Friday, December 15, 2017

Video Of The Week: Fergie

Unbeknownst to be, I've been following Fergie's career since I was six years old, as she starred in the long-syndicated in the U.S. (but hard to find in Canada beyond 1986) TV show Kids Incorporated as Stacy Ferguson, alongside Jennifer Love Hewitt, Eric Balfour (24), Martika (who sang the theme song, and the mega-hit Toy Soldiers a few years later), Mario Lopez, and Wendy Brainard (who went on to sing with Corey Hart and Donna Summer).

I fucking loved that show so much I'd get up at 5 AM to watch it on Saturday mornings in the second grade; my parents didn't understand what was up with me, but there was something about the five songs per episode (and maybe Hewitt, Ferguson and Martika singing them as well).

Then came the girl-group Wild Orchid, whose records I bought for the album covers (namely the self-titled debut and the Supernatural single) but seldom listened to.

In the mid-1990s (and pretty much my entire life, really), some pop music suited my ears, but rock and rap more so; The Black Eyed Peas' first two records were decent underground fare, but when they hired Fergie and turned pop for Elephunk, their career hit new heights of commercial success... and creative depths that represent pretty much everything that is wrong with modern pop music.

In 2006, she came out with her first solo record, The Dutchess, which was successful, but sounded like it should have been a Gwen Stefani album, what with the reggae-ska numbers, the semi-honest/touchy-feely numbers that hint at deeper turmoil but ultimately fail at being truly poignant. And the insipid pure-pop numbers just didn't make it for me - although they made my then-girlfriend dance and act wild.

Fergie has tremendous skill as a singer, in the upper echelons, but for most of her career, it has felt like she was either holding back or refused to exploit it correctly.

There are two ways to go when you have a voice like that: the Céline Dion/Frank Sinatra/Whitney Houston way, which is to have people write songs for you to belt out like no other, or to bare your fucking soul, which works whether your voice is great or unique (Tori Amos, Charlotte Martin, Joanna Newsom, Björk), "normal" (P.J. Harvey), or awful (Courtney Love, Yoko Ono).

Finally, at age 42, Fergie has chosen the latter, with A Little Work, from the album Double Dutchess, which is a tad cliché'd but still rings true. The long-form video (a.k.a. "short film") by Jonas Åkerlund brings the point home very well:

You may recall Akerlund's work - such as the 2002 indie film Spun, or his videos for Roxette, Prodigy (Smack My Bitch Up), Madonna (Ray of Light), Metallica (Turn The Page, Whiskey In The Jar), The Smashing Pumpkins, Blink-182's I Miss You, and countless others - is among the best in the business.

He was the perfect director to bring to life a story about drug addiction (be it Fergie's documented struggles with crystal meth or the current opioid crisis in America) and mental illness.

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