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.