Music and videos.
Back in the early 1980s, when MTV first came out, the Buggles proclaimed that “video killed the radio star” and for a time, it was almost true. But as MTV rose in popularity, more and more bands started to embrace the medium, utilising it not just as a way to spread their music but as artisitic statements in themselves. Early videos were most concert shots, crudely cut and edited. But it didn’t take long for artists to adapt to the new medium. Soon music videos starting doing different things, telling stories and playing on emotions. Now it wasn’t just the music and the artist but also the video and the director. Sometimes, the band was completely absent from the videos. Then came a wave of new directors, including some of my favourites: Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Mark Romanek and David Fincher. And then rap took over. Flashy videos with slick cars and semi-nude women, what else could be more palatable to the public? But there are still those who are going for it, tooth and nail, trying to make videos that surprise and excite. These are the ones to look out for.
This is by no means a definitive list. It is just some of my favourite videos, ones that are innovative and make creative use of the time limit and the soundtrack available. They are more than just videos. Like movies and novels, they say something. They speak. Often times, its a work of complete creativity and genius and you marvel at the ingenuity, and other times, its a narrative, shot superbly and edited wonderfully. Enjoy.
In no particular order:
Chemical Brothers – Star Guitar (dir. Michel Gondry)
On the first watch, you might not get it. Watch it again. Listen to the music, sit back and watch the video. See? See what’s happening? The appearance of things in the video coincides perfectly with the beats in the music. Its an amazing concept and this video is the result of meticulous planning and editing on Gondry’s part. This video is one of the main reasons why I love Michel Gondry’s work so much. They’re creative ideas and they’re usually things that no one has done before. Gondry uses a similar concept for Daft Punk’s Around the World video but I’ve always liked this one better.
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (dir. Vincent Morisset)
Behold the new music video medium, the internet. Quite possibly the first interactive music video. Its a great concept and its been executed perfectly. Nothing is over the top, all very aesthetically pleasing. It has its own style but also lends itself to the song, a moody dark tune. Morisset also did another interactive video for City and Colour’s Sleeping Sickness (http://www.cityandcolour.ca/sleepingsickness/sleep.html). It utilises the same elements but somehow, it falls short. The controls for it are wonky and it just never achieves the easy aesthetic of Neon Bible. Visit the site and don’t forget to click around.
The BPA feat. David Byrne – Toe Jam (dir. Keith Schofield)
The BPA is the side-project of Fat Boy Slim. He’s hung up his sick electronic beats in favour of a more funky, sexy sound. Toe Jam has vocals by David Byrne and one kick-ass, in-your-face video. Its a slap in the face of censorship and its entertaining to watch. A great concept and a good song.
Madonna – Frozen (dir. Mark Romanek)
I had a difficult time picking this one Madonna video from among many. Over the years, prolific Madonna has put out singles that are catchy, smart and provocative. It was a close battle between the three or so Madonna videos that David Fincher did and this one. The Fincher ones are amazing too, shot wonderfully but something about Romanek appeals to me. He’s a gutsy videographer, not afraid to take strange bold shots. Frozen is definitely one of my favourite Madonna songs. The video is dark and gothic with Madonna in a flowing black dress that shimmers and a shawl that turns into ravens. Its all about gothic imagery here. And its beautiful.
Bjork – All is Full of Love (dir. Chris Cunningham)
In spite of all of Michel Gondry’s beautiful collaborations with Bjork, it is Chris Cunningham’s Bjork video that takes my breath away. There is something strangely hypnotic in Cunningham’s robotic female. They make love like people, and we wonder if they actually feel anything. The video is clean and crisp, the robots straight out of Issac Asimov. But even in the space of those 4 minutes, you grow attached to the robots and their clean features. You want to know their stories, their love lives. And all the while, the machines keep going, into their bodies, out of their bodies. And I wonder if those robots are actually us, if sex means more for us than those robots?
The Replacements – Bastards of Young
Its funny how YouTube is systematically deleting most music videos. And kind of sad too. YouTube was amazing when it came out. With little policing, except for porn and other offensive material, it was a place where you could find whole movies and music videos that you didn’t even know existed. Like this Replacements video. I don’t know who directed it but its a single shot of a speaker and an armchair. Someone comes in, sits down and smokes a cigarette. The song plays on. In the end, the guy gets up, kicks the speaker and goes away. Its a boring video, very little happens. There’s no editing, no cuts, no takes. Just one long reel of something boring. Its a statement. It makes you listen to the music. Its a video thats not a video at all. Try and find it online if you can.
Jose Gonzalez – Teardrop (dir. Andreas Nilsson)
This is Jose Gonzalez’s cover of Massive Attack’s amazing song. He does a decent cover, bringing his own signature style to the formerly electronica song. Although I prefer the Massive Attack original with Elizabeth Frasier from the Cocteau Twins on vocals. This video starts out psychedelic, with roving patterns and amazing colours. But then it takes on a biblical tone, with an old testament god raining fire down on Sodom and Gomorrah. It has beautiful imagery and is a carefully constructed, imaginative video.
Radiohead – Just (dir. Jamie Thraves)
Visit any Radiohead site/forum and you will find this question buried there somewhere: What does the man say at the end of the video for Just? Radiohead are known for their videos, usually ones that are fused with narrative or ones that utilise unique shooting techniques. They recently came up with a video that uses no cameras and instead uses lidar technology, that detects an object’s distance from it’s sensor and then maps it out in the form of dots and grains. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nTFjVm9sTQ). nSo back to Just. A man walks into the street and lies down. People come to investigate and a heated subtitled conversation happens between a gathering crowd and the man. The crowd wants to know why he’s lying in the middle of the street and so do we. Watch the video to find out.
A-Ha – Take on Me (dir. Steve Barron)
No music video list can be complete without paying homage to one of the earliest and most creative music videos to ever be made. It combines pencil sketch animation with live-action through rotoscoping (the almsot same process used in the films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, both by Richard Linklater). It tells a whimsical, although slightly cliche tale of a girl who steps into a comic book, falls in love with the lead character and then, he follows her out into the real world. Its a good song, a good video.
The list is almost endless. There are so many videos out there that I would like to put on this list, but it would just be too exhausting and take too much of my time. Some honorable mentions that you should YouTube or Google and watch.
Bjork – Wanderlust
Justice – Stress
UNKLE feat. Thom Yorke – Rabbit in your Headlights
Jay-Z – 99 Problems
Tupac – Thugz Mansion
Alex Gopher – The Child
Aphex Twin – Come to Daddy
Blur – Coffee and TV
Chemical Brothers – Believe
Fiona Apple – Criminal
Foo Fighters – Everlong
I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness – The Owl
Johnny Cash – Hurt
The White Stripes – Fell in Love with a Girl, The Hardest Button to Button
Cibo Matto – Sugar Water
Kylie Minogue – Come into My World
Joy Division – Atmosphere
Pearl Jam – Do the Evolution
Portishead – Only You
The Prodigy – Firestarter, Smack My Bitch Up
Radiohead – Street Spirit
REM – Everybody Hurts
Yo La Tengo – Sugarcube