Friday, October 8, 2010

Cassidy Noblett Embodies the Movement of Pop Culture

                                 Cassidy performs during Beyonce's "I Am" Tour.

By Christopher Cole

Somehow the strapping dancer known as Cassidy Noblett always finds himself around superstar divas. His track record is impressive considering he’s toured with Janet Jackson, Beyonce and Lady Gaga. Since Cassidy is a dancer, I’m sure one of the best things about dancing for these superstars is that he gets to perform the iconic choreography that goes with their hit songs. It’s choreography that is forever part of pop culture, and when he performs it in front of thousands of people, he’s embodying the movement of pop culture.

There’s a group of performances that stick out, that feature some of the most epic pop choreography in the past two decades. First there’s Janet Jackson’s “If” choreography, which is known for its dripping sex appeal. You remember that criss-crossy dance Janet and her dancers do to those criss-crossy orchestral strings. When Cassidy performed this “If” choreography on Janet Jackson’s Rock Witchu Tour in 2008, he was presenting history to a new and old audience. The social context of the choreography was new because when the “If” music video debuted in 1993 on MTV, the musical climate was grunge and house, a time when MTV actually played videos. In 2008, there was the ongoing Iraq and Afghanistan war, and the United States got its first black president. In this sense, people went to Janet’s “Rock Witchu” tour to escape, and for a certain age group reminisce on good times.

Not long after touring with Ms. Jackson, Cassidy moved on to another black icon that like her idol Janet narrowed the racial divide, and became a true global pop star. This icon’s name is Beyonce. While Janet had a larger number of dancers on her Rock Witchu Tour, Beyonce only had three male dancers and three female dancers on her I Am Tour, meaning Cassidy was always a main dancer with his face upfront. Ever since she became famous with Destiny’s Child, Beyonce has been preaching female empowerment, while simultaneously submitting to male objectification, also known as the Male Gaze. As always, Beyonce performed one of her Destiny’s Child hits “Say My Name,” a song that reminds me and my generation of the last year of middle school and the Destiny’s Child controversy where two members were replaced. She even did her famous four-person spoke wheel that debuted in Destiny’s Child’s 2000 video “Say My Name,” but instead of four women performing the spoke wheel to represent girl power, Beyonce with three men performed it. The difference in gender drastically changes things, making the spoke wheel more sexual. Ironically, Cassidy was the guy directly in back of Beyonce during the spoke wheel dance, grinding in a circular motion. It’s very sexy stuff. Still it wasn’t until her song and video Video Phone that Beyonce started directly referencing her own embrace of the Male Gaze. Cassidy appeared in the Hype Williams-helmed “Video Phone” clip as one of Beyonce’s Gazers, but with a twist.

During a performance of the song "Video Phone" in Paris, the stage was made to look like a Netherlands strip club in the Red Light District, complete with red strobe lights. Cassidy started off the performance with a camera in his hand filming a female dancer performing a suggestive routine with a chair. He looked down at the screen of his camera. Then Cassidy’s head turned to the center where Beyonce was doing a similarly suggestive chair routine. As the lyrics “I see that you want me/so press record and let you film me” slinked from the loud speakers, Cassidy and his fellow male dancers all pointed their cameras at Beyonce taking a picture. As they proceeded to follow her movements, they never looked up from their cameras. It’s this that emphasizes their objectification of Beyonce and the other women on stage. The "Video Phone" song and video are about sexual objectification, and this performance is all about the Male Gaze, but at least we get to see Cassidy’s smiling face because in the "Video Phone" video his head is replaced by a camera, hence the big twist. So as you probably figured out, in the video, the tables are turned and the men are objectified, but on stage the men are in full control.

It’s no coincidence that Lady Gaga happened to appear in the "Video Phone" music video to support Beyonce’s transgression of the Male Gaze because Gaga covers the same themes in her own work. Also it’s no coincidence that Cassidy now dances for Gaga on her Monster Ball tour. He went from being the Gazer on Beyonce’s tour to being the Gazed on Gaga’s tour. From assuming the role of a Chippendale dancer during “Boys, Boys, Boys” to one of Gaga’s Mad Max-style road warriors on “Bad Romance,” Cassidy has never played more roles than on Gaga’s Monster Ball Tour. He’s played a man who emulates a woman and throws away his “masculine” façade and struts like the beautiful creature he knew he was meant to be, to quote a Pet Shop Boys song. Lady Gaga has been called the first true pop star of the digital age, and her choreographer Laurie Ann Gibson describes her choreography as “Do It Yourself” (D.I.Y.). This means that the choreography is not difficult to learn and is very adaptable, which explains why there are so many viral videos on YouTube, etc. that put their own spin on Gaga’s choreography. Again, Cassidy performs choreography that millions of people film themselves doing and put it on the Internet for the entire world to see. Gibson explains why the choreography is powerful in writer Julie Bloom’s New York Times article “D.I.Y. Music Videos, Inspired by the Pros”:

“I saw a little boy, and he was doing the sandwich dance and I was just, like, wow,” she said, referring to a sequence that involves double claps on the left and the right followed by little mimed bites, from “Telephone" (...). The rhythmic emphasis falls on unexpected beats: “They’re based out of an emotion,” she said, “so when you hear the record, it’s choreographed as an emotional dance, and it’s kind of like people are experiencing her when you do the movements (Bloom).

As a dancer performing famous moves, Cassidy Noblett is embodying the spirit of several generations and the heart of pop culture. Since Cassidy has already appeared in the music videos for Beyonce’s “Video Phone,” and Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro,” he’s immortalized on pop film, and part of pop history. As they say, if you don’t have it on film, it didn’t happen, which will never happen for Cassidy since he’s emerged in the digital age where seemingly everyone has a camera. His performances on the tours of so many iconic divas are all over YouTube captured by the cameras of fans. Flash, Flash, the camera goes. Take Cassidy's picture.

Works Cited:

Bloom, Julie. “D.I.Y. Music Videos, Inspired by the Pros.” New York Times 30 Apr 2010


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