M.I.A. of “Paper Planes” fame isn’t a fan of Lady Gaga to say the least. So after Gaga’s “Telephone” mini-movie/music video received so much attention, it seemed fortuitous (though I wouldn’t say planned given the time it takes to make even a short film) that M.I.A. had a mini-movie/music video of her own released a few months after Lady Gaga’s, titled “Born Free.” For this piece, I’d like you watch the two back to back.
Here’s Lady Gaga’s “Telephone”
M.I.A.’s “Born Free”
Here’s what I find so compelling about “Born Free” as opposed to “Telephone”:
A) “Born Free” is a music video that is trying to send a message AND does it in a way formalistically that reminds you of Children of Men. With so many music videos being a pastiche of random, eye grabbing bits with a booming track laid over it, this music video is noteworthy.
B) No visual pleasure: Plenty of music videos feature near-nudity for the sake of eye candyness, but the only nakedness we see in “Born Free” makes you want to look away in shame for witnessing the couple having sex. Violence isn’t included nearly as often in music videos, but when it does appear, it’s usually some part of the video’s thrills/pleasure. In contrast, all of the violence in “Born Free” makes you wince. Finally, there aren’t even any colors to dazzle you. Other than the explosions at the end, it’s very drab looking; there’s no visual POP like those throughout “Telephone”
Unlike most music videos you see, “Born Free” does not let you wallow in pleasurable images. It’s notable for killing a child on-screen (rarely done in tv, film, even video games) and showing what a landmine really would do to a person. I herald these as positives because:
1) Children DO die. To ignore childhood death by not showing it in the moving image is to ignore this as a fact of life.
2) Much of the violence we see in film is toned down and thus removes the impact that killing someone is an ugly thing, no matter how much we’re rooting for the good guy shooting the baddies.
Underlying all of this is the video’s attempt to bring world conflict to your attention. Having white red heads corralled as their masked “insurgent” brethren chuck rocks at the passing motorcade supply such a reading. Further, it recalls the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, in which grad students became vicious guards and hopeless inmates. When you have a police/military force, the norm is the type of brutality we see in the film. The deviation from the norm are those that can stay civil when using their power to enforce the law.
As far as music videos are concerned, “Born Free” is one of the best I’ve seen in a while. It’s not about visual pleasure (like “Telephone”) and the fact that so many people are uncomfortable with its violence, to me, reveals its power.
*I know these videos have different styles, but I wished to highlight that one follows the mainstream by feeding audiences pleasurable images while the other pop artist tries to make something with a social message sans the product placement