Thursday, August 24, 2006

'Tonight The World Does Not Exist'

Part 1

So sure, we've established that I have a penchant for pop songs at the abyss. It is no secret that brushing bittersweet sharpness against the grain is something that draws me in. But all the same, there are some songs I am just not sure if it it, or if it is me. Are these sad songs? Is there really a melancholy in this? Or am I just putting it there?

The songs that I have in mind, that prompted this post, are Jessica Simpson's "Public Affair" on the one hand, and Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie", on the other. These are songs that speak of pleasure as tied to a moment in time - that is, they address 'tonight'. Before speaking about them, however, I want to write about two related, but nonetheless quite different, treatments of time in pop. I will return to Shakira and Jessica Simpson in a later post.

Tonight Is Forever

When pop songs speak of 'tonight', an answer is proclaimed: tonight! I have been waiting, and now this hallowed place in time - evening, that reserved place in what is otherwise the flow of humdrum days - has brought me the answer to my woes! Witness: Jennifer Lopez' "Waiting for Tonight"; Amber's "This Is Your Night".* Both proclaim that the moment is the answer! And moments last forever, according to this calculus. They are a sort of revolution that resolves all previous disquiet and inner turmoil. They are answers. Life, humanity, the singer's heart - these were problems, but tonight the answer, the solution has arrived. It's almost dream-like, really - desire is presented here as already having been fulfilled.

To take the above examples, J. Lo (does this name apply retrospectively?) sounds as though she has just emerged from a war zone. All she can do speak of is how bad it's been: "tossing and turning", "holding on". Amber, meanwhile, can't even believe that this blissful moment has occurred, "it's too good to be true". The paradigm shift has been so immense that she can hardly wrap her mind around this new qualitative state in which she feels "so brand new".

The key thing here is that the moment is linked with 'eternity'. For Amber, between now and the "morning light", there will be "forever and ever". A paradox wilfully affirmed, but nonetheless - in this limited space of time, there is freedom and something eternal. Meanwhile, what a gamble J. Lo has made! Literally waiting all her life for this one moment, the pay-off for years of anguish received all at once in the arms of another. She has staked everything, but tonight - thank god - it has all been gained again. (The knight of faith or what!) No mention of tomorrow, natürlich.

Because, as we all know boys and girls, the moment is not an answer. As ever, what is proclaimed in song flies in the face of that which is 'healthy' and 'sensible'. Time is fleeting, as we all know - here today, gone tomorrow.

All the same, what constitutes the jouissance, the guilty pleasure felt in listening to and believing these songs' professions, is that they fly in the face of everything sensible, of everything that reasons. We all know that tonight is but one night, temporally limited, nur eine Augenblick.

Furthermore, every sensible person knows that it is folly to hinge one's whole life on the possibility that love might instill meaning to everything else, might be the missing piece in some already-present puzzle. After all - life is not a question, love is not an answer. To believe otherwise would necessarily involve essentialism, the belief that there is some inherent meaning in life, and thus something truly unique, a qualitative core of significance, in the lover. By this reading, you have as much choice as to whether or not you will sacrifice yourself for love as Jesus did about his crucifixion. It was destiny there, and just as Jennifer Lopez knew that she "had to hold on", so Jesus went ahead with things in the Garden of Gethsemane. If we believe in a 'one', then there is fate, mystical meaning, and God is probably not dead. But alas, he is. Likewise, we are lumped with this existence before essence business, which must apply to relationships as much as it applies to anything else.

But here, with Jennifer and Amber and their emancipating lovers, we pay no heed to such good sense, to rationalized ideals. No, these are instances in which we proclaim the fantasy of meaning arriving - deus ex machina - as we meet our true love. Love should - I hear my superego tell me - be looked at practically. But aha! These songs do not speak to that function. No, they address my disavowed desires instead, and give them justification, the impossible assurance: it could be passion that sets you free.

"This Is Your Night" / "Waiting For Tonight": the shimmering, exhilerating, perfect expressions of all that could not be.

To be continued...

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* Incidentally, one of my FAVOURITE SONGS EVER, if one was ever allowed to compose such lists. And something interesting that I turned up on Wikipedia's "Waiting For Tonight" article, after writing this post: "Another camp feels that parts of the song sound suspiciously similar to the 1996 hit "This Is Your Night" by Dutch singer Amber." I really did think I'd made two quite-random selections.

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