Your writer pal is being lazy today because I’m trying to put together a TV script (pitch: LOST but set on a train) so this post will appear half-assed. But really it’s not because I’ve carried this list around in my head for most of my adult life. So. Music videos. Music videos are largely unnecessary and irrelevant. They were invented so that MTV had something to show while they played tunes people had already heard on the radio. Sort of the modern equivalent of a glove puppet show for Victorian children while a stentorian nanny plays the harpsichord or the clavichord or whatever. You get my point: for good music, videos are sort of a costly by-product. if your music already tells a story competently, then an accompanying video is sort of the dummy’s guide to whatever you’re singing about. Jimi Hendrix didn’t need music videos. Obviously The Beatles did, which is why they made Help! and Magical Mystery Tour. Let me try again. The Velvet Underground didn’t need music videos.
Most videos today display a wonton lack of imagination. Some singer will dance and there’ll be backing dancers and there’ll be sparks or microlights or guys wearing buckets on their heads, like in that Kylie Minogue song. But sometimes, sometimes something really good will happen on that lurking beast in the corner of your room, and you’ll get to see something truly unique: a vignette. A micro-film. A particle of creativity amongst the desolation of MTV’s victory. You may have guessed that I love films, and some music videos are mini-movies and worth watching.
So here are a few excellent mini-movies. I discounted ones where it’s just the singers jumping around, because that doesn’t tell a story. So unfortunately I can’t add SONOIOs lovely Not Enough or The Breeder’s Cannonball. Here are some real movies, encapsulated in three+ minutes.
Bjork, All Is Full Of Love (1998)
There are two kinds of people in the world: people who love Bjork and people who haven’t heard of her. She’s the only reason I know where Iceland is, for a start. Bjork specialises in quirky electro-pop of a unique sort, mixing astonishingly beautiful weird vocals with a variety of different styles, ranging from acoustic to techno-industrial. If you don’t have at least one album you should run out and buy one. I’ll wait. Go!
Anyhoo, this video. Bjork is a robot being assembled in a factory. Is it just me, or is watching robots really soothing? It’s like, whenever I see cars being built in factories I get the same feeling other people get from fish or rock gardens or all that pseudo-zen crap. And then another Bjork robot comes along, and they sing together, and then they start making out. That’s right! This video has Bjork! And she’s a robot! And a lesbian! It is the perfect movie, and the astonishing thing is that it still looks new – the production team worked with innovative CGI that has since become the industry standard. One day I’ll own a club and project this movie on a wall and loop it and it will make everybody relaxed. It’s not even worth pointing out that this is a beautiful song. It’s just a given. Go buy that album now.
Aphex Twin, Come To Daddy (1997)
From the sublime to the ridiculous. i guarantee that this is the most messed-up, hilarious and terrifying thing you will see on the internet today, assuming you don’t watch my favourite compilation of all time (and you should) . Aphex Twin, or rather Richard D. James, was a techno outfit from the early nineties. I don’t know if he still does things. I have a feeling Aphex Twin peaked round about here, before The Prodigy exploded into the…ah,whatever The Prodigy are about.
I’m assuming,like most internet browsers, that you won’t bother clicking the link so I’ll have to describe it to you. An old woman walks her dog through the council estate used in A Clockwork Orange (no, really!). A TV comes to life and loads of horrible-looking children wearing latex masks pick it up and frighten everybody. Gollum comes out of the TV and screams at the old lady for a full minute. It’s comedy gold.
I don’t know if it’s scary, or brilliant, or just nonsensical, but this video made my year when I discovered it (I was twelve). It’s so massively overblown that it transcends parody entirely and becomes iconic.
Korn, Thoughtless (2002)
Korn are a nu-metal band that picked up a substantial following throughout the late ’90s and 2000s, bringing about the rise in nu-metal crap that dominated the American charts until My Chemical Romance were created in a lab. Don’t hold any of that against Korn, who just wrote some awesome tunes. Thoughtless wasn’t their best, but it’s a fairly eloquent summary of what teenage metal is all about: an outsider gets picked on, makes a deal with some supernatural entity, and gets revenge on all the jocks and nerds and cheerleaders or whatever.
Looking back at this it strikes me how utterly laughable teenager-dom is. Ooh, you’re so angsty and existential you must be so deep I bet you’re going to grow up to be a famous poet rather than just an estate agent like everybody else! Newsflash! Everybody imagines themselves as the outsider, the picked on, the abused. In reality everybody is just struggling through the fug of hormone-induced existential hopelessness (quick note to teenagers: this never goes away. Ever. Adults are just large teenagers and they still have all that angst crap going on).
Anyway, the video is all muted black and red and has this odd sort of organic feeling to it. And it has lots of puke in it. That makes it a winner. It’s more or less the total opposite of the Bjork video.
Interesting fact: the abused teen is played by Aaron Paul, who went on to play almost exactly the same character in Breaking Bad. This is a strange world we live in, ladies and gentlemen.
Denis Leary, Asshole (1993)
It’s not much of a stretch to think that Denis Leary ripped off most of Bill Hick’s material and he doesn’t seem to be an especially likeable character, although his acting in The Amazing Spiderman was surprisingly professional. Asshole is the only single from No Cure For Cancer, a comedy record otherwise known as Bill Hick’s Flying Saucer Tour. Enough, already, comedians rip each other off all the time. The song: Leary’s weary American parody/apologia, constructed as a self-aggrandising take on the American Dream. And it’s funny. No, really. It’s quite biting. And it’s CATCHY AS BALLS. You’ll be singing it in the shower, I promise.
This was minor worldwide hit, reaching Number 2 in Australia, of all places. Try and imagine that, if you can. Australian radios playing a cynical take on freedom and poor morals at the number 2 slot. The mind boggles.
The White Stripes, The Hardest Button To Button (2003)
Sometimes you see a video that just makes you wonder at how much time it must have taken. Like those videos where people play Tetris with post-it notes. I would like to ask, “why bother?”, but why bother with anything? At least with this we get a kick-ass, weirdly compelling video.
Eminem, Without Me (2002)
Eminem is the king of intentional offense and holds a special place in my heart for being the first rapper to write a funny song since Kool Moe Dee sang Go See The Doctor. CLICK THAT LINK. THIS IS WHAT RAP WAS LIKE BEFORE EMINEM. Eminem changed everything, not because he was white, but because he was the first rapper in a decade not particularly obsessed with pussy and diamond-studded things. He was funny. He was rude. He wrote knowingly about the state of America. He enraged parents everywhere. Eminem, you’re special. You made it acceptable for middle-class white boys to like rap non-ironically because it was edgy and satirical and, above all, knowing. Eminem is always prepared to make fun of himself, and that’s real important.
Anyway. This video parodies superhero comics and symbols of the time, like Dick Cheney’s heart problems, Big Brother, Moby and Judge Judy and stuff. It’s a slice of early 2000s nostalgia. Remember that rap can be funny.
Okay, you pukes, this script won’t write itself! I’m out!