Watched on the Treadmill: 40 Minutes of Dance Videos

On a recent Overthinking It podcast, it came to my attention that many OTI readers (and even contributors) may not be familiar with the grimy basement storage space of popular culture that is gym treadmill television. That’s a shame, because, as with most grimy basement storage spaces, if you dig around long enough, you might just find a few treasures, and you will find profound oddities.

Determined to share this rag and bone shop of the target heart rate with our readership who are either too serious about running to watch treadmill television, or not nearly serious enough about running to watch treadmill television, I share with you here all the music videos (or all the ones I could find online) that I watched during a recent 40 minute stint on a Boston Sports Club treadmill, with accompanying analysis.

I went with the shadiest and grimiest of the Sports Club music channels – the Dance channel – because anything worth doing is worth doing to techno music. The collage of it takes on a life of its own. When you open your mind to the Dance channel and consider what it is actually showing, coexisting in the same artistic space, presenting an accidental grand narrative fueled by endorphins and dull ankle pain, it’s a sublime, glorious and terrifying experience. Especially when it starts with this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDM3ppTnOIc

That’s right, Australia and Austin, Texas EDM fans, that’s Jacinta with her hit, “Can’t Keep a Secret.” Jacinta doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, but she does has a MySpace page, and her own website, www.chunkymusic.com.

More on Jacinta, and the rest of the rabbit hole, after the jump. Make sure to stretch first!

1. Jacinta: “Can’t Keep a Secret”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDM3ppTnOIc

“Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,” by Wallace Stevens, is a metapoem that sets down goals, values and aspirations for the poetical project — what creative artists are trying to accomplish, but never really will, at least ever for very long. The “Notes” are built around three declarations about this Supreme Fiction — not particularly in this order — “It Must Be Abstract,” “It Must Change,” and “It Must Give Pleasure.” The second declaration means that nothing can be the Supreme Fiction for very long — just as human life is fleeting and the human race and all of nature are fleeting, art is also fleeing, and art that counterfeits toward permanence cannot be the greatest artistic expression of humanity. “Nothing gold can stay,” as Robert Frost said, as he is wont to say — just as smartly but in a lot fewer words.

Why do I bring this up? Because I think, for one glorious moment and not a second longer, “Can’t Keep a Secret” was the greatest music video ever made. I don’t think I have ever seen anything go “YOU GO GIRL” harder in my life.

And then, for every other moment of human existence, it looked like somebody’s mom accidentally blundered into the “Make a Music Video!” booth at Busch Gardens after having one too many at Das Festhaus.

Messagewise, “Can’t Keep a Secret” is very similar to “Shout” by Tears for Fears, joining the rather small but notable subset of synth-backed pop tracks about the therapeutic value of sharing rather than repressing your emotions. Except Jacinta is really really enjoying it. Maybe it’s jus the runner’s high.

2. Mint Royale: “Singing in the Rain”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcYa9b7mMmA

Immediately you see the scope of the Dance channel – we go from something that you could make in your basement with a bedsheet, chromakey and some poorly fitting outfits to a fairly sophisticated bunch of motion-capture-driven computer animation played by a member of the Fatboy Slim set. The collage is incidential, but if I might apply meaning to it where no existence precedes its essence, it demonstrates how dance, specifically techno dance, is democratizing. The goal of booty-shaking is so all-encompassing that it really doesn’t matter how you get it done or with what tools, as long as you get it done. This is something Hall & Oates wish were true of their music, so they would have stayed on top through the ascendancy of music videos while sounding awesome despite looking ridiculous.

Mint Royale primarily does remixes (and is famous enough to have a Wikipedia page), and the premise of the Singing in the Rain video seems really far removed from the premise of the remix, although I guess he’s stuck in a dirty subway underpass while having an adventure going B-Boy style with a bunch of garbage animated by his imagination or some related presentational phenomenon, showing that he is finding the art and joy in an undesirable situation — Singing in the Rain, as it were.

11 Comments on “Watched on the Treadmill: 40 Minutes of Dance Videos”

  1. Rob #

    An interesting point on that Basshunter video – it’s part three of a bizarrely ambitious series of videos, hence the dumping of the boyfriend at the start. The story is summarised a ‘megamix’ that you can find on Youtube, which is 8 minutes of eurotrance but will fill you in on how we got this far and where the romance progresses. Most of the plot arcs are contrived around getting the women into bikinis and the men into swim shorts. And by the way – I know all this because the megamix once played whilst I was on a treadmill in the gym. If nothing else the storyline kept my mind off the pain of running!

     
  2. Chris #

    This was a thoroughly enjoyable piece, but that may be in no small part due to the fact it is eerily similar to a series of essays I was working on in which I provided a thorough analysis of songs that appear on “Worst Songs Ever” lists. Alas, that project is on hiatus due to, you know, actual work, but at least I could briefly relive it vicariously through this video enhanced essay.

    Additionally, and tangentially, it reminded me of a piece Chuck Klosterman once wrote in which he watched VH1 Classic for, I believe, 24 hours. However, if I recall his essay correctly, at the time VH1 Classic showed videos in eight hour blocks, so he ended up seeing the same videos three times. You were not as unlucky, however, plus you got a workout in, so that’s a bonus.

    I wish I had something more substantive to add to this comment, but for now that simply isn’t the case.

     
  3. Fig #

    To further dwell on Basshunter, the interesting thing is that two of his most popular songs in Swedish are about a chat room bot and Warcraft, respectively. I believe he (or some nebulous “they”) rewrote at least “Boten Anna” in English to be much less interesting–maybe they thought it would appeal more to an international market that way? I’m not sure about the rest of his songs, but at least “Boten Anna” and “DotA” appealed to a nerdier market.

     
  4. Simber #

    Cool stuff. Interestingly I know only very few of these songs, except Lasgo and Armand van Helden (even though I’m an avid follower of thrashy dance music). I’m led to believe there’s a taste difference between the European continent and the UK/US. You guys seem to appreciate dance tracks that have more song-like structures, whereas Europeans love steadily intensifying grooves.
    The video that is unavoidable on Dance-TV like channels at the moment is ‘One’ by the Swedish House Mafia and Pharrel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxuEl8qkErs
    Is that played with you aswell? I like the clinical/raw contrast in the video and the fact that it refers (somewhat, though inconsistently) to how dance music is actually made, instead of having pretty girls play phantom guitars. It might be a little too slow for serious running, though.

     
    • fenzel #

      @Simber

      Just as conjecture, I’d say something like that is true. American dance crowds, in my experience, love bass and love hooks. The “steadily building groove” isn’t as popular, and is often reserved for novelty songs. The bar for what “techno” is is very low, and people are alienated very easily by songs that aren’t song-like. The European EDM artists who break through here tend to have good hooks and write things that feel like songs. A good example of the American sensibility for dance music, listen to pretty much any track by Timbaland.

      This is I think because singing along with a song is really big on dance floors. The women often dance separately from the men (who are often somewhat loathe to really dance — it’s still considered a gay or European thing to do in a lot of places, at least sober), and people either grind or sing along to their favorite songs with their friends.

      The American “rhythmic” radio format is a combination of dance, pop and hip hop — outside of certain niches, you tend not to run into electronic music in a vacuum, it is also juxtaposed with pop music and rap music, both of which are very anchored in song structure. Especially when you’re dealing with a rap song, there are verses you usually can’t understand with lots of text that resolve into hooks — and that resolution is pretty huge for how dancing works in America.

      Pharrel has been a bit of a no-show in the States lately; I haven’t heard anything from him in a while. But then again, I’m in Boston, which isn’t exactly cutting edge with dance music (because of the ethnic homogeneity across neighborhoods). I haven’t encountered this song before — maybe some of my New York friends have.

      By the way, I would be incorrect to discount the very important influence of Latin DJs in the United States — that’s a whole other world that is as American as a lot of this other stuff. But even there, I think you see a preference for song structure — perhaps the most obvious example of that being the rise of Reggaeton, which of course made its commercial crossover in the American territory of Puerto Rico.

       
  5. cat #

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, but I would imagine the Singing in the Rain video to be a mimicry of sorts of Gene Kelly’s dance with his mirror self in that movie. Nice blend of the technology it takes to create the effect (mirror self, self-assembling components), the advanced technical ability required for the dance moves, and the simplicity of the scene (uncomplicated metaphor and dancing in the rain with oneself/uncomplicated metaphor and dancing in a subway with junk).

    Also, what kind of gym are you going to? I get mostly the current Top 40 or the Top 40 of the last few decades.

    I couldn’t actually make it through most of the videos but the Cascada one has an incredibly confusing message. It starts off simple enough, her significant other has apparently been unfaithful but she’s still in love with him. This can go one of two ways. Either it becomes an empowering song about how she’s leaving him or a song about how she decides to stay. It doesn’t exactly become either”.

    “I need miracle/I want to be your girl/Give me a chance to see/That you are made for me/I need a miracle/Please let me be your girl/One day you’ll see/It can happen to me”. Wait, what? What is this song about? Were the beginnings of two songs added together? Why does she need a miracle? Isn’t she already “his girl”? What is she asking from him? I suppose, being generous, you could read it as her asking him to prove that he can live up to her dream and act like he was “made for her”. But then why does she ask him to let him be her girl? What will he see one day? It sounds like a song about a cheating boyfriend was mashed together with a song about pining for an unrequited love. Otherwise, it’s about an emotionally abusive relationship where even though he’s cheated on her, she not only forgives him but feels like it’s up to her to prove she can be “his girl”. “Day and night/I’m always by your side/Cause I know, for sure/My love is real, my feelings pure.” Sigh…

     
    • fenzel #

      @cat

      “Also, what kind of gym are you going to? I get mostly the current Top 40 or the Top 40 of the last few decades.”

      I go to a Boston Sports Club. Not all Boston Sports Clubs have these video channels. This one didn’t even used to have them on all the machines. But they took a survey of their members and I think people said they liked it, because after the survey they added a couple video channels and put them on all the machines.

      Although I miss the “Rock of Ages” channel. The “Classic Rock” channel isn’t nearly as good — not enough metal.

      “Otherwise, it’s about an emotionally abusive relationship where even though he’s cheated on her, she not only forgives him but feels like it’s up to her to prove she can be “his girl”.”

      Yeah, this is how I read the song. Very effed up.

       
  6. cat #

    Tonight Fever Inside Together My Soul Control All The Time A Sign Love Love My Mind A Sign Love Love Together My Soul Control Soul All The Time A Sign Love Love A Sign

    Above are all the words in order that appear on screen in the Lasgo “Out of My Mind” video. Tell me there isn’t something sinister there. It’s either bad news for the woman singing or the audience. Cue montage of every movie/television show using the concept of music as mind control. Maybe it’s just all the talk of controlling souls…

     
  7. Brimstone #

    I was watching dance videos at a pub yesterday. most of them were really sexualized, in blatant and strange ways

    dance music confuses and frightens me. it’s very popular in Aus tho

     
  8. Heather (An Underthinker) #

    I am super jealous that your gym offers this channel.