It’s been a silly week for music videos whose musical vibe don’t quite mesh with the chosen visuals (looking at you, Billie Eilish), and leading the pack is Miss Lipa, going all wild wild west. In a hotel lobby. With an egg. And clowns, for some reason. I’m not sure what it is with all the dead-eyed singers these days, but I miss the naughty sparkle in the eyes the best pop divas used to have – Whitney, Mariah, Celine, down to the Britney contingent. Was it the coke? Was that just Whitney? Anyway. Dua always gives good pouty face, and Future Nostalgia is such a banging party album all throughout, it’s hard to hate. Love the song, but she’s had way better music videos.
You Should Be Sad – Halsey
I’m going to give Halsey props for the shout-out to the original queen of the country-pop crossover – Shania Twain – but that’s about as close to authentic country as You Should Be Sad can visually get, banjos bedamned. It’s probably not on purpose – clearly she’s just borrowing (appropriation? gasp!) a theme here, and the song is cute, but it’s pretty much girl gets mad at loser ex-BF and decides to go writhe on the floor of a barn because, I don’t know, boobs. Or something.
Don’t Tell Me – Madonna
Yes, rounding this off with another one from the vault, because the 90s was the golden age of the music video, and yes, I am willing to die on this hill. Don’t Tell Me is a stripped down, earthy, modern take on cowboys, bucking broncs and the rugged terrain of the American West – a stylized encapsulation of exactly what it is that makes this bit of Americana so instantly recognizable. With nothing but plaid, dirty jeans and a giant belt buckle, Madonna did it first, and did it better. Maybe I’m just biased. Maybe I’m just an old. It’s probably both, but hey, I choose my choice!
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.
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.
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.
I’d been waiting for the official video of Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty before posting this particular k-hole about songs that deal with a specific kind of emotional catharsis. But before getting to the country queen’s latest oeuvre, I’m getting in a time machine and going all the way back to the past when Aerosmith and Alicia Silverstone ruled the video airwaves…
I don’t know what you’re all going on about us being oppressed, female power was just as alive in 1993 as it is today. Alicia Silverstone and her healthy blonde mane acts out after seeing a very young, very attractive, Stephen Dorff inhabiting his standard persona of douchebag-you’d-still-bone cheating on her in a movie theatre. Proving to him and everyone else, including the guy who attempts to steal her backpack (look, Josh Holloway!), that she’s not going to take any shit unless it’s on her terms, this was the first of Alicia’s video collaborations with Aerosmith. She would go on to star in Amazing, and Crazy, to similarly enthusiastic acclaim. With a killer video and sweet vocals, Cryin’ is the Teenage Dream video of the 90’s, before Katy Perry (intentionally? unintentionally?) got her revisionist mitts all over the disaffected teenager storyline.
Justin Timberlake, Cry Me A River
Way before he became the Man of the Woods, Justin Timberlake was living out a revenge fantasy featuring Britney Spears a blonde who famously breaks his heart. He denied the song was about Britney of course, but we all knew he was lying, Liza Minelli! For a brief moment in the early aughts, those two turned a number of pre- and post-pubescent teenagers into a screaming Tyra Banks meme. (We were all rooting for you in matching denim, damnit!). With the help of Timbaland, Mr. Timberlake breaks into a not-so-mysterious blonde’s home like a crazed stalker, tap dances all over her furniture, has sex with a stranger in her bedroom and spies on her while she’s in the shower. Rude! Also, creepy. This video would’ve aged pretty well if it wasn’t for that bulky-ass cam-corder, reminding us all of the lengths we used to go to just to record things for posterity.
Ariana Grande, No Tears Left to Cry
Known more for her vocal chops than eye-catchingly original music videos, Ariana Grande doesn’t do anything to upset that particular status quo in this, her latest video for No Tears Left to Cry. The concept is pretty much blonde Inception on the discarded set of Marvel’s Dr. Strange and it’s a complete disconnect from the song, but who needs concepts and connectivity when you have a new hair colour? It could be the bleach, it could be having a perpetual ponytail, whatever the cause, Miss Grande’s state of mind is up, down, and all around. A bit of a surprise banger, No Tears Left to Cry is probably going to go on heavy rotation from here to eternity. And by eternity, I mean for the rest of the summer. She’s here, it’s queer, get used to it.
Carrie Underwood, Cry Pretty
And finally, the blonde that kickstarted today’s quintet. Round of applause for Miss Underwood (no relation to Frank) who is back with another country ballad about falling apart, wasting mascara into the process. I’m not sure what she meant by saying her face got all fucked up and she doesn’t look the same; I only hope she’s not suffering from some extreme form of body/face dysmorphia, because girl is still looking good. I know some people who are so gay they practically sweat glitter, but Carrie Underwood is going the extra mile by actually crying glitter tears while singing Cry Pretty. A bit on the nose, but way to commit to a concept!
I used to have a rule about liking a particular single: I had to like the music video. It was essential, and a huge influence on whether or not I enjoyed the track. But that rule went out the window with the advent of Spotify. In this, the era of the playlist, music videos seemed like an afterthought. It also felt for a minute like the music video as an art form was no longer really being celebrated, the way it was when MTV put the music in television, so for the past few years, I’d given up checking out music videos.
But like the nineties, music videos are back and having a moment. Lady Gaga, Beyonce and yes, Kanye West, ensured the form was still to an extent, kept interesting and hopefully we’re beginning to surface from a morass of boats, hoes, stripper poles and cash raining down from the heavens. And just like the nineties, CRT televisions are having a moment. With the following music videos, I explore the answer to the question, “where do cathode ray televisions go to die?” (The answer: music videos of early 2018.)
Hey, at least we’re recycling.
Justin Timberlake, Supplies
Not my favourite cut off of Justin Timberlake’s largely pannedMan of the Woods album, the single may not be a standout, but its accompanying music video is a smorgasbord of visual stimuli. Illuminati! White gators! Flashlights! Watching the collapse of a way of life just doesn’t feel the same unless it’s viewed on a wall of old school television sets, does it?
Cardi B feat. 21 Savage, Bartier Cardi
For what it’s worth, Cardi B’s Bartier Cardi only gets a mention because its current. And features a video wall. I can’t get with this single at all. Cardi is fun but so far the only rap she’s done that I really liked was her turn in Migos’ Motorsport. I would just as happily use Celine Dion’s Because You Loved Me for video wall purposes, but it’s not in keeping with our theme, and lordy I don’t want to admit how old I really am. Even if I just did.
The Weeknd, Call Out My Name
The music video that jumpstarted this particular k-hole, word on the street is Call Out My Name is about Selena Gomez. Whomever it may be about, I’m loving this single, and the fantasy of the accompanying lyric video. You can watch a world burn through the eyes of cathode ray televisions and you can also watch a heart break. Somehow this with a wall of flatscreens would be like being at Best Buy. At any rate, this video fully belongs in The Weeknd’s wheelhouse – it’s dark, moody and ever so slightly sad. It’s fitting that his latest album is called My Dear Melancholy.
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