The Wonder Girls’ “Nobody” and the Importance of Being Prepared

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I’ve only just begun to watch the new video for the Wonder Girls’ “Nobody” – and while I’m finding it enjoyable, I guess I have some strong reservations. Some nits to picks. Some laundry to air. Some cavils to cavil. If anything, I’d say that my lack of complete satisfaction has to do more with just how great “So Hot” is. To me, it’s far and away the best pop single of the year, and perhaps the best video too. So running short of that high watermark isn’t anything to be ashamed of.

I like how this old-fashioned microphone subtly signals an earlier age.

We begin with… um… JYP singing like some Motown badass. I’m not sure what JYP HONEY is, but perhaps it’s some kind of lubricant, like KY Jelly.

It’s actually not bad, but why are we staring at JYP in the first place? Does he really need to insert himself so obviously in this project? Does he think he’s Timbaland or something?

His staff bring him a new song, which he takes a liking to…

And his backup singers do, as well.

I never actually watched all of Dream Girls, so I have to ask…

Were there scenes of Eddie Murphy singing while taking a shit? This seems less like the current Eddie than the kind of jokes he made in Delirious.

However, he didn’t make a very important check. I guess that shows how confident and gifted he is, that he can step into a public bathroom stall and not verify the presence of toilet paper.

Really, who doesn’t check, just in case? I mean, it’s bad enough making sure that some congressman with a wide stance isn’t sitting in the stall next to you…

Meanwhile, management is trying to figure out what to do, as JYP is due onstage…

They’re concerned about the audience reaction…

But the backup singers step up to the plate, bringing their mics to the center stage and doing the song justice, of course.

And while the premise is amusing in and of itself, this take on the whole sixties girl group fairy tale shtick is worth considering on a slightly deeper level. I love me my metaphors and allegories, and there’s at least a couple that can be teased out here. Now on the one hand, I have to scoff. Sure, backup singers getting into the spotlight and becoming stars in their own right has indeed happened. And yes this is a fairy tale. But it’s like lightning striking. It’s a one-in-a-million chance within the one-in-a-million chance that is the entertainment world. 

On the other hand, maybe we’re being told that the girls were ready because they were prepared. They weren’t only confident, but they paid their dues as backups and are just as skilled as the dude they’ve been working for until then. That kind of carpe diem thinking is encouraging, at least, and could be a good inspiration for others.

Meanwhile, JYP calls out for help. Dude, if you’re stranded, check out the Red Hot Chili Peppers for an answer on what to do.

A more cynical (and anti-idol) person than me would compare JYP’s creation on the toilet to his creation on the bandstand. Or to be more forgiving, the impresario consumes other musical forms, digests it, and in the end craps out idol pop music that is a stinky mess only vaguely reminiscent of the original.

However, one can carry the metaphor even further by considering JYP being left behind while the Wonder Girls step into the spotlight. He wants desperately for people to pay attention to him – ostensibly to wipe his ass, which could stand in for paying fealty to his individual greatness. 

As for the Wonder Girls themselves… it’s kind of sad, but they’re actually the most boring part of the video, in terms of visuals and narratives. They’re at the center of the plot, but it’s to fill in the hole left by JYP that the managers are all fussing over.

That is, they’re the last piece of the puzzle, and they complete the story – but they don’t offer anything particularly memorable. They’re there to be there, their motivation isn’t clear beyond that. We get JYP’s egomania and the managers’ audience concerns (and implied greed). The Wonder Girls though, seem to sing only because no one else is going to sing if they don’t. That’s not much of a motivation, is it?

For the sake of sixties verisimilitude, they all look and dress alike, with similar outfits and hairstyles. It’s a little more difficult to figure out who’s who and there is a sense that these girls are interchangeable. Again, that underlies the general thinking about idols, how they’re cogs in a great entertainment machine and can be replaced with the ease of auditions and graduations.

As for management, they don’t care who’s on stage, just so long as the audience takes to them. Really, they’re in it for the money, and whatever it takes to make the bucks will keep them happy.

JYP finally makes it out to the end and takes some of the adulation for himself, even imitating some of the girls’ moves. And again, this is loaded with metaphorical baggage: the impresario doesn’t do anything but still manages to take the credit. Which actually isn’t very fair to the behind-the-scene roles in the idol industry – I’m actually of the belief that behind-the-scenes is even more important than the actual people on the stage, given how prefab idols are.

I think that tension between the star and the star-makers is always worth looking at up-close. Nothing’s done with it here, though – the girls seem as happy to see JYP show up as everybody else. (But how exactly did he get out of the bathroom? Should anybody be shaking his hand at this point?) And as the story progresses, there’s no sign of JYP being mad that his Thunder has been stolen. I guess it’s the best of all worlds where the star remains a star and the back-up becomes stars as well…

Now we go through the montage of shots to illustrate how the girls become sudden hits and the toast of showbiz…

Lilloard? 

And hey, the girls even wind up on the teevee! And look how they dress a little different now… except on the black-and-white screen, the differentiation is still minimal at best. 

The climax is their big show. Compare the W behind the girls to the sign at the beginning of the video. It’s only one letter, but it’s clearly bigger and bolder. They have outshone their master – which I’m not sure truly is the case between Wonder Girls and JYP, though certainly I’m rooting for that to happen.

As for the song itself… Well, it’s catchy, I’ll give it that. But it’s catchy in the same way “So Hot” is, except less so.

A really strong chorus that’s simple enough to sing along to – that’s the foundation of the song. And for pop, that can be more important than anything else.

The solo lines are pleasant, but nothing particularly stands out. The big solo part is the rap, which is fun but doesn’t fit into the rest of the song as well as it did in “So Hot”.

Overall, I’d say I prefer both “So Hot” the single and the video to this. I’m grateful to have a new Wonder Girls single to listen to over and over again, but “So Hot” feels like it’ll be with me a long time. “Nobody” seems more disposable – something to last a month or so, then move on to whatever comes next down the pop pipeline.

As for the video, I find myself at least a little miffed at how the girls are only there to sing and dance. I’m not saying it was selfish of JYP to stick himself in the middle… okay, I am saying it. Sure, he shows some nice self-deprecation in the role he plays, but he is the most memorable part of the video. The girls are ciphers, and there’s very little in the video for a new fan to think, “This girl in particular is hot” or “This Wonder Girl is going to be my favorite from now on!” In contrast, “So Hot” was all Wonder Girls and gave you a chance to at least get an impression of each of them. For me, the well-deployed use of an idol’s persona is just as important in selling an idol group than anything else. I’m getting that for the group as a whole, with this whole retro fetish thing – but not for the Wonder Girls as individual, and that’s a crying shame.

That said, I like the fireworks at the end of this performance. It not only indicates an extra level of festivity and a symbolic ascendancy for the Wonder Girls, but also a sexual release – a whole lot of spurting accompanied by ooh’s and ahh’s. Okay, maybe that’s grabbing the issue and stretching it a bit too much… but I’m never one to shy from ham-fisted Freud.

And we close with JYP taking another shit, this time making sure he saw some toilet paper… So he has learned an important lesson in humility, at least. 

Except there was only one square. Well, you can make that last, right? I mean, how sloppy is it down there?

And apparently, the lesson in humility was not enough to save the day. Also, note that his clothes aren’t as shiny as before – he looks less Dandy Sakano and more Ernest Borgnine.

Again, he calls out for help. But come on, just wipe with what you got and move on with your life. Or start carrying some Kleenex or even a hankie in your pocket! If there’s any take-away from this video, it’s “always carry some paper with you”. Because you never know when you’ll need it.

But hey, you know what would’ve made an even better ending? If JYP had run into the ladies room to steal all the toilet paper, and we’re left with the Wonder Girls each in a row of stalls, with not a single square to spare among them. So it’d wind up like a cross between that episode of Seinfeld and “The Peace!”. Just a thought.