Saturday, August 9, 2014
The Pop Video Comes of Age?
Popular music videos come in several varieties. One of the earliest and probably one of the most extensive is the faux concert music video. Exhibit A the 1981 AC/DC video for the song "Hell's Bells". Here the Australian/Scottish band simply sing and play like they are playing this song at a concert. There are variations on this type of video. Exhibit B AC/DC's "Rock and Roll Train" from 2008. This video follows the in concert model but inserts footage of vintage trains in between scenes of the faux concert.
Type two: artist or artists lip synching to their song at home, in the studio, on a beach, in the streets, wherever. Exhibit A this video of "Waters Part" (1984) by North Carolina's Let's Active. One very prominent variation of this type of video is what might be called the artist as film or TV star video. Here the artist or artists are in virtually every frame of the video acting out the song as if they were a star in a Hollywood film or television show as in this video of Michelle Branch's "Are You Happy Now?" from 2003. A variation on this type is the controversial video which usually revolves around sex. Exhibit A, King Missile's "Detachable Penis". Unfortunately, not all the videos in this subcategory--"raunch" videos by Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and Nicki Minaj, for example, aren't as wonderfully parodic and satirical as this song and video by King Missile.
Type three: the collage or montage video. Exhibit A Inspiral Carpets's "Two Worlds Collide" from 1992. Here the Inspiral's lip synching of "Two World's Collide is sat within a collage or a montage of psychedelicy science fictiony scenes. Exhibit B REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" from 1987. Here a teenager picks through and displays some of the detritus of the end of the world as we know it in an abandoned house.
Type four: the action video. Exhibit A Michael Penn's "Try" from 1997. Here director Paul Thomas Anderson takes a lip synching Penn from one end of a hallway (the longest one in the US in LA) to another without any cuts. There are a number of references to Burt Reynolds, the films They Shoot Horses Don't They and Boogie Nights, the changing of the seasons, and death in this superb video. Exhibit B the Ramones "I Wanna Be Sedated", directed by Bill Fishman from 1988. Here the Ramones sit at a table in a relatively sedated state while speeded up action goes on around them.
Type five: the story video. Exhibit A Nickelback's 2003 "Someday". Here Nickelback "in concert" scenes are interspersed with a narrative about lost love with a surprise ending. Exhibit B "Breaking the Law" by Judas Priest (1980). Here Judas Priest are criminals who are breaking the law. Exhibit C Johnny Cash's incredibly moving video of his cover of Trent Reznor's (Nine Inch Nails) "Hurt" from 2002 directed by Mark Romanek. Here Cash looks back over his career and reflects on his faith as death draws near.
Type six: the theme video. Exhibit A the Finn Brothers "Part of Me, Part of You". Here Neil Finn and Tim Finn, who are present in the video along with members of the Finn clan, reflect on the themes of family, brotherhood, and home (Te Awamutu).
Type seven: the musical music video. Exhibit A the Dandy Warhols "Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth". Here the director turns this song about heroin abuse into a colourful, humourous, and terrifying Busby Berkeleyish dance number.
Recently I ran across a couple of videos which I think take the pop video into more artistically mature and much more aesthetically exciting, territory, Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" (2010) and The Civil Wars "The One That Got Away" (2013). "The Suburbs", directed by Spike Jonze, tells a tale of suburban teen play, boredom, love, pain, bullying, and violence set amidst an expanding police state. "The One that Got Away" directed by Tom Haines tells a tale of a young female outsider who rides the rails looking for work. The video's young woman is a kind of neo-hobo in yet another depression age who wonders through the landscapes and detritus of the American South. As she does she recalls the things she saw, the people she met, and the love triangle she became entangled in. Both videos deserve to have greater attention paid not only to their narratives but also to their mise-en-scenes. In neither video are Arcade Fire or The Civil Wars present in any way, shape, or form.
While the more artistically mature mini-film video seems to be a rarity at the moment in the industry those of us who prefer our art, whatever that art may be, thoughtful and aesthetically interesting can only hope that Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs", The Civil Wars "The One that God Away", and Johnny Cash's "Hurt" are the tip of the iceberg of greater artistic things to come, even if that greater artistic things to come seem unlikely given the commercial nature of pop music videos.