Entering the Videodrome #3: Janelle Monae’s “Cold War”

The concept of a close up shot music video isn’t anything new.

One of the more famous examples of a close up take video is Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” which could arguably be one of the more famous videos of all time. In that video, the shot everyone remembers is when O’Connor sings a line that alludes her troubled relationship with her mother (trivia note: it was a slight change from Prince’s original version) and a single tear rolls down from her eye to her cheek. Whatever your opinions on O’Connor are, it’s still a powerful image born out of simplicity and emotion. It’s an often parodied and replicated shot.

Whilst Miley Cyrus’ video for “Wrecking Ball” replicated the O’Connor video (interspersed with Cyrus looking like a spectacular goof naked on a fucking wrecking ball), the intensity and humanising aspects of the video were pretty much lost. Probably a better example of how to use the close up shot effectively in this day and age can be found in the video for Janelle Monae’s “Cold War”.

For the uninitiated, Janelle Monae is a unique musician who seems to have inherited the dancing ability and stage presence of James Brown. She’s a rarity in modern music; a female musician who wholly rejects sexualisation and who has a clear desire to be respected as a musician above all else. She stepped into prominence with “The ArchAndroid” which was a concept album about an android who falls in love with a human in a futuristic world. It’s an album that knows no boundaries when it comes to genre; one minute it’s soul, the next it’s classical then it’s full blown 60s psychedelia. Her live performances are also genuinely worth going out of your way to see, too.

“Cold War” was one of the highlights from that veritable feast of an album as it featured pure musical jubilation and some incredibly thought-provoking lyrics. The drum pattern has a real “B.O.B” feel to it which makes it and meshes well with Monae’s powerful performance.

Shot in one take, the video is an intimate experience. We follow Monae on an up-close and emotional performance. We see her singing in jubilation, grimacing, laughing before eventually becoming overcome with emotion. The moment when she begins to break down and cry is startling to behold due to the sense of realism it holds. It’s seemingly out of nowhere and is one of those rare instances where you see a musician show raw human emotion in a video. Whilst O’Connor had two tears roll down her face, she continued to sing; Monae stops and momentarily struggles to regain her compose.

“I remember crying during ‘Cold War’ [on the] first take. I didn’t know how that happened but it just did. I was very moved by that. It was really a special moment; then everybody else started to cry.”

 

The emotion on show and the one take video make Cold War. for my money at least, one of the superior close up shot videos. It may not have the ‘iconic’ image from O’Connor’s or the so-called sex appeal from Cyrus’ but it certainly strikes more of a nerve with you. It’s also a great and memorable introduction to one of the more brilliant and ingenious performers of this generation.

One the flip side, there’s the joyous and equally as eye-catching video for the other tremendous single from The ArchAndroid for “Tightrope”. I genuinely hope this fashion sense and dancing style makes a rapid return. I challenge you to not smile at least once when watching it.

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