I keep waiting for the tears to come. Computer in lap, radiating my ovaries so that I one day produce children with three legs, I stand at the ready, prepared for the flood. “Heartbreaking!” Huffington Post warned me. “Cry!” commanded MTV. Even a friend whom I generally consider a human being of good taste and intelligence reported that it rendered her to tears. But here I am, weeping held at firmly bay, like a heartless, unmoving, emotionally blunted rock.
Xtina, you will have none of me.
The video for Christina Aguilera’s recent “Say Something” opens up on a mostly empty stage, save for a piano manned by Malcolm Gladwell. The notes of sad, contemplative piano keys fill the room, while blue lights reflect off the floor the way a ship’s might off water – this is how I imagine the black surface of the Atlantic looked right before Titanic hit a giant ice cube and killed a ton of people.
They cut away to an interracial couple lying on a mattress (It’s a good thing Kim and Kayne prepared us for such a shocker. Long live Yeezus and his godlike ability to shift the zeitgeist.) So the white dude and the black chick are laying there, looking like a hetero storyline from RENT and a Levi’s commercial. Only, you know sadder, because they’re clearly going to break up by the end of this video, probably because the tension from not being able to properly furnish their apartment has become too great.
Back at the piano, Malcolm Gladwell is joined by a guy in sneakers and a chambray shirt (What up, Brooklyn?!) who stands around like a hipster lounge lizard that’s forgotten the lyrics (who also looks like he lets out a silent fart at 1:50). This guy doesn’t do much for the entirety of the song except hop on the piano at one point and find his light.
Oh, and to prepare you for the emotional manipulation that awaits, drops of water move against the blackness in slow motion. Get it? TEARS!
A 100-pounds-lighter-than-last-year Christina sashays her way to center stage, where an old, rusty, post-apocalyptic mattress awaits. For a moment I think this is going to be a choreographed vid, maybe like Chicago or West Side Story or that overly ambitious and muscular routine from P!nk’s “Try.” Alas, no. Christina stands, wearing an American Apparel tank dress and touching the side of her face a lot.
They introduce another storyline – and another bed. This one is filled with a forlorn little girl in an expensive-looking twin sized number that makes me think whatever this twerp is about to cry about is some serious #whitegirlproblems. She pulls her blanket over her head, making a lonely girl fort. When she gets sick of her parents fighting behind a sheer curtain, she dives under her expensive bed, where an even sadder looking dog lives. I mean, this dog is seriously the saddest looking pup I have ever seen in my life.
But here’s where the real heavy-handed business sets in.
An old man stands above his old wife, whose bed is of the hospital variety. She should probably be hooked up to a respirator or an EKG monitor or something, but the hospital favors a Spartan vibe and there are no plugs for electrical. That’s a bummer, because she’s probably going to die on account of their Danish-like necessity for minimalism.
The old dude pets his lady’s head before crawling into bed with her like that last scene from the Notebook that had me sobbing for, I don’t know, five days or something. Then he makes this sad old man face that makes me feel like a real f’ing b**tch for having still not cried. This is where I’m supposed to cry! The director zooms in on his silent, agony-riddled face and all my brain can do is think that he looks like one of those faces people carve into bananas.
More drops fall on black backgrounds. Old dude blows his expired wife a kiss. The Levi’s commercial chic makes her way to the edge of the bed. Christina finds her buddies at the piano and touches her face some more and everyone basks in the dusty romance of a struggling artist rehearsal in a version of New York City that no longer exists.
Nope, still not crying.
Christina touches the side of her face and looks heavenward, a genuine mist in her eyes, while Malcolm Gladwell puts the final note down and walks away with his friend who did nothing the last three minutes. And then that’s it. It’s over. What? People thought this was sad? Sure, there was a rich kid with fighting parents and a relationship on the brink of extinction and a dead old lady, but this wasn’t sad. You want to know sad? Listen to a reading of Pablo Neruda’s “If You Forget Me” in the dead of winter on a 3 a.m. cry bender and you’ll really know the true meaning of sadness.
This video – and the media’s appraisal of it being a tearjerker – bugs. It’s not the fact that I find cleaned-up Xtina routinely distracting, even though watching her be all classy and talented for once feels sort of like sitting through the wedding of a slutty friend with whom you’ve taken one too many spring break trips to ever take her seriously as anyone’s wife. My problem with the video is that I kept waiting for something that wasn’t a cheap ploy for an emo donation. I was waiting for something more complex, a new, refreshing take on loss. Instead all I got were ham-fisted clichés, the director pulling on our collective heartstrings with all the subtle nuance of Randy Rhoads.
Come on, guys. If you’re going to wrench tears out of this chick, you’re going to have to say something new.