Archive | August 2011

The Video Stars: Top 10 Action/Adventure

Here comes another 10 excellent music videos that you are going to want to procrastinate by watching on youtube!  Action/Adventure may not be a normal category for music videos, but there are plenty of them.  Unlike drama, their stories may not always be crystal clear, but we’re kept engaged because there’s always something happening: running, jumping, fighting, swaggering… you name it.

10.  Hungry Like the Wolf – Duran Duran, 1982.  Directed by Russell Mulcahy. 

This video was shot in Sri Lanka, which helps a lot with the Indiana Jones theme.  For a video in the 80’s, this actually looked a bit like a film and fit the imagery in the song without being too literal.  (I am so grateful there are no hungry wolves running around in this!)

9.  99 Problems – Jay-Z, 2004Directed by Mark Romanek.

This one comes with a warning – there’s a bit of violence that you should know about before you watch.  But you probably know that already, because the image is a powerful one that I think of nearly everytime I hear Jay-Z.  I also regularly picture him in this video: black and white, walking around Brooklyn.  This has less of a continuous plot as it is snapshots of being a black man in Brooklyn, but it still strikes me as action more than anything else.

8.  Telephone – Lady Gaga & Beyonce, 2010Directed by Jonas Akerlund.

Whether we like it or not, this has become somewhat legendary.  The video has absolutely nothing to do with the song, and yet no one seems to care – it almost adds to the ridiculousness of the whole thing.  This video has everything else you could imagine, and most things you never would (like cigarette shades).  I still am not convinced why Beyonce would feel the need to pair up with Gaga, but in this instance it works.  She was probably swayed with a promise she could drive the Pussy Wagon from Kill Bill.

I should probably add a warning to this as well, but I’m not exactly sure what I should say.  Lady Gaga’s purpose in life is to make you cringe or feel awkward, and Telephone is no exception.


 7.  Glosoli – Sigur Ros, 2005.  Directed by Arni & Kinski.

Another beautiful video by this team, featuring beautiful Icelandic children in beautiful Icelandic scenery.  A visual representation of JD Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” quote about catching all the children jumping off a cliff.  Clever and, well… beautiful. 

6.  Don’t Come Around Here No More – Tom Petty, 1985.  Directed by Jeff Stein.

Who would have thought Tom Petty would make such a fantastic Mad Hatter, and who would have believed his band could have depicted Alice in Wonderland in an even creepier fashion?  Apparently both the song and video were inspired by Stevie Nicks, which may explain why they are so full of mystery and excellence.

5.  Beat It – Michael Jackson, 1982.  Directed by Bob Giraldi.

I can’t believe I’ve posted this many videos before mentioning MJ.  Don’t worry, this won’t be the last.  His version of West Side Story is as good as anyone’s, and kicks off his long music video legacy of teaching the world that all conflicts can be solved through dance.

  4.  Everlong – Foo Fighters, 1997.  Directed by Michel Gondry.

I am committed to watching everything Michel Gondry has ever been a part of, and this is one of many reasons why.  Here my favorite director collaborates with a band with a huge and creative imagination to create nothing if not a visually stimulating, action-packed spectacle.  I wish my dreams were directed by Gondry. 

3.  Hoppipolla – Sigur Ros, 2005.  Directed Arni & Kinski.

Another cinematic jewel from Iceland, this time featuring not the young, but the older.  This has become basically a perfect depiction of what I want to be like when I am a senior citizen.

2.  Sabotage – Beastie Boys, 1995.  Directed by Spike Jonze.

A masterpiece parody of 1970’s crime tv, complete with fake moustaches and plenty of chase scenes on foot and wheel.  The Beastie Boys are masters of having fun and being filmed in the process, and nearly anyone who’s seen this wishes they thought of it first.  Brilliant.

1.  Thriller – Michael Jackson, 1983.  Directed by John Landis. 

I’m sure you were expecting this at some point.  The only difficulty I had was in deciding which category it should be considered in.  But this is quintessential action.  Although we all know the dance, and we love the sci-fi effects of 1983, ultimately this video is ingrained into our hearts and minds because it continues to be one of the best examples of a video with a plot.  It’s actually a little bit creepy – especially with Vincent Price and his pseudo-rap – and MJ makes a terribly convincing zombie.  Music videos will forever pay homage to this with red jackets, mass choreography, and dancing zombies, and people everywhere will forever learn the choreography to show off at parties or in flash mobs.  And all of these facts make the world a better place to live in.  Thanks Michael. 

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The Video Stars: Top 10 Comedies

Time for my second installment of music videos.  Here’s my choices for the top 10 comedy music video.  Enjoy!

10.  I Feel Better – Hot Chip, 2010.  Directed by Peter Serafinowicz.

At first you just think it’s a great boy-band-parody video, and then a bizarre thing happens.  I nearly peed myself when I first saw this one.

9.  All the Small things – Blink 182, 1999.  Directed by Marcos Siega

Probably more the parody vid you were expecting.  Makes fun of nearly every bubblegum pop video that was out in the 90’s, and does so in true Blink 182 style.  Now when I see an old Backstreet Boys video, I think of this.  Classic. 

8.  Bien o Mal (Right or Wrong) – Julieta Venegas, 2010.  Directed by Agustin Alberdi.

So, I can’t understand any of the lyrics, which may actually be part of the charm of Bien o Mal.  I find it adorable, lovely, and terribly giggle-worthy.  Even better, it’s meant to be a feminist critique of who decides what is “lady-like”.  I am totally for this parallel universe, especially if I get to fart butterflies too!

7.  I’m On a Boat – The Lonely Island featuring T. Pain, 2009.  Directed by Akiva Schaffer.

The Lonely Island have now made a bunch of videos to choose from, but this one stands out for not only its humor, but production.  It looks like the kind of rap videos it’s making fun of, and got so much acclaim that  it was even nominated for a grammy!  Most importantly, I don’t think I’ve since been on any kind of boat without this song being referenced at least once.  Granted, I am usually doing the referencing…

6.  Frontier Psychiatry – The Avalanches, 2002.  Directed by Tom Kuntz & Mike Maguire.

This is possibly the most random music video I’ve ever seen, and yet it ideally suits the song (which is composed of samples from 37 different spoken tracks).  Plus, there is just something so awesome about an old woman playing the drums.  

5.  Learn to Fly – Foo Fighters, 2001.  Directed by Jesse Peretz.

I’ve been noticing that I especially love videos where someone in the band is duplicated.  This is an extreme example, and I absolutely love it.  Especially when Dave Grohl asks Dave Grohl for his autograph.  For fun, try to figure out which characters are all played by which band members.  Also, see if you can recognize the song that’s played muzak-style at the beginning. 

4.  Weapon of Choice – Fatboy Slim, 2001.  Directed by Spike Jonze.

What a beautiful marriage between band, director, and actor.  There is possibly no other actor that could have created the same effect that Christopher Walken does here; he has no deadpan/dance equal.  The comedy of this video relies entirely on his creepiness, and there was never any doubt it would succeed.

3.  Land of Confusion – Genesis, 1987.  Directed by John Lloyd & Jim Yukich

So many puppets, so much happiness.  Especially when the puppets represent Ronald and Nancy Reagan, a few other presidents and a whole host of celebrities.  The only video from the 80’s in this particular list, and isn’t it appropriate that it features puppets?  What was with the 80’s and puppets anyway?

2.  Praise You – Fatboy Slim, 1999.  Directed by Spike Jonze.

So great.  Yes, it looks like someone caught a flash mob on their camera phone, and that’s the point.  The choreography is wonderfully goofy, the crowd’s reactions are 100% genuine, and this likely goes down in history as the cheapest music video to ever be shown on MTV.  Also, whenever this song gets played at a party, guess what happens. 

1.  It’s Oh So Quiet – Bjork, 1995.  Directed by Spike Jonze. 

I won’t pretend like this was an easy choice; at some point I considered nearly all of the top 5 videos for the number 1 position.  Yet, it does seem appropriate that Spike Jonze is involved considering his name is on so many videos I would consider hilarious or clever.  You should probably go right now and watch his entire videography if you haven’t already.   

But in the end, Bjork’s emotional ode to falling in love stands out.  There are two thoughts that simultaneously enter my head when I watch this entertaining video: 1. Where did they come up with these ideas?  I could never have this kind of imaginitive creativity!  and 2.  This video is exactly what the song needs – no other video could have possibly existed!  It captures Bjork’s quirkiness, and her shifts between mellow and exstatic, with such fluidity considering they’re terribly abrupt.  Genius.  Also, I totally have “dance with a mailbox” on my bucketlist thanks to this.  Totes. 

The Video Stars: Top 10 Dramas

I’ve decided to take a short break from albums to make a few top ten lists.  This week I have been on a major music video kick, and as a result I have discovered a whole new respect for the medium.  Just like physical albums allow us as listeners to tangibly and contextually connect with the music, videos allow us to experience a song in new, visual way.

There are those skeptics who would see music videos nothing more than advertisements, and I can see some truth in that: videos can massively effect the reception of a song or an album in the mainstream, so I’m sure many are made for purely promotional purposes.  But as I have been watching and picking videos for top 10 lists, I’ve been convinced of music video as a whole artistic category on its own.   

I have grouped the videos based on what genre the video best fits into, and have one self-appointed rule that no video can be in two lists (even if they clearly fit into several).  Let’s begin with my top 10 dramatic music videos.  These videos all have an uncanny ability to tell a story.

 10.  Mr. Brightside – The Killers, 2004.  Directed by Brad and Brian Palmer.

This song tells a great story all on its own, but with some incredible costumes, great acting, a magical setting, and references to one of my all time favorite movies (Moulin Rouge), the jealousy Brandon Flowers sings about comes to life. 

9.  This is Hardcore – Pulp, 1998.  Directed by Doug Nichol.

Three stories are interwoven, all using old film imagery to remind us that it is all hollywood pretend – a fitting mask for a song about a destructive lifestyle.  Creative and beautiful exploration of the song without taking a literal approach, but I kept it in the drama category because it holds intrigue, and asks us to look for the story behind the stories. 

8.  Like a Prayer – Madonna, 1989.  Directed by Mary Lambert.

Better known for its controversy with the Catholic Church and Pepsi, Like a Prayer actually tells a captivating story about a black man wrongfully accused of rape while still capturing the themes of spiritual and sexual ecstasy in the song.  Many videos would go on to push the envelope in order to gain popularity through controversy, but few would do it as well as Madonna. 

7.  November Rain – Guns n’ Roses, 1992.  Directed by Andy Morahan.

An epic video for an epic song.  And it has become so Iconic.  And coolest setting for a guitar solo of all time.  The story for the video is based on Del James’ short story “Without You”, which gives a bit more context for the bride’s death, but it seems GNR have decided to go for mystery here.  I think it works.

6.  Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinead O’Conner, 1990.  Directed by John Maybury.

Pretty much the opposite of November Rain, Sinead O’Conner gives us one of the most vulnerable moments in music video history: her unavoidable face.  The story doesn’t need to be spelled out because our interest is in the emotions of this character, and we can’t look away.  In the same vane, check out Janelle Monae’s “Cold War”

5.  Rabbit in Your Headlights – UNKLE feat. Thom Yorke, 1998.  Directed by Jonathan Glazer.

Eerie and intriguing, this videa was hard for me to watch at first and now I can’t stop.  Is this a simple story about a man with mental illness, or is it a parable about the way society tackles its problems?  Either way, Rabbit in Your Headlights is thought provoking and unexpectedly beautiful. 

4.  Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa – Sigur Ros, 2001.  Directed by Arni & Kinski.

The slow motion adds to the drama and beauty – very few directors hold a cinematographic candle to Icelandic duo Arni and Kinski – while telling a story so important, and yet barely before tackeled through music video.  I especially love the faces of the crowd at the football match.

3.  The Scientist – Coldplay, 2001.  Directed by Jamie Thraves.

Others have down the backwards thing, but none have done so in such a narrative focused and appropriate way, allowing us to nearly forget the novelty of it.  And I’m sure no one has done as convincing a job at singing in reverse action as Martin does here – mind you, it took him a whole month to learn to do it.  Oh yeah, and I think this is the only backwards video to not use the water effect.  An accomplishment in its own right.

2.  Just – Radiohead, 1995.  Directed by Jamie Thraves.

The best stories keep you guessing, even after you’ve heard them.  This is one of those.  Also, the best use (and non-use) of subtitles ever. 

1.  Hurt – Johnny Cash, 2002.  Directed by Mark Romanek. 

Everytime I watched this video it climbed higher up the list until I simply couldn’t deny it the number 1 spot.  First of all, this is one of the best covers of all time.  “Hurt” is given all the more meaning when sung by someone who has lived as much life as Johnny Cash has.  And the line “my empire of dirt” is given a new context from a superstar in his 70’s.

The video is fairly simple autobiography, with Romanek piecing old footage together, and yet he does so carefully and musically.  Cash allows himself to be vulnerable so near the end of his life, giving this video a haunting sense of eulogy or epitaph.  A fantastic last word from a complicated and beautiful man that gets better and better every time you watch it.  Really.