Tuesday, June 1, 2010

All the Symbols in "All the Lovers".


The video for Kylie Minogue's anthemic All the Lovers has finally debuted and it might be one of the best things she's ever done.
Despite the fact that it's a too obvious reminder of her Body Language era and it overflows with the kind of cheesiness that has made her such a rare creature throughout her career, the video also features some of her most upfront commentaries about sex.

Unlike Lady Gaga who brings up her muffin, and her alleged penis, whenever she can and Madonna who (...do I really need to give an example?) Ms. Minogue has always been more romantic about the notions of sex.

At first glance the video might not seem overtly sexual (yes, it's a massive orgy but everyone looks so in love!) but through her use of symbols she's telling us a Calvin Klein ad version of Eyes Wide Shut filtered through Greek mythology.

The video begins with a falling cup of coffee, followed seconds later by a bottle of milk crashing against the pavement.



With this simple image begins a tale of frustration overcome by the power of love and understanding; for what can this spilling of milk mean if not an overtly anxious, male, sexual desire arriving before time?

The falling objects are followed by images of people taking their clothes off, surrendering to their most urgent affective needs and beginning an orgy of sorts in the middle of the street.
Those who aren't making out are pulled by a force that turns out to be none other than Ms. Minogue herself.



It hurts, when you get to close oh baby it hurts, when love is really good you just want more. Even if it throws you to the fire.



Like Aphrodite rising from the foam, she appears in a growing mountain of lovers who then divide the video into two storylines.
One devoted to the goddess' power of granting love and the other, that follows the song's lyrics, and tells the story of the unsatisfied lover trying to regain his status into Aphrodite's chamber.



What he doesn't seem to know though, is that the goddess has forgiven all in advance and his adventure is only meant to help him achieve the role of an adventurer and fulfill his mythical status.
A random shot of a screaming stranger (pictured above) gives us the only glimpse of anger in the entire video and might serve as a perfect way to exemplify the invisible hero's willingness to battle his way up to masculinity.

Kylie reminds him that this doesn't matter and sings the chorus,
All the lovers that have gone before, they don't compare to you. Don't be frightened just give me a little bit more. They don't compare, all the lovers...

Of course while the hero fights his way towards Olympus, Aphrodite has to keep herself busy.
So she creates a massive orgy, spreading love from where we can assume there was nothing before.



Using her magical hand to induce strangers into a complete state of ecstasy (and yet another more earthly symbol of the power of self stimulation) she starts piling up on the beautiful people under her.



Before anyone decides to make a big deal out of the fact that nobody in the video is what we could call "average looking", two things must be said in her defense.
First, our society has made us used to expect nothing more than tough standards of beauty to be represented in the media and the use of a multicultural United Colors of Benetton casting here simply fulfills that role.
Second, the use of extremely beautiful people also represents the idea of perfect aesthetics established by Greek culture.
For all we know, the tableaux presented to us by director Joseph Kahn could be modern interpretations of ancient paintings and sculptures.



Can't you see that this is getting higher, higher, higher?

The video also presents us with the fascinating visual motive of elevation.
All throughout we see birds and balloons fly up towards the sky, not to mention the growing mountain of lovers that forms around Kylie.
It's certainly no coincidence that we're first presented with objects falling to the floor and during the course of the song, they seem to achieve new life as they reach for the heavens.
More than a facile metaphor for male erections (which we all know are as essential in music videos as pretty people) they also continue telling the story of the shamed lover's realization that second opportunities exist.
But first he has to earn them.



Therefore as the song nears its bridge, Kylie is swallowed by the mountain.
The goddess descends to the underworld.



Dance it's all I wanna do so won't you dance?
I'm standing here with you why won't you move?





Even if it throws you to the fire...



As the bridge concludes, the cue is set for the hero to make his grand appearance.
And he does, in the shape of a majestic white horse.
We're in the presence of a symbol that has fascinated cultures for as long as time has existed.
The white horse has always been a mysterious creature, not only because of its color (which is quite rare genetically) but because of the qualities it's attributed with.

The white horse often represented the Greek god Poseidon (especially in the shape of Pegasus who sprung from the waves. Remember that Aphrodite was created from sea foam...) and were also associated with the hero's chariot and the end-of-times saviour.

But for All the Lovers its most obvious symbolism is that of the worshiped figure of fertility (where do you think all those stud and stallion jokes come from?).



Musically the horse is accompanied by one of the most rapturous instrumental bridges Kylie has ever created, making his appearance all the more glorious and enigmatic.
(Notice those three people right under the horse's mouth? I'm dying to know what their story is. They're the only menage a trois found in a video that highlights couples)



After being saved by the horse, Aphrodite rises from the underworld with even more power.



She has been able to create a structure made out of thousands of people, right in the middle of L.A. (if you're reminded of the movie Volcano I don't blame you).
In the last repetition of the chorus, the music has achieved an even more vibrant spirit. It goes from crying-on-the-dancefloor love song, to full out bliss anthem.
The volcano, and the lover's desire therefore have also been rekindled.



As she continues moving the lovers to her will, all of them having succumbed to the siren's chant, the video reaches its finale.



In the last seconds Kylie stands right in front of the camera, holding a single white dove in her hands.
The dove here has two meanings: first and foremost it represents the male lover's achievement, because for as long as language has existed, birds have been used as metaphors of the penis.



In the goddess' look we know that her lover has fulfilled his role and under the more widespread symbolism of the single white dove, they both have found peace.

To watch the video go here.

18 comments:

J.D. said...

Brilliant.

*plays 2:30 for the billionth time and cries ecstatically*

W.R. said...

I think that was the greatest write-up about a Kylie video I've ever read. *thumbs up*

Jose said...

Joseph and Wayne: Thank you! :D

woodstock said...

lovely post hosie! your structuralism readings sound very inspiring and i agree with all the symbols u noted. the menage à trois caught my attention as well as i kept trying to catch others throughout the video. and that white horse is divinity!

there are also other things i thought/wondered that u didn't mention on your writing.

first is how the balloons that flee from the car remind me of spermatozoons. of course it's all about the fertility thing you mention, plus, according to the aphrodite's legend the sea foam from which the goddess appeared was actually zeus' sperm, i believe you knew that.

and the thing i wondered is the big white elephant balloon lurking around the LA buildings like godzilla. it reminds me of dumbo's pink elephants parade, so it could represent some kind of delirious state of mind, perhaps?

anyway, it IS one of her best videos ever, and i believe it descended from "slow"'s video to achieve a higher imagetic and symbolic status.

Jose said...

Ho: thanks!

Now to answer your questions.
I did notice the reminiscence of the white balloons to spermatozoon but found it too obvious to point out, besides structurally it wouldn't have meant anything to the basis I proposed.

Now about the elephant, it sure represents delirium, how often do elephants fly around the city?
But the question then would be, why an elephant?
It's not really a common balloon figure is it?
I think it might have a lot to do with the idiom of the white elephant, you know having something you don't need, but can't get rid of. I learned during my research that white elephants also mean a lot in Hindu culture but again that would've taken me too far from my original point.

And indeed it's a lovely work!

Yaakov said...

the white horse coming in rescue , representing the lover rescuing his amour is well interpreted .the idea behind the song as u describe it sound pretty good ;there are lot of symbolism attached at the video and many interpretations can be extracted ,don t u find some similarities with blade runner in the black white use the dove and the white horse c est frappant , very stunning vid .

Jose said...

Yaakov: thanks for reading!
You might be on to something with your "Blade Runner" references but remember the dove and horse are universal symbols, so the video might not be exactly inspired by it, they just share elements.

Michael said...

Very interesting review!!
I really can't get the white elephant reference though... i'm familiar with the idiom but i don't know what it's actually referring to..

And with the menage a trois under the horse - there was also one in an earlier scene with two guys kissing, and then one of them moved in on a guy - regardless, it certainly was jarring when noticing the other couples - and in that sense the guys were only bisexual, or experimental - not gay. Why couldn't the director just let them be?

Aong said...

Good explanation. Thank

Jose said...

Michael: thank you for reading!

About the elephant I'm not sure every little thing in the video HAD to mean something you know.
I mean of course when the director and Kylie were brainstorming something must've come up about a giant floating elephant but perhaps this has less to do with the actual structure of the video and is linked more to the people who made it.

I'm guessing they were sitting together wondering what form to choose for the big white animal balloon and one of them went "an elephant!".
This would indicate the familiarity of the idiom and how it's the first thing they thought of when thinking white.

Again this is just me guessing lol.

I don't think the director was interested in making statements about gay, bi, straight etc. I think he was just trying to reflect the free, almost hippie like, nature of love in ancient cultures.
You know...with all the Greek sex and Roman orgies.

Again thank you for taking the time to comment!

Aong: thank you very much!

Niall said...

Great write up - I can really follow everything that you're saying.

As for the elephant, the director's twitter status read as follows:
http://twitter.com/JosephKahn/status/15141371766

Apparently it's an old Eastern saying: Love lets elephants fly. Which on it's own is a powerful statement.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, a few people have posted the following quote on blogs commenting on the video. Apparently the elephant is a symbol for ol' Aphro-D:

“triumph of Aphrodite, entering preceded by wild beasts led in chains by Cupids, the white elephant and all – what a field for the plastic art!”
[Charles Kingsley, "Hypatia", Chap. XX]

Jose said...

Niall: thank you so much for stopping by, I had no idea about that saying and it does make quite a lot of sense and you're right, it's a powerful statement indeed!

Anonymous: very interesting! Thank you for taking the time to share it with us!

aristan said...

The white elephant is a scared beast in parts of Asia that's considered both a blessing and a curse. They were often given by the monarchs of countries like Thailand to subjects that he favored.

So, to have a white elephant is desirable, it's something that's considered beautiful and it shows that a monarch deems you worthy in some fashion.

However, you can never get rid of it because it would offend extremely powerful people and you are not allowed to use a white elephant to do any labor as it would be both illegal and sacrilegious.

So, a white elephant is something takes, but never gives back. You have to feed it, but it never produces anything.

The white elephant idea lives on, at least in the US as the gift exchange at Christmas where everyone selects a gift, the first unwraps it and the second can either take the first's gift or unwrap his own. You never know when you're exchanging a gift if what you're exchanging is better than what you're getting as you're trading something hidden and secret for something known.

artzeky said...

I am just wondering if anyone noticed the black and white visual that was first on the coffee cup and then the water container and then seen again on the bottom left of the siedwalk when the liquid crashes down onto the floor?
It cropped up 3 times and I am just really curious as to what on earth that could represent.

aristan said...

artzeky - It's a 2D barcode called a QR Code. Look at a lot of packaging, and you'll see them crop up. They're used a lot in Japan, as you can code them with lots of information like a URL or text and the viewer can instantly view them on their phone decoded, if they have the proper software on their cell.

The packaging in the video apparently decodes as a single word:

LOVE.

Jose said...

aristan: thank you very much for sharing that with us, I had no idea about the elephant and I hadn't even noticed that code!
This video is more amazing than I'd said hehe.

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