Eeeee! He’s back! Can you name any currently active male singer who is as unafraid to embrace the cheese of a nostalgic R&B vibe as Bruno Mars? Because I can’t. I thought Versace on the Floor was it and we’d never get anything as good or better, but this was an immediate jam for me. Even though the music certainly alludes to some clothes coming off a little later, no one gets unclothed in this video. It is perfection. After all the boobs and butts and twerking and stripper poles and gangsters and trap, it is so very nice to have a little Bruno Mars in our lives again. Adele once called him the best vocalist she’s ever heard, and the woman did not lie. With an equally mischievous Anderson .Paak – bringing the extra wink wink, nudge nudge in their new joint project, Silk Sonic – this, ladies and gentlemen, is foreplay for your ears. So smooth, so sexy and oh so naughty.
I’m trying to keep from thinking about the e-mail my neighbourhood Shoppers Drug Mart just sent. One of their employees just tested positive for the COVID-19 virus last Thursday, the very day I had to go in for some female things. Ugh. My anxiety levels are high, and I’m distracting myself with YouTube videos featuring themes of prison, jail, cages, being trapped, etc., etc. I’m not sure if it’s really helping, but it’s this, or escapist videos of beautiful lives and butterflies, and I do love a timely theme, so let’s start off with an angry, incarcerated cry for help in the form of…
They Don’t Care About Us – Michael Jackson
The prison version of They Don’t Care About Us is lesser known than the one set in a Brazilian favela, and came with a disclaimer, because not only was the song (and its lyrics) controversial at the time, so was the imagery of human rights abuses.
Michael Jackson was a true creative genius who used the chaos of his personal life to fuel his creative output. His songs of love, isolation, hate and injustice still ring true, decades after he first came out with them, and his vision was always prescient (also see: Earth Song). It’s a shame his legacy has been left so tarnished.
The Sweet Escape – Gwen Stefani
Now why does this look familiar? Oh, yes. Do you know anyone working from home right now, complaining about how life is so hard, they’re going to need therapy when all this is over? What about the ones going “we needed this” from the safety of their own homes, secure in the knowledge that they don’t necessarily have to go out to earn a livelihood? This video is for you. Here’s Gwen Stefani in the bougiest gilded cage known to man, singing about how she yearns to be free, while us poors putting ourselves at risk look on, wanting to kick her in the tits. I know, I sound bitter (and really, that’s not what song is about, lol). But like I told someone earlier this week, if you’re happy and not in any way, shape or form endangered by homeless crack addicts at the moment, I’m not interested in hearing “we needed this” from you.
Telephone – Lady Gaga (feat. Beyonce)
Speaking of we needed this, Lady Gaga’s Telephone (featuring Beyonce) is arguably the music video that established her as a musician with a definite point of view – she was going to be weird, she was going to be out there, she was going to be seen, godamnit – and she wasn’t going to be cheap about it. I’d argue that Gaga injected some much needed energy into the (then) fading music video landscape with this short film masquerading as a music video. It was a throwback to the glory days when music videos that had stories to tell ruled the airwaves, and you can bet Beyonce never allowed herself to be this upstaged ever again.
Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley
“Number forty-seven said to number three, you’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see, I sure would be delighted with your company, come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me…” Homo-erotic? Scandalous? For 1957, this is a big fat yes. I never really saw what about those hips made the girls scream and quake and throw their underwear, but I saw parts of Preseley’s leather-clad comeback in HBO’s The Searcher, and finally, finally got it. He ruled for a reason. Elvis Presley in his prime was hot.
I started this post with the King of Pop, and I’m ending it with the original King of Pop – you didn’t think I was going to leave out The King, did you? Elvis Presley is in the building with those wicked, wicked hips of his, singing about having yourself some good old fun in the clinker. And we should take note of his advice. After all, if we can’t find a way to amuse ourselves right now, we’re going to go nuts.
It must’ve been the depressing strangeness of the past week, because I found myself recalling the over-the-top insanity that was Aqua when they first started. Barbie Girl, that crazy, life-in-plastic single, was everywhere. Their songs were like Covid-19 – horribly catchy. Aqua released earworms that dug their way into your brain and refused to die. The way my brain works is that it reminds me of the stupidest and most random music videos at the weirdest times, so I found myself grinning ear to ear when I remembered (and found!) the music video for…
Dr. Jones – Aqua
For their debut album, Aqua always had the hokiest, Halloweeniest music videos. The themes and cheesy backdrops were set to insidiously happy, earwormy dance pop that could only have come out of mid-90s Scandinavia. “Presented in Aquascope,” they did Mattel, they did pirates, they did astronauts, and here, they do the jungle safari. Naturally, that made me want to cut a path through the jungle, and who did it better than…
Roar – Katy Perry
Katy Perry is the logical successor to Aqua in terms of music videos; she never goes for the subtle if she can help it. But the girl does commit. When she’s in, she’s all the way in, from the props to the lousy acting, all the way to the inevitably happy, triumphant end.
Anaconda – Nicki Minaj
Speaking of triumphant ends, Nicki Minaj is here to help you find yours. While she flaunts hers. Everybody wins! This really should’ve just been called ASS because who can even see the jungle for all the jiggling butt cheeks in your face? It’s practically softcore porn, but let’s just pretend it’s a rap video, enjoy the, er, scenery, and forget we ever saw Drake, shall we?
Waiting for Tonight – Jennifer Lopez
Social distance? What social distance? How do you celebrate the turn of the millennium? By having a rave. In the jungle (or is it a rainforest? I can’t tell). With lasers. As we do. I’ll say this for La Lopez, it’s been twenty years and God knows how many sacrificial virgins, the woman hasn’t aged all that much. She had it then, and she still has it now. She’ll probably always have it, and very soon my patron saint of aging will probably change from Jane Fonda to Jennifer Lopez.
It takes a lot of guts to do confessional type music videos, ones where they allow the camera to focus on them and nothing but. There are no distractions, no costume changes, no choreography or hairography. It feels like close-up music videos are having a small moment, so without further ado let’s start with Selena Gomez and the blind item that is her music video for…
Lose You to Love Me – Selena Gomez (2019)
Oh, the shit that got stirred when Selena released this three days ago, mere weeks after famous ex Justin Bieber married someone who wasn’t her. The op-eds on who she was singing about flew fast and fierce hours after this video showed up on YouTube. How could they not? The moment Selena sang “in two months, you replaced us”, Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, and Elle scrambled over themselves to remind us that two months after their last official break-up, Justin Bieber had moved on with model Hailey Bieber, whom he married for the second time this year. It’s not the first time she’s alluded to how difficult the Justin Bieber era of her life has been through song, but as crazy as that part of her love life has been, at least she knows enough to mine it for all it’s worth. In the video, Selena is no longer the sad, self-hating mess in The Heart Wants What it Wants. Here she’s a little bit older and a little bit wiser, shaken, not stirred. It’s an admirable effort, but the true vulnerability that’s required when you do close-up videos like this one is missing.
Memories – Maroon 5 (2019)
Maroon 5 has a way of releasing catchy little earworms, singles that wriggle their way into your ears and never seem to leave. You’ll find yourself singing or humming along to their releases almost as soon as you hear it the first time. We’ve only just driven out last year’s Girls Like You from our collective psyche, and now they’re back again with Memories, Maroon 5’s ode to their recently departed manager. The band knows enough to entrust their frontman with the heavy lifting when it comes to their visuals, and he’s has always been more than happy to acquiesce. Here, Adam Levine meets us head-on with nothing but lush, fully grown-in beard and body art. As a statement, it’s braver than Selena’s – Adam Levine’s take seems less concerned with looking pretty than it is with working through his issues and moving on. That’s what I like about Adam Levine – he seems so comfortable in his own skin, he’s able to just sit there in nothing but his birthday suit and even in grief, put on a show. As the camera moves slowly farther away from the Maroon 5 frontman, a little part of me can’t help wondering if we’ll see a surprise dad bod, but it stops just short of showing us everything we want to see.
Nothing Compares 2U – Sinead O’Connor (1990)
Everyone knows the late – and sorely missed – Prince wrote Nothing Compares 2U. Die-hard enthusiasts like to cite the song as an example of how prolific Prince really was – enough to be able to practically give away a hit with nary a second thought, he wrote it under an hour for a side project. It’s likely he never intended Nothing Compares 2U to be anything other than a throwaway song inspired by missing his housekeeper. Then along came Sinead O’Connor, huge doe eyes swimming in tears, features as starkly beautiful as her interpretation, her version a miserable wail of longing and loss. Apart from a few seconds of random, scene-setting scenery, it’s five minutes of staring at nothing but Sinead, and not once do we want to look away from her or her anguish. A testament to her sheer pull as a budding artist, the video for Nothing Compares 2U is arguably the precursor to all the close-up music videos that have come after it. It set the template for how to do it, and while there have been a few of note (see Radiohead), none have come close to capturing lightning in a bottle the way this music video did. It was, and is, an unforgettable visual that deserved all the awards it won in 1990, the year Nothing Compares 2U was released.
Who doesn’t love country music? I adore songs that tell stories of love and heartbreak and longing, and sometimes I turn to country pop when I find myself facing the relative wasteland of today’s current pop offerings. While the country and pop divide is easily breached, rap and country isn’t always as smooth. I’ve never been that big a fan of rap, but sometimes the subversive marriage of country and rap actually works and works well.
Old Town Road – Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus
Old Town Road has been everywhere for the past couple of months, and for good reason. It has a catchy hook that digs its claws into your eardrums and won’t let go. The video goes all in, cheekily celebrating everything that makes country country, presenting it with the unmistakable beats of hip-hop. Witness the hats, the fringe, the sparkly denim, even that white moneybag with a dollar sign on it straight out of some B-movie about a robbery. An enjoyably campy video with Lil Nas X doing the cowboy shuffle to a different beat, Old Town Road embraces everything that screams country cowboy, including a cameo from Billy Ray Cyrus, owner of the achiest, breakiest heart on the yee-haw circuit.
Over and Over – Nelly feat. Tim McGraw
Can you name anyone who can rock a cowboy hat as well as Tim McGraw? It’s almost as if the man was born to wear one and imbue it with effortless cool.
Speaking of effortless cool, who doesn’t love Nelly at his catchiest, most earwormish best? His music video for Ride Wit Me has one of the best visuals for contemporary country you’re bound to see, but I chose Over and Over because I love the vocal stylings of McGraw layered over Nelly’s smoothly laid out hooks and the way the video explores the differences in cultures even further. Check out Nelly’s urban bachelor’s pad and Tim McGraw’s rustic country cabin/McMansion in classic split-screen goodness that heightens the juxtaposition of rap and country. This single and its video will always be one of my favourite Top 40 offerings. You wouldn’t think the marriage of rap and country would work out as smoothly as this one does, but here it works and it works quite well.
Wild Wild West – Will Smith feat. Dru Hill, Kool Moe Dee & Sisqo
Someone on Twitter reminded me of this particular Will Smith offering. It’s got the hallmarks of a high profile music video event down pat, from the elaborately choreographed dance numbers, multiple collaborative artists and the celebrity cameos liberally dropped in all over the place. While the single is pure pop-rap, the video itself is country – with a futuristic bent that toes but not quite oversteps the boundaries of steampunk – going all on in with leather vests, cowboy hats, an elaborate saloon and saucy corsets and petticoats.
It was 1999, and no one did this to intentionally be “woke.” People weren’t necessarily interested in force-feeding us political-correctness as if we’re ducks and they want foie gras, which is what it sometimes feels like these days. Wild Wild West gets points for doing it just because the concept seemed like a cool thing to explore creatively. Also, it doesn’t look like it was made in 1999 – if a person didn’t know better, it could’ve been made in the past few years.
Sadly, the actual movie (a movie that Will Smith turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix for) turned out to be a bloated, ridiculous mess. Oh well. We can’t have everything.
While robots in music videos is no longer an original theme, it’s always interesting when done right, and there’s a couple new music videos floating around out there that have pretty good visuals, starting with…
365 – Zedd (feat. Katy Perry)
When Taylor Swift came out in 2017 to address her haters with a music video featuring her as an all powerful android, it made quite the splash. Not to be outdone, here’s Tay-tay’s arch-rival with her own version of redundant robot in her collaboration with current hot property Zedd. I say redundant because she isn’t just a Stepford girlfriend, she’s a robot Stepford girlfriend which of course is too much of a good thing. Katy Perry is not known for her subtlety, but she does work hard to ensure the music videos she puts out are at least visually striking. While Taylor’s version was more Ghost in the Shell meets Westworld, 365 draws heavily from Black Mirror, with the mega DJ as a pretty believable human foil.
Nights Like This – Kehlani (feat. Ty Dolla Sign)
February was a good month for robot things, what with Alita: Battle Angel, the previous music video and Kehlani also releasing a music video with a robotic theme. Technology and how it runs our lives has been a running theme since the nineties gave way to the millennium. Maybe it’s a reflection of the increasing disconnect we as a society feel from the everyday. Like 365, Nights Like This also borrows heavily from a Black Mirror-esque plotline.
All is Full of Love – Bjork
Bjorks All is Full of Love was released in 1999, and yet it’s as strikingly modern today as it was twenty years ago. Watching it then felt like being witness to a major breakthrough in visuals. I’ve read enough Vice articles on how wacko the dating world has become with all the dating apps out there, so watching it now in this day and age makes it seem almost prophetic, because this is what human interaction has become, now that we are all well and truly plugged into the matrix. Directed by Chris Cunningham (who also gave us Madonna’s Frozen), All is Full of Love is still the best music video featuring robots (and robot sex) out there, bar none.
ps. that said, my favourite robotic music video is Garbage’s The World is Not Enough, which I loved then, and still love now, although it may not have aged as well as Bjork’s oeuvre.
If your feed was filled with before/after photos of people you know this week, congratulations, you’ve just witnessed – maybe even participated in – the How Hard Did Aging Hit You? challenge. Some said it was a ruse to train facial recognition algorithms (if it was, the joke’s on them because my Facebook profile pic is an illustration), but most took it as a chance to brag about how aging kissed them gently on the lips instead of beating them up with a two by four.
Anyway, it seems two of my favourite 90’s boybands heard the call, because they’re having a moment again, and thank baby jeebus for the treat.
I don’t think Westlife ever hit it big in the US, but luckily for me, I grew up in the Philippines. MTV Asia made no distinction whether the boyband was from the US or the UK – if they were cute and their songs were catchy, they’d get airtime because they knew young girls fall easily for handsome troubadours, and the more of them, the merrier.
If I Let You Go – Westlife
Something about the innocent imagery of If I Let You Go speaks to me the same way it did when it first came out twenty years ago. Look at the handsome Irish boys wading in the surf, singing about their fear of rejection! Swoon. (Hi Kian!) Bonus points for all that long-haired virility galloping in slo-mo along the sand astride horses. It was like the cover of a novel come to life.
Flying Without Wings – Westlife
I intended to share just one video from Westlife, but screw it, I’m including Flying Without Wings. Because I’m a secret sap who responds to love songs that turn into choral anthems. Because I think a part of me will always be susceptible to ripped sleeves, floppy hair, toned biceps and piercing blue eyes. (Hi Kian!). And of course, because I can. Why haven’t I been to Ireland yet?
Hello My Love – Westlife
Westlife is back, all grown up and singing about gratefulness and age-appropriate choices, sending us all on a balloon-filled adventure over what looks like a discarded set from the original Star Trek TV show. I’m just happy to see them back together, having aged like fine wine. (Hi Kian!)
It takes more than good looks to make a boyband last – excellent song choices are very much a part of its success, with lyrics that can stand the test of time. Pop music gets a bad rap for being faddish and/or shallow, but the best pop songs are the ones that strike a common chord anywhere and across cultures. Westlife’s longevity is in a large part due to this attribute.
The Backstreet Boys are no slouches either. They’re as good at it now, as they were then.
Quit Playing Games (With My Heart) – Backstreet Boys
It actually took these guys a while to make any sort of dent on me. I’d enjoyed We’ve Got it Going On, and nothing brings a smile to my face quite like hearing the first few bars of Get Down (You’re the One for Me), but any doubts I may have had about throwing money away on a cassette (!) tape were over the moment Howie Durough bared his abs in the pouring rain. The boys brought it, and brought it hard in the third video off of their debut album, and it worked like gangbusters. I hared off to Lee Super Plaza first chance I got. Music videos: effectively marketing music to impressionable young girls since time immemorial.
All I Have to Give – Backstreet Boys
I’ve always needed a little more prodding than most, so when the boys came out with their sophomore album, I didn’t think I was going to get it. And then this video came out in all its bright-coloured, fedora-wearing, abs-baring glory, with Howie Durough promising to give me all he had to give. No more questions, your honour. Hello again, Lee Super Plaza.
No Place – Backstreet Boys
Oh, the blessing of boybands that stay strong and true.Even if it’s jarring to see them with wives and children, something which would’ve sent their fanbase into conniptions a couple of decades ago. They famously sang “Backstreet’s back, alright” – but the truth is the Backstreet Boys never really went anywhere… and thank goodness for that, because everyone always needs a little pop in their lives.
To me, 2001 feels like yesterday, not a space odyssey. If nothing else makes you feel old today, check out these younguns and their music video homages. So nice of them to respect their elders! And to think millennials get so much flak.
Lost in Japan – Shawn Mendes feat. Zedd
Confession: I barely remember Lost in Translation. This is a solid effort, but will Shawn Mendes’ fanbase even get the reference? It’s likely they’ll think it’s just him having fun doing Japanese karaoke, even with that total giveaway of a title. Hell, it took me about a minute into the vid to realize what I was seeing, but I’m like, old, so what do I know?
Fancy – Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX
Unlike Shawn Mendes’ ode to Sofia Coppola, Iggy’s oeuvre is pretty clear from the get-go. It technically shouldn’t be included in this post because the movie came out in 1995, but whatever with a capital W and if you don’t get it, you’re Clueless. That’s all I got.
Thank U, Next – Ariana Grande
It’s a video homage en Grande! Not one, not two, not three, but four movies get referenced, in a very legally-bringing -it -on-the-mean-girls-going-on-30 kind of way. While I don’t usually go for Ariana’s 24/7 sex kitten schtick (still don’t) this video is worth watching, if only for the part where Kris Jenner gets all meta as an overly excited stage mom. Bonus points for getting some of the actual stars to cameo, plus a little more for the sheer shade of leaving Lindsay Lohan completely out of it.
… Baby One More Time recently hit the big 2-0 (we are O-L-D!) and I’ve lost track of the number of think pieces I’ve read about current times being so dark it’s left us all yearning for a happier, seemingly more innocent era. Can’t disagree with that, those days did seem a lot happier. Back when the hole in the ozone layer was still a tiny tear in the stocking of the atmosphere, everyone was buying McMansions, the Antarctic ice shelf was still for the most part frozen and polar bears were healthy, the ascendant music was pop, unapologetically bright and almost aggressively cheery. And why not? The internet hadn’t yet ruined everything, trolls were ugly little dolls with weird hair and social media was more about glitter fonts than data mining. The 80’s-90’s were awesome. Even New Kids on the Block, Anne-Marie and Charli XCX very biasedly say so.
80’s Baby – New Kids on the Block feat. Salt-n-Pepa, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson and Naughty by Nature
Things I would do if I’d won Lotto Max: I would hire NKOTB to sing this to my grandma on her birthday. I’d want her on a a chair in the middle of the dance floor in Bethel Guest House with this blaring on the speakers, serenaded by the biggest boyband of the 80’s while the rest of us on the sidelines scream with delight. She’ll be 88 next year. It’d be perfect.
ps. What’s a Sky Pager?
2002 – Anne-Marie
Aww, the early aughts! A charming mash-up of the era’s most recognizable lyrics, Anne-Marie’s ode to dancing in the woods on the hood of a car with a plastic cup hits all the right notes. Bonus points for period-specific lip gloss – remember when the girls had mini oil slicks on our lips? MAC Lip Glass, Lancome Juicy Tubes? It’s a love letter to adolescence and everything that came with it. The stuntin’, the weird shades, the crazy bucket hats, the dawn of the midriff. Say what you will about Ed Sheeran, the little ginger Hobbit is responsible for some of the sweetest, catchiest tunes out there right now.
1999 – Charli XCX feat. Troye Sivan
The flashbackiest flashback of them all is brought to you by BMW, Lyft, Beats by Dre and the iPhone X. Charli XCX’s latest is a pop culture time capsule that has everything that ruled the 90’s: the iMac, Nokia, Casio Baby-G, Hanes, Skechers, the dancing baby and Justin Timberlake’s ramen noodle hair. But wait, there’s more! American Beauty, Titanic, The Blair Witch Project, The Sims, TLC’s Waterfalls, the Spice Girls, bullet time, BSB… it’s like the 90’s partied till 3AM, mixed all sorts of alcohol and threw up in the gutter. Like I said, awesome.
Bonus: Check out Lauren Alaina’s Ladies in the 90’s if you’re want your throwback with a little more country twang!
Remember when the f-word was so bad, saying it made a body feel positively wicked? It’s gone mainstream and all the rebellious energy its use imparted seems to have gone. Well, mostly. It’s still a great way to express some pretty turbulent emotions, as today’s trio will proceed to demonstrate.
F*ck You – CeeLo Green
Sometimes there’s just no other thing to say, when the one you care about takes everything you thought mattered and tramples it in the dust. The best revenge is being successful, and CeeLo illustrates this in his sassy, snappy ode to a former girlfriend. Its genius is in the use of a gospel-tinged melody so upbeat, it almost makes us forget what the song is about and the aggressive lyrical message from a jilted lover to his ex and the man she left him for.
IDGAF – Dua Lipa
Bringing out the dual in Dua Lipa, IDGAF’s stylish music video illustrates the warring emotions that arise when dealing with a jerk who’s broken your heart and wants to come back. It’s an angry, f-bombing ode from a dumpee to a dumper, and Dua Lipa, unlike CeeLo, plays it with a sullen, disinterested, slow-burning anger, rather than glee.
GTFO – Mariah Carey
Finally, the music video that started this all, Mariah Carey is back in the hizzy with a drunken little ditty, and you know what, I’m liking it. It’s been a while since she’s released a single and an accompanying music video, and GTFO is billed as a “lighthearted first listen” of her latest album. If this is Mimi’s idea of lighthearted, she’s got some serious issues, but it’s catchy, with lyrics that belie her delicate vocals. She’s angry, but she’s not going to be trashy about it, she’s just going to down some red wine and run herself a bath like a well-balanced adult who looks a mite too big for the house she lives in, but whatever. I am not going to be able to stop listening to this today.