After a long, arduous search, I have found a music video with a narrative which contains themes which I would love to include in my own production. This video is ‘Bad Girl’ by Madonna.
Released in 1993, the video stars Madonna as Louse Oriole and Christopher Walken as her guardian angel. The video also features Matt Dillon, however his career had not yet flourished when this video was released. Although a professional, tough woman, underneath, Louise is trying to forget about the man she loves and the only way she knows how to do this is by sleeping with a string of men and smoking and drinking her days away. Louise’s guardian angel follows her on her escapades until the fateful night when one of her suitors strangles her with tights. The video is presented slightly out of chronological order. It starts with the scene of the crime and Louise’s body being investigated by police, before presenting the story in it’s chronological order.
What I mostly love about this video is how it has combined dark themes with romance, and gives an interesting twist on the classic ‘boy-meets-girl’ storyline which has been used time and again in music videos. Also, although presenting the story of a woman who smokes, drinks and sleeps around, the video is also quite classy, choosing to use mostly sophisticated sets and locations, to the etxent where the video could almost be set in the 1940s or 50s. I love this aspect as well. It highlights the fact that Louise is not just sleeping around for fun, and shows that money and status cannot always protect you from the pain of love. It is these aspects which I hope to adopt from ‘Bad Girl’, as well as some others which are explained at the end of the post. But for now, here’s a brief analysis of ‘Bad Girl’.
This is quite a difficult video to analyse in the simple categories of Mise-en-scene, Cinematography, Editing and Sound, so instead I’m breaking it down into the categories of Enigma Codes, Characterisation, Locations, Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Iconography and Symbolism, Genre and the intended Target Audience.
Very little is explained about the video, and it must be watched with extreme care and attention if the narrative is to be fully understood and followed. For example, it is not actually explained in the video that a lost lover is the reason for Louise’s behaviour. This was my assumption which was later confirmed by an official Madonna website. Although it could be argued that this is down to audience interpretation, and that Louise is simply searching for life fulfilment. However, the ‘lost lover’ theory does seem to have more bulk for it. Following is the most pressing enigma codes regarding the video, and their subsequent action codes:
- Why does Louise behave how she does? Although not the first code to be raised in the video, it is certainly a prominent one from around a quarter of the way in onwards. There is certainly no definite answer in the video itself as to this, however, clues can be deduced. For example, Louise’s behaviour includes isolating herself in her office and drinking and crying alone in her large house. This clearly implies loneliness. Louise also seems horrified at the fact that the men she sleeps with only use her as an object and that she has a lack of identity. Louise’s constant smoking and drinking throughout the video also implies other psychological issues. Loneliness, a search for fulfilment or forgetting a lover certainly seem the most plausible explanations.
- What is the identity of Christopher Walken’s character? This is another disputed idea within the video. The audience quickly learns that this character is supernatural and is obviously connected to Louise in an unusual way. Given the character’s behaviour to follow Louise and watch over her without Louise being aware leads to the idea of a guardian angel. The seeming ‘kiss of death’ which he delivers upon her causes some dispute. Whilst some audiences believe that this is the guardian angel accepting defeat and guiding Louise safely into death, it leads other audiences to believe that Walken is actually playing the role of an ‘angel of death’, looming over Louise’s life and waiting for the right moment to pounce.
- What is Louise’s back-story? This is a smaller code which could be argued to be part of the behaviour one. Indeed, if the audience was aware of Louise’s back-story, they would be aware of a reason for her behaviour. We would also be able to understand her more as a character rather than a lonely, depressed, degenerating woman. Unfortunately few clues are given to her back-story, other than her occupation, her home and her pet.
- Why does Louise upkeep this lifestyle? As a presumably rich, intelligent woman it would be very easy for Louise to try and turn her life around, even slightly. However, Louise still chooses to live in her lonely slump. As the video continues it becomes clear that Louise is becoming more and more desperate for fulfilment (or whatever the audience believes her to be looking for) and that this desperation is possibly fuelling her lifestyle.
There are two main characters in this production and several minor but still important ones.
The name Louise Oriole is a combination of Madonna’s middle name and the name of a street she lived on as a child. She is presumably around the same age as Madonna at the time (35), lives in New York and works in the fashion industry.
If the narrative were presented in chronological order, Louise would be established as a head-strong, tough, independent, career-minded woman. However, this first time the audience is introduced to her, she is dead. This makes her character vulnerable and weak in the viewer’s eyes. This image is then juxtapositioned with the strong, independent one, confusing the viewer and giving them an insight into her broad personality. The battle between the strong Louise and the weak Louise almost forms a binary opposition throughout the video; although strong and aloof when luring her suitors into bed, she wakes up depressed and vulnerable. As her desperation increases so too does the prominence of the weak Louise until by the time of her death, she is established as a lonely woman, who simply puts up a brave front.
As the protagonist, many representations surround Louise, however most of these tend to be implied through her surroundings, costumes and actions
- Firstly, her surroundings. Many scenes in the video take place in Louise’s house, which offers a consistent representation. Louise’s house is large, grand and ornate. This complements the image of Louise as a powerful, independent woman and this along with her job tells the audience that she is wealthy.
- Secondly, when she is introduced as the strong-career minded woman, she strolls through her office, ignoring those of a lower standing. This is a cliché of an important, busy woman. This image is further complemented by her costume. She is dressed in a black business suit, emphasising her status as well as sunglasses which show her as blocking out those around her, however this is possibly due to her isolative behaviour rather than emphasising superiority.
- Louise seems to favour various bars when it comes to finding her suitors. These bars look rather sophisticated and are reflective of her higher class lifestyle
- Other costumes are reflective of her personality. For example, just before she meets the second man, she is dressed entirely in black. This is reflective of her darker, promiscuous side.
- Many of Louise’s actions are reflective of her personality. For example, she chooses to isolate herself in her office or in her large house, emphasising her loneliness. The morning after sleeping with the second man, Louise reaches over to hug him, showing that Louise is still searching for a loving relationship. Her constant smoking and drinking expresses a lack of self-worth. At one point, it appears as though Louise is crying. This is obviously a sign of sadness or possibly in Louise’s case, depression.
Louise’s Guardian Angel (LGA)
Despite being the second most prominent character in the video, very little is known about LGA. For example, he may not even be a guardian angel. His role in the video is also unclear. Protagonist or antagonist? Helper or anti-villain? Hero or villain? If he is indeed a guardian angel, why does he not try to protect or help Louise? Or, by giving her the kiss of death, is he doing the kind thing and releasing her from her own pain? What is known for definite about this mysterious character can be found below:
- LGA is established as a Villain. Creeping through the shadows, watching vulnerable Louise’s every move. It would appear as though he is waiting for the right moment to wreak havoc upon her life. However, the interesting thing about this character is that he is constantly being re-established. For example, it soon becomes apparent that this character is supernatural, and does not take any opportunity to attack Louise. This therefore contradicts the image of him as a villain. Nevertheless, his image remains dark and mysterious. When Louise leaves with the murderer, LGA quickly rushes to what would seem to be her aid. However, when he gives her the kiss of death his role is completely confused.
- His costume is reflective of his personality. He wears the same costume throughout the video; a black trench coat and a maroon scarf. The colour black is associated with death and darkness, the former of which the audience discovers he has the power to inflict. The maroon colour may be linked to the colour red, which can symbolise love or danger, both of which is a representative.
- His actions remain very consistent. He keeps up a serious front, however he usually also looks concerned, expressing his best interests are with Louise.
The locations used in the video are very consistent, and all in keep with the sophisticated theme. The following is a list of locations, and their effects:
- Louise owns her own house on a New York street (LGA later reads the New York Post, so presumably this city is New York). Owning a house in downtown New York. The interior of her house also bodes an extravagant lifestyle. Her house is very grand, consisting of high archways a large carved ceramic bathroom and many elegant decorations such as vases of roses, chandeliers and a chaise long. This location emphasises Louise’s status. However, the large house makes her seem smaller and insignificant and highlights her loneliness.
- Judging by the rails of clothes in her workplace, Louise works in a high position in the fashion industry. It is also clearly a rich business judging by the oak furnishings and the suited colleagues. This is to coincide with the image of the uncaring, high-powered businesswoman that the audience sees her as at this point in the narrative.
- The third location is a classy bar. This is where the audience first learns of Louise’s actions. Clearly she goes to these bars to find men of a similar stature to sleep with.
- The fourth new location (not counting the front of the first man’s apartment building) is in a diner. This is different to her usual haunts. Perhaps Louise is now staying anywhere which is not her house, as perhaps it reminds her of her own loneliness.
- The fifth new location is the apartment of the second man. Judging by the interior, this man is clearly not of the same stature of the first. This shows that Louise’s standards are slipping and that she is resorting to further lengths to try and forget her love.
- The final new location is another bar, where Louise is talking to an older man. This, and the previous scene in which she seems to look very rueful perhaps implies that she is trying to get her life back on the straight and narrow, however, the sight of the mysterious stranger (and eventual murderer) causes her to abandon these thoughts and return to her old lifestyle, leading to her demise.
At 6 minutes long, the ‘Bad Girl’ video obviously contains a lot of shots, and for these to make sense and be cohesive, there is a strict use of continuity techniques. However, they are used quite extensively, meaning that their effect is not always clear. However, despite this, the following is a list of continuity techniques and their most obvious uses in the video:
- Eyeline Match is used at very specific points in the video for a very obvious reason. Eyeline Match can always be found when a new suitor of Louise is introduced. This technique allows the audience to see each man from Louise’s point of view, similar to an over-the-shoulder shot. It also allows for a close up on both Louise and the man’s reactions to one another
- Match on Action is only used a few times, and it appears that it is most obviously used when trying to emphasise important points in the narrative. For example, at the beginning when a member of the police lifts the sheet from Louise’s body, and we then see Louse’s body up close. This introduces Louise as a vulnerable character who is destined to die throughout the video. Later, just before her murder, the technique is used to show Louise removing her tights. This is important as this is obviously the weapon which kills Louise. Because the audience does not see the actual murder of Louise, the tights must be focussed upon so the audience knows that this is the murder weapon.
- Shot / Reverse Shot is used at many points in the video for many different reasons. For example, it is used along with Eyeline Match to introduce the first man. Obviously at this point the audience is unaware of Louise’s lifestyle, so as many techniques as possible must be used to introduce it in the most simplest way without the use of dialogue. However, it is later used in the diner, when Louise and LGA are sitting opposite one another. It allows for focus upon both characters whilst making it clear that the audience where they are and what they are doing. However, it is later again used when Louise’s cat makes her jump when she comes home. The shot length is also very short for a brief period here. This, and the technique mean that this part of the narrative is supposed to be quite shocking.
- The 180 Degree rule is rarely broken throughout the entire video, allowing for most of the consistency in the video. However, it is broken on occasion. For example, when Louise is walking through her office, the rule is broken illegally many times. This makes Louise’s office seem confusing to travel around, large and intimidating, as Louise may see it. The rule is later broken legally through use of the Shot / Reverse Shot technique in the diner.
As far as transitions are concerned, they are not used that excessively in the video. However, when they are used they are mostly a simple fade or fade to black. This is probably to in-keep with the grown-up theme of the song and video and keep the subject matter serious. There is an interesting example of a fade transition, in which two scenes are blended together. In this transition, a road and a bar counter are made to seem like the same thing. The reason for this is most likely to show the link between the two main aspects of Louise’s life. The shot of the street outside her office represents her professional front, whilst the shot of the bar is representative of her promiscuous side.
This video also contains a brief montage during the musical bridge. The montage begins with interspersing clips of Louise sitting in a chair drinking wine and her taking eye drops (which also double as giving the impression that she is crying) the clips then begin to change to that of New York, a LAS of Louise crying and smoking and LGA dancing in what appears to be Louise’s living room. It appears that the main reason for this is to highlight Louise’s loneliness and depression in the most simplistic way possible. Her feelings are described through just music and random clips as opposed to through dialogue, lyrics or a narrative.
The only sound in the video is the song ‘Bad Girl’, other than a brief interlude which contains some sound effects. The following is a list of structural notes of the song itself:
- The baseline to the song acts as the intro as well. It is largely made up of percussion instruments.
- The structure of the song begins to build with a slow glissando. This is one of the moments where the song interacts with the on-screen action. Whilst the glissando plays, and triggers the musical action, on-screen the body of Louise is revealed, triggering the on-screen action and narrative.
- A set of strings support the vocals and add an eerie and ominous tone to the song
- The vocals themselves are quite high-pitched and shaky, especially given Madonna’s preference to sing in a deeper tone during this time. This is reflective of Louise’s scared and intimidated attitude
- The music becomes minimal just before each chorus – this emphasises the chorus itself
- The choruses are structurally the same as the verses , except with a small hook after certain lyrics
- The strings slowly increase in intensity as the song goes on – this helps build suspense and tension, and makes the audience aware that something bad will happen in the narrative.
- During the montage, a non-lyrical bridge takes place in which all musical components are presented. A piano is also introduced during this time. This adds to the musical structure further emphasising the tension of the video. The piano also adds a saddening acoustic effect to the song.
- Madonna performs her own backing vocals. These are light and angelic – reflective 0of the theme of death at this point in the narrative.
- Many sound effects are played during the interlude. These include an aerosol spraying and a cat hissing. These are short sharp, creepy sounds to represent the horror of the kiss of death taking place at the same time. Other ominous sounds which take place are footsteps and the vent rattling. Sounds of the city can also be heard, such as a car and train passing and a dog barking. The chime of a clock introduces the song once more.
- The piano becomes more prominent towards the end of the song, as it fades out.
Lyrically, the song deals with a woman who finds herself in a similar situation to Louise, except the woman in the song is still with her lover, and the pressure he puts upon her causes her to behave in this way. However, despite this there is crossover between these lyrics and Louise’s situation. The following is a list of lyrics which match the on-screen action:
- ‘Can’t bring myself to let you go’ – One of the three lyrics sung by Louise. This lyric would match Louise desire to not let go of her lost lover.
- ‘What can I do’ – At this time, the first man appears on screen, offering a short-term solution to Louise’s problems
- ‘Smoked too many cigarettes today’ – as the the barman is lighting Louise’s cigarette.
- ‘Kissing some kind of stranger’s lips’ – At this time, Louise is kissing the first man just before sleeping with him
- ‘You’ll always be my baby’ and ‘I don’t want to feel blue’ – The second and third lyrics to be sung by Louise. These also apply to the lost lover situation.
Iconography and Symbolism
Iconography and Symbolism are most commonly presented through the various props throughout the video. The following is a list of examples:
- Cigarettes are used often. Cigarettes are a peculiar prop, as it only takes a change of context for them to present an entirely new status. In ‘Bad Girl’, they present a high status. For example, Louise keeps her cigarettes in decorated boxes and smokes them at sophisticated bars and sometimes in a seductive fashion. This means that the cigarettes are used to highlight Louise’s status and promiscuity
- Another common prop is drinks glasses and alcohol. These also add to the classy themes of the video. However, they are mostly used by the men in the video in order to offer Louise a drink. This implies that she is not really in control of her promiscuity, and she is more often than not taken advantage of through drunkenness.
- In the second man’s home, Louise focuses upon a small cross shaped pendant. Although this could be used to highlight Louise’s sinful behaviour, it is more likely that this symbolism is associated with Madonna herself. During the early 90s, Madonna’s image shifted to that of a more sexual one, and she often liked to link religious imagery to this.
- The note that the second man leaves Louise is very important. It simply reads ‘Thank you whoever you are’. This highlights all of Louise’s fears; that the sleeping around isn’t helping her pain, she is being taken advantage of and that her behaviour is causing her to slowly lose her identity.
- The cat is used as a stereotype. It emphasises the loneliness of Louise.
- Louise washes her lingerie in the sink, and mail has built up on her doormat. This obviously implies that she has not been home for a long time, and has spent a string of nights at various men’s homes. This also implies that she is becoming more and more desperate to forget about her love.
- The eyedrops have a double meaning. They imply that Louise is not in perfect health, and highlights her age. Also, they double as tears, expressing depression at her lifestyle.
- The newspaper being read by the guardian angel acts as foreshadowing with it’s ominous headline ‘Bloody Rampage’
- Louise is strangled by her own tights. The tights are a symbol of her professional status and promiscuity and it is ironic that this is the thing which kills her
- The air vent can be seen in the establishing shot and right before the murder takes place. This shows the audience that this is the scene of the crime, so they are aware that Louise is about to die before it happens (if that hasn’t already been made obvious by the evil characterising of the murderer and the guardian angel’s kiss of death)
- Louise’s body is covered in a white sheet. White is often used to represent innocence.
‘Bad Girl’ comes from Madonna’s fifth studio album, Erotica. Erotica is defined primarily as a pop album, however, it does also contain elements of dance, house, lounge and swing. ‘Bad Girl’ itself most probably suits the genres of pop or possibly lounge. Pop is the most difficult genre to analyse as it is so broad and therefore vague.
‘Bad Girl’ works extremely well as a pop song. Firstly, it is recorded by one of the most prominent and influential pop singers of all time, Madonna. Secondly, it is suitable for the masses, meaning it can technically work as ‘popular music’. Most mainstream music can be described as ‘Pop’, as it is the staple of the music charts. It’s chart performance is another reason as to why ‘Bad Girl’ can be described as Pop.
However, Pop music tends to be aimed at youth, as the youth of any generation tends to dominate music chart performances of pop songs. Given it’s lyrical content and musical structure, ‘Bad Girl’ is not particularly aimed at youth. This is why the label of ‘Adult Contemporary’ would perhaps suit ‘Bad Girl’ better.
Intended Target Audience
Due to Madonna’s widespread popularity at the time, ‘Bad Girl’ would have been a hugely mainstream song and video, open to a great deal of the general public and the world as whole. Given that she was not a minir music artist with a cult following, a definite target audience is difficult to define. However, there are some obvious signs and clues in the video as to it’s audience:
- Obviously the themes of casual sex, alcoholism and smoking mean that this video is clearly for adults. Perhaps as with most artist who originally record for young people, this was Madonna’s attempt to connect with her now adult fans.
- Madonna’s sexual phase was an extremely controversial time for her, and many considered it to be the end of her career. However, there were those who favoured this time of her career. Although not her most sexual exploit, this small cult following would favour the video.
- As with any artist, hardcore fans would enjoy the video.
Gatherings, findings and such
I think that ‘Bad Girl’ is going to be the biggest inspiration for my own production. There are several ideas and themes I would love to replicate. For example, the idea of dark romance, and it’s possible psycholoigal effects. I would love to be able to put a dark twist on the cheesy cliche of boy-meets-girl. I also love that this is presented in a sophisticated way, through the use of 1930/40s decor, bars, alcohol and cigarettes. I’m sure would be able to come across dated locations and replicate the alcohol and cigarettes. There’s so much finer detail in this video that I would love to replicate also, however as I’m not sure which are plausible and which I mayor may not decide to use, I may reveal this as the production unfolds. Watch this space…