What really gets me about the video for "Deja Vu" is that it's an all too rare example of the kind of bad that's only capable of being achieved by the great. Sophie Muller's my favorite video director of all time. As much as I enjoy Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze shenanigans, Muller's finest videos draw attention to the artist rather than the director, making appealing advertisements for the act rather than short films for their own eventual Director's Label DVD. From Annie Lennox to Gwen Stefani, from "Love Is Stronger Than Pride" to "Black Horse & The Cherry Tree," countless artists can credit Muller for their most memorable, endearing visual portraits. But here, she gives us a crystal vista of Beyonce at her most absurd and clueless. A weak video wouldn't be enough to inspire horrified fans to start an online petition demanding a re-shoot. Muller, Beyonce and the president of Island Def Jam have collaborated to make a video that's resolutely wrong-headed.
The first half-minute of the video is prologue, with Jay-Z sitting comfortably, flapping his wrist and lazily hollering as Beyonce's sweaty parts gradually merge into a whole. He announces she's about to speak, and Beyonce licks her fingers, jabs them at the camera and hisses to signify her heat. Seated in a variety of outfits and flapping her arms, her eyes aggresively fixate on something off-screen. As the verse continues, she begins to kick her feet while holding her quivering hands up to her face and jerking her head to and fro. These frenetic, artless gestures are commonplace post-Flashdance, but her wide-eyed expressions are psychotic rather than seductive in nature. She seems happier during the chorus, as she runs through high grass until she's alerted a foreign presence. This is revealed to be another Beyonce, now in a slinky red dress, holding her head and looking concerned, as if she can't tell if the noise is coming from inside her skull or not. Shots of Beyonce shaking the hem of a longer dress at the camera are intercut with these images of extreme paranoia.
Then things get really awkward. Beyonce is indoors again, with her hair pulled back, wearing a blue dress appropriate for an extra in a Baz Luhrmann pic. Breathing heavily and appearing exasperated, she finds Sean Carter, her alleged boyfriend, leaning against a wall, talking about himself to someone off-screen. She flutters her legs in front of a window before approaching him and popping some J-Lo aerobics against his crotch. After giving her ass a solitary pat, he continues talking to the person to his left, ignoring her bumping and grinding, turning his head away even as she bites his ear and yanks at his belt. It's as if they decided to visually display the same "he's great/Yes, I'm great" lyrical disconnect evident in the song "Crazy In Love," as well as evoke the titular romantic insanity.
Following this disconcerting metaphor for their sex life, we see her outside again in a bikini top and frilly mini-skirt, kicking dirt, offering some apropos-of-nothing West African dance and coming off like Shakira under attack by moths. The final chorus brings us Beyonce in a tight black ensemble, painfully underlining that if there was an actual choreographer used on this shoot, they should be drawn and quartered. She riffs on "Walk Like An Egyptian" and karate chops X's in the air before grabbing her left ankle, waiting a beat, throwing her hands in the air, and shrugging carefreely. This is intercut with flailings from previous locales, as if to reaffirm the improvisatory nature of her movements. Muller's close-ups and sense of staging benefit the graceful, but give us no distraction from Beyonce's conniptions or apparent lunacy (this is a woman who named her new album Bidet - sorry, B'Day).
In a very real sense, videos like this are so much more endearing than the unimaginative, mere competence that keeps me from ever considering writing a video column. Just as the clip for "Mr. Brightside," with its extreme close-ups and campy, emotional drive, saved Brandon Flowers and the boys from Kills/Thrills/Stills anonymity, the one for "Deja Vu" turns a passable retread of a song into a blatant career bellyflop, giving Beyonce something to overcome and keeping her fresh in the minds of her audience. It's the kind of heartwarming catastrophe that reminds me how philistine and misguided the concept of rating creative endeavors is - praising the mediocre over the extreme, despite the latter being more truly worth your attention.
I've got a lot to say about the Killers' "When You Were Young," probably my favorite Big Rock Single of the year by depressing default, but I want to wait until the video comes out. It's being directed by Anthony Mandler, the man behind "Bucky Done Gun," "When I'm Gone" and "Hustler's Ambition." Jury's still out on this guy.