Thursday, January 28, 2010

Back in the Day #10: Robbie Williams

Guys, I am so serious. This song was, like, the best. Robbie Williams sang "Rock DJ" and I was like, "pop music, you have some potential yet." The Wikipedia page for this song claims that "Rock DJ" was never released as a single in the United States and that all instances of the televising of the music video (seen above in completion) were censored and stripped of their ending. Wikipedia is dead wrong. Did you hear that? Dead. Wrong. I heard that song, I found that album, I was all over it smack dab in the middle of this country.
I remember when I first encountered Robbie Williams. Circa 2000, there was a brief period (I swear I'm not making this up) when a fuzzy station appeared on an oddly numbered channel of my Chicago television. Was it 1? Was it 13? I don't know, but if I'm recalling correctly it was some sort of American branch of one of the foreign music television channels; either an abbreviated edition of The Box or MuchMusic. My house, you see, was the last of the cable holdouts. My parents refused to submit and I was a child without my MTV. So, this was a novelty, and one to be remembered. In the mornings while I was eating breakfast, I would watch through the static and see all sorts of videos by the likes of Eve and Moby. It was here (I have little doubt of it) that I saw "Rock DJ" in its complete, unedited glory. It's hard to forget the video once you've seen it. It's a deceptive little device. It begins, like so many pop videos around that time, with the performer in some sort of green-screened, space-age setting. This time, a ladies-only roller disco with Williams on an elevated platform. The girls go in circles, Williams stands in the center trying to get their attention. It doesn't work, so he starts cheekily stripping. You're quietly amused. You think this will go the route of Blink-182's affinity for nudity. Williams gets down to his skivvies, down to total nudity, still just cursory glances from the rollergirls and their DJ queen. He stops, considers his options, and then tears off his skin. What follows is some sort of pop blood orgy in which the women are sent into a sort of ecstasis by hurling slabs of muscle and CGI fat. It's as disgusting as it is intriguing, and the video is so happy go lucky exuberant about its ick factor that it's hard not to be taken in. What is "Rock DJ"? Why, a brilliant short examination of celebrity culture? What do we want from our celebrities? Everything. What are they willing to shill? Their dignity and several pounds of flesh. Of course, that's not how I thought about it at the time. At the time, I just thought it was the coolest damn perversion of the formulaic pop video I'd ever seen (I hadn't seen that many pop videos, but this one was/is still good). Plus, the song is still fantastic. Its got a lot of spunk and pep, as well as a driving instrumental sampling that just propels the song straight through to the end on a big cloud of energy and singability. Robbie Williams has done a whole slew of slow pop ballads, but he's at his best when he's doing pure, upbeat pop. I stand by "Rock DJ" as a great pop song. It's clever and you can dance to it. Win/win.

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