No One Can Tell Us We’re Wrong: The Perfection of Pat Benatar Summed Up in in 5 Minutes and 18 Seconds
Note: I originally wrote this for the "Ms. Behaved" blog in 2012, but a recent googling indicated that the site no longer exists, so I'm republishing it here for no other reason than because it's a personal favourite of mine.
A group of women; exploited and abused. Forced to monetize their sexuality in order to survive the unforgiving realities of harsh urban life. Amongst them stands a tiny brunette runaway. Her time in the hall has aged her—she seems like she’s 30, not a teenager forced out into the real world by her intractable father (for reasons unknown). She looks around and sees the environment she works in and deems it unacceptable. She refuses to be pushed around any more. Spurred by the rough actions of their gold-toothed “manager” she snaps and the other girls instantly organize behind her in solidarity.
“Love is a Battlefield” is the greatest music video ever made. Many people—a large majority—may argue otherwise, but they are wrong, no matter how passionately they use such words as “ridiculous”, “dated”, “cheesy” and/or “stupid”. This 5 minute and 18 seconds of artistic excellence is impervious to their criticism for one objective, inarguable reason—Pat Benatar is awesome and anyone who says otherwise is an asshole who doesn’t even deserve to get it.
Few people were actually there to see it, but Pat Benatar cemented her status in pop culture history as the first solo artist to ever appear on MTV. Immediately after the station debuted with The Buggles’ a propos novelty hit, “Video Killed the Radio Star”, Benatar appeared—standing in front of her band in skin tight leather pants and cheeks so covered in rouge it bordered on kabuki-style performance art. She looked directly at us, took our measure and warned—with utter conviction—that we better run.
We better hide.
In a world of Blossom and Bubbles-esque pop stars, Benatar was the Buttercup the world so desperately needed. The tiny, dark-haired rock chick whose rarely seen smile was less an invitation than a taunting declaration—is that all you got? Fucker.
But that hardly made her unique. Many other female performers had blazed the badass trail, but unlike Benatar their musical appeal was based on grit and growls. They sang that way because that was the only way they could sing.
Benatar, though, sang that way because she fucking wanted to. On the same album she could go from the kick-your-ass rock of “You Better Run” and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” to the angry apocalyptic wail of “Hell is For Children” and still pull off an amazing cover of Kate Bush’s ethereal classic “Wuthering Heights”.
But rather than praise for her obvious talent, many “serious” music fans at the time treated her with disdain and suspicion. For music to have merit, they claimed, it had to be “authentic” and authentic song-craft doesn’t come from trained musicians who have the ability to create any kind of music they please—it comes from damaged souls barely capable of creating breath, much less the messy, ragged tunes they manage to somehow produce.
“Authenticity” is the word the cool kids use to keep everyone else down. It’s specifically designed to keep out those with training and ambition—those who try to use hard work to rise above their station. It insists that everything you do be “real” even though “real” is a concept whose definition changes with every single person on the planet.
Pat Benatar was never “real”—she was awesome, because she wanted to be awesome, which meant that the people who listened to her music could be awesome too, if that’s what they wanted.
And that’s why the video for “Love is a Battlefield” is her crowning, signature achievement. It specifically defies the popular notions of reality and authenticity to create its own world, where its own rules apply and its message is thus—You don’t have to take that shit, if you don’t want to.
Conceived and directed by Bob Giraldi, the video famously revived the archaic practice of taxi dancing when MTV made it clear they wouldn’t air a video about actual prostitution. Rather than hurt the concept, this censorship empowered it. In one of Benatar’s previous songs, she once accused a lover of using “Sex As a Weapon”, but here she turns the tables and uses the skills she picked up from her oppressors to escape from them. It wouldn’t have been the same if she had to fuck her way to freedom.
The video embraces its most ludicrous elements (Benatar’s age, the ridiculous gold toothed “dancehall manager”, that one extra’s tight red shorts) and throws them into the context of the real streets of the city, which we see as she walks and sings her way through them. “Real” and “false” come together, all to serve the same purpose—so that we invest in the journey and celebrate our heroine’s victory, as short lived and bittersweet as it may be.
Played as straight “reality” and it would have been horrific—an urban nightmare of despair and exploitation. But thanks to the false notes found throughout its narrative, it is instead a tale of who we want to be, not who we really are.
And that is important. Those who insist that we only serve the “truth” (as they see it) do so to keep us dancing for dollars one song at a time. The last thing they want is for us to figure out that their “truth” is bullshit and all we have to do to break free is get together.