me Maybe” on YouTube and watched it.
What a wonderful, happy surprise!! I have hope for our kids! I am ready to break into a Whitney Houstonesque power ballad about the children being our future! Because this video is a ton of fun. A TON. It is also evidence that things really have changed since my teen years, when music videos were brand new and consisted mostly of footage of bands like Styx playing “Babe” to a live audience.
(Digression: My father was actually one of the original imagineers of MTV. This is a true fact. Carl D. Weinstein was part of the earliest conversations about a channel devoted entirely to music. When he floated the idea to me and my siblings, my brother and sister were very enthusiastic. I, the bookish, classical music-loving child, said snottily, “What a dumb idea! Who wants to have sit and WATCH your favorite musicians play their music when you can just listen to the radio or a tape and do something else like read or study?” My father responded with prophetic words. He said, “Well, I think what would happen is that musicians will start to make little movies of their songs that are a production of their own. It will give them a whole creative opportunity for sharing their vision of the songs they write.” Dad invited me and a group of my friends to his office in New York City to view one of the first MTV videos — footage of Styx singing “Babe.” My friends were PSYCHED. I was bored and thought the whole idea would die a quick death. You may laugh loudly and derisively in my face now, if you like. P.S. My father never received a penny for his contributions to MTV. He was the kind of guy whose brain people liked to pick, and he offered his opinions and insights generously and gratis. We have this in common. He died in 1983, just as MTV was taking off).
So anyway, “Call Me Maybe” is performed by an adorable lass named Carly Rae Jepson, who I must assume is a product of the country music scene – otherwise the industry bigwigs would have renamed her, wouldn’t they have?
The video is classic girl-hankers-after-hot-boy-next-door narrative, with a refreshing reverse of objectification that is usually reserved for such attractive young ladies as Ms. Jepson. In this iteration, it is the girl who remains clothed throughout the video and the Hunk Next Door who strips his shirt off to be ogled. But it’s all very wholesome. He’s mowing the lawn, you see, and then working on his car. These kids are clean cut suburbanites, and there’s no grinding or mashing or dimly-lit scenes that show them in tawdry nightclubs or in perilous dreamscapes. In other words, it’s not a Lady Gaga video.
I laughed out loud at the mocking of the tired old “hot girl washing her car to get the guy’s attention” trope. In this case, Ms. Jepson soaps up her car hood, and poses awkwardly on it as an obviously inexperienced seductress. She almost immediately falls off the car and bangs her head on the ground, where she loses consciousness and has visions of herself and her love interest wearing hilarious big hair wigs posing for the cover of a Harlequin Romance. Clever. The guy looks like a riot as a youthful Fabio (God, remember FABIO?).
In the final scene of the video (and the lyrics are as innocuous as anything you’d want your pre-teen daughter incessantly replaying in the car or on her headphones), a couple of other young guys show up to play music with Carly Rae. One of them, a cute blonde guitarist, is approached by the Hunk Next Door, who hands him a folded piece of paper. The flummoxed guitarist opens the paper, which bears a phone number and a message: “CALL ME.”
The Hunk Next Door is gay! The song ends with Ms. Jepson looking at the camera with a “just my luck” expression, and…. scene. I laughed out loud. It’s charming, catchy, light-hearted and certainly true to my own teen experience. When I was a teenager we simply didn’t have songs or videos like this. Girls in videos were dangerous, sultry, slutty, and entirely second banana to the rock star guys who dominated the industry. Women that did make it through were too bubble gum or Disney cutesy for me to relate to, or else they were Madonna, who eventually became an industry all of her own.
And we certainly didn’t see any depictions of out gay teens! The rare young gay male characters featured in our shows or songs were inevitably tragic, marginalized, and wimpy. They were not muscular dreamboats who confidently passed their phone number to other hot guys. Progress!