BROOKE CANDY, “OPULENCE” – STEVEN KLEIN. If you’re not familiar yet with the work of 20th-century French theorist/novelist/poet/librarian Georges Bataille, you should be. Bataille proposes a philosophy of radical affirmation of base materialism: everything (literally everything) is a waste and all of it (literally all of it) must be accepted as such to the absolute fullest (literally the fullest). For Bataille, Gothic cathedrals and Aztec sacrifices and sweaty toes are all essentially the same thing – wasteful, horrific, and totally transcendentally awesome. If you’re living the nihilistic, salvation-free lifestyle, Bataille’s probably your best bet for sanity and your best vanguard against suicide. Other atheistic philosophies might make more sense, but no one else quite gets to Bataille’s radically inclusive soteriology. If you’re going to talk about saving the world, you ‘d better be saving all of it.
Bataille’s philosophical works are messy but brilliant, but his fiction, not that surprisingly, kind of sucks. This isn’t for lack of originality: Bataille’s novels contain some of the most memorable images one could ever read. Murder, incest, dwarfs, all manner of bodily fluids, on all manner of body parts – imagine the most horrific place a book called “Story Of The Eye” could end up and you might be halfway there. They’re even profoundly emotional: contrary to the irrational promenade of images that one finds in your run-of-the-mill Surrealist work, Bataille’s novel are deeply rooted in narrative emotionalism. It’s not uncommon for a Bataillean character to move from maniacal laughter to heartbroken sobbing in the two seconds it takes to rip off her dress and fuck (fuck is the only sexual verb you get in English-translated Bataille) in the mud. But there’s something missing in all of Bataille’s fiction; there’s an emptiness at the heart of it that makes all of the shit and the blood and the tears turn mind-numbingly boring. The failing comes down to basic relatability – Bataille’s novels are sunk by a universal lack of character. The women are depraved objects, the men are broken sounding boards, and the narrators – really, there’s only one – are little more than the life-drunk rantings of Bataille himself.
If there is a music video in 2014 that’s indebted, knowingly or not, to the legacy of Bataille, it’s Steven Klein’s “Opulence” for über-slutwave shock-model Brooke Candy. The title itself comes from the Bataillean arsenal (opulence, expenditure, luxury, waste, glory, shit – all the same deal), and the video is “Blue Of Noon”-in-the-21st-century as they come: an S&M murder in a dirty bathroom; a sexually arousing car crash; disgusting displays of wealth; vampires. Even the “FAG MOB” logo that gets flashed at the end bears similarities to Bataille’s own “Acéphale” banner. Brooke Candy plays the apotheosized whore with ease, and one could imagine that her nurse-flanked, aggressively presented crotch is exactly what Bataille imagined when he wrote:
Thus Madame Edwarda’s rags looked at me, hairy and pink, and as full of life as some revolting squid. I stammered softly:
“Why are you doing that?”
“You can see,” she said, “I am GOD.”
“Opulence” is only Steven Klein’s second music video. His first was the unpleasant Lady Germonotta epic “Alejandro,” the first of her many post-“Telephone” attempts to recapture the self-created spectacle of which “Bad Romance” was the peak. It’s easy to make comparisons between Brooke Candy and Germonotta, and if Candy would like them to stop then she ought to try harder. The shock-and-appall of “Opulence” isn’t far from the shock-and-squeal of “Telephone.” As Klein’s works go, this is the better of the two – “Alejandro” has the tired feel of a giant finally petering out (are generic digs at the Catholic Church really still necessary?) while “Opulence” is genuinely frightening. The violence of the opening sequence is hard to watch, and Candy’s climatic (triple entendre) screams and eye-rolls are as disturbing as pop music videos get. The vinyl, the gimmick sunglasses, the dance moves, and the eye tricks are all Gaga-copycatting, but where Germonotta inflicts the world with camp-horror empowerment and fun, Candy peddles nothing but camp horror terror. Gaga’s closest cultural predicate may be the reclaimation spectacle of midnight “Rocky Horror” screenings; “Opulence” feels like a blood diamond-covered version of Cronenberg’s “Crash.”
In a lot of ways I’m into this, experientially if not morally. Luxurious maximalism to the point of disgust is a wonderful thing (see “Wolf Of Wall Street,” “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” “Madame Bovary”), and diamond-encrusted lips are a great addition to the canon. So is drinking perfume, and killing your boyfriend in order to steal his money just so you can shove it down his throat. Overall I find the video to be repellent and not the least bit sexy, and I think that’s great.
But there’s a problem: this is a performance-based music video, and the performance – kind of sucks. The costumes, the settings, the actions, are fantastic. But the performance of the song itself is empty. The song is bad, the singing is bad, Candy’s physical enactment of her singing is overworked and trite. I leave this video with a lot of visual and emotional memories, but with no relatable anchor. It feels like a cheap production for a cheap performer, a half-assed composition for a model who no one even pretended could ever sing.
There are a lot of factors that go into this – the unfortunate condition of white girls who can’t rap rapping; Brooke Candy’s generally obnoxious public presence; Brooke Candy’s complete lack of a singing voice; some poor lyrical decisions; some horrible songwriting decisions. To make a situation like this work, you need a performer who can actually perform. If she can’t sing, she has to do more than look the part – she has to own it and live it. And she has to be owning and living something that’s not half-assed, which is unfortunately what this is. “Opulence” is not a good song. This is a subjective opinion in the highest degree but to me it seems relatively inarguable. “Opulence” wasn’t made for the song or the performance. It was made for the video. And the video was made for the entity “Brooke Candy.”
Switch “song” for “story” and the same criticism can be lobbed at Bataille’s fiction. “Story of the Eye” isn’t really trying to tell the story of anything; it’s an assembly of emotions and images that convey a sense of “Bataille.” It presents neither a cohesive philosophy or a potent narrative statement. It’s an egoistic project more than anything else, all personality with no real personalism. At the end of “Story of the Eye,” it’s hard to really feel anything. The images wash over you and you feel a little sick, but you don’t really care about the characters because the characters don’t really exist. Shock turns into numbness and the intense emotionalism of Bataille’s philosophy becomes essentially moot. It’s unfortunate, because the Bataillean mentality is worlds apart from nihilistic emptiness – it requires constant ecstasy and intense commitment, 100% Living 100% of the time. Glorious expenditure isn’t blindly throwing your money into a furnace; it’s pouring your life’s earnings into a fire and sobbing maniacal tears of joy as you do it.
“Opulence,” in the Brooke Candy sense, ought to be something similar. Candy isn’t a parody performer, and her brand of hip hop isn’t a Lily Allen-style mockery of hip hop tropes. When she says “man this wrist is so icy, Gucci Mane is like ‘brrrr,'” she means it at least as much as Gucci Mane means it when he says, “my money long as a limo/just to show off I put my wrist out the window.” Her acknowledgement of the horror that exists on the same plane as that kind of expenditure- the waste of luxury as the waste of murder, the glory of opulence as the glory of a car crash – is profound and hardly common, in hip hop or anywhere. But, like Bataille, she’s missing the element that makes all of this shit real. There’s no “real” Brooke Candy in “Opulence.” When I watch this video, I don’t experience a connection with the performer by means of the performance. All I get is five minutes of beautiful horror set to an embarrassingly bad song.
For this to really work, there needs to be more than that. There needs to be an experience of community between the viewer and the performer, a moment in which the viewer forms an emotional connection to the art in front of him and forces him to actually care about the the experience at hand. Otherwise all he gets is spectacle, which can make for good entertainment but doesn’t really get at the full reality of the subject at hand. What does waste mean without relationships? What does a diamond-covered car crash mean when you don’t give a damn about the person inside of it? If you take community out of the picture, you lose touch with what makes ruin horrifying and glorious in the first place. Opulence isn’t just waste: it’s totally transcendentally awesome waste. It’s a shame that Brooke Candy and Steven Klein don’t seem to get it.