I love fan art. It gives the amateurs amongst us a chance to put our own creative spin on an existing work while paying tribute to an artist that we admire. It’s interactive. It’s a form of homage. It helps Vaughan’s legacy live on.
And Vaughan’s cover of “Whatever Lola Wants” has spawned a lot of fan art. Some of it is a lot of fun. Some less so. Some, quite, frankly, a little weird. But it all helps us understand what Vaughan means to her fans, how they appropriate her voice to give voice to their own creativity and artistic vision, and what this in turn tells us about female sexuality, desire, and agency – ideas at the heart of Vaughan’s original.
The first, and by far most popular (with more than 1.2 million views to date) fan video I will discuss features a black and white animation of a woman lip syncing to Vaughan’s rendition of “Lola.” We can only see the woman’s head as she enacts a series of carefully choreographed yet provocative moves. The white face of the performer, who goes by the username gypsysomerset, is in stark relief to the black background. It’s a bold use of positive and negative space that creates the impression that the performance is taking place in the shadows. That it’s almost illicit.
I have to admit, the first time I saw this, the academic in me immediately thought of Eric Lott’s work in Love and Theft on blackface minstrelsy and desire. According to Lott blackface minstrelsy was a parody of blackness that simultaneously fulfilled the desire of white performers for the “other.” It’s all about racial desire. A desire to explore, experience, and embody blackness. To try it on for size, then return to daily life as a white person.
Now, I doubt that gypsysomerset was thinking, consciously at least, about racial desire when she made this video. It’s more likely that she loved Vaughan’s performance of a sexy, empowered woman who gets what she wants. This is what gypsysomerset wanted to try on for size. But, ironically enough, I’m not convinced that the woman she portrays is actually bold or empowered. She’s anonymous and coy, her gaze averted with only strategic glances into the camera. It’s as if gypsysomerset falls back upon conventional notions of female sexuality, and in the process encourages, albeit inadvertently, a certain kind objectification.
The next video features the Satin Dollz, a dance troupe inspired by 1940s-style pinup girls, lip syncing and reimaging Vaughan’s “Lola.” It’s a collection of vignettes that evoke a nostalgia for the musicals and USO stage shows of the past, and perhaps even a former way of life. It’s slick with high production values and most definitely not an amateur undertaking.
On the surface, the video takes the objectification of women up a notch. After all, pinup girls (along with the cheesecake photos they so often appeared in) were meant to be looked at, admired, and desired, all in the service of patriotism. I wonder, however, if this video is also a playful sendup of this same tradition. A wink or an ironic twist. The dance moves are exaggerated. The seduction is over the top. The men are literally chasing Lola, her powers of seduction mesmerizing. And Lola is performed by a rotating cast of women, each representing a different “type” of pinup girl. It’s a clever marketing strategy by the Satin Dollz, but it also sends a larger message: that there are many kinds of Lolas. All women can embody Lola as voiced by Vaughan, and each is capable of getting what she wants. This in itself is empowering and allows these pinup girls take back their agency.
The next fan video veers into bizarre, slightly creepy territory. It begins with an image of a white man wearing sunglasses, presumably the video’s creator serdar yasar, with his head floating on the screen. This is followed by a stream of photos of scantily clad women, some celebrities and others models, in the foreground with nature scenes in the background (footage of geysers erupting and hummingbirds feeding feature prominently). It is all accompanied by the Gotan Project Remix of Vaughan’s “Lola.” It’s pretty weird.
This video has nothing to do with female empowerment or Lola getting what she wants. The women are static. They do not speak. Nor do they pursue the man, rather they are the objects of desire. This video is all about the male gaze, the man who created it, and by extension its viewers, and their desire to ogle and admire women from afar. It’s a return to the status quo, and the agency, power, and boldness so skillfully personified by Vaughan’s Lola has been stripped away.
The final fan video I’ll discuss is
something completely different. It doesn’t feature lip syncing or a montage of
images with Vaughan’s “Lola” as a soundtrack. Instead it is an original
performance that uses the same accompanying tracks, karaoke style, as Vaughan’s.
Jovel Johnson has a lovely voice. And it is refreshing to hear a performer use Vaughan’s “Lola” as a foundation and source of inspiration, instead of simply co-opting Vaughan’s voice. Johnson captures the spirit of the original while giving voice to her own agency and artistic vision. She makes the tune her own, and this is a joy to watch.