I have heard a few times the opinion that music videos are just “promotion” and not a valid form of artistic expression: not to be taken seriously. And indeed, there is a lot of deeply crappy videos out there. But if the artist and video maker together do take the medium seriously, great things can happen. Here are some of my favourites!
Gnarls Barkley – Who’s Gonna Save My Soul? Have we not all felt like this at one point or another? There is not really much to say about the video, it is simple and uncomplicated. It is a shame that the restrained music and Cee-Lo’s amazing vocal delivery are buried below dialogue sometimes, but that is why you go get the album and/or do a quick search for the lyrics. I usually dislike any sound being added in the video for a song, but here it works very well, because they are basically saying the same thing (although in the video it is the man’s eyes, not his words, that do the talking).
U2 – Lemon. U2 made some fantastic videos in the 1990’s – especially the videos for “Lemon” and “Please”. The “Lemon” video is in black and white with the odd splash of colour for contrast, shot mostly against a white grid on black. With the sometimes grainy phootage and the cracklingly dry little captions (“Man walking up ladder”, “Man playing hi hat”), the contrast with the lyrics of the song is striking, even jarring. This is Bono’s song, written about his late mother – a recurring theme in his lyrics. Speaking in conventional terms, the more “feminine” side of life, of expressing and discussing emotions, lies in the lyrics and the music, clashing with the “masculine” side’s tendency to analyse and draw schematics expressed in the imagery.
Caught in the middle of this, we have what I believe is the first appearance of MacPhisto (or a least a proto-MacPhisto), the stage persona Bono would adapt for the last part of the ZooTV concerts in Europe and Asia. The empty nature of MacPhisto is deeply unsettling, as if he is simply a shell with its humanity crushed and withered.
Radiohead – Pyramid Song. I am a bit of a fan of the post-apocalyptic, so this video I like almost instinctively. Basically, it is about the last journey home of the last human being, after humanity has fucked up one time too many. I like the visual style and love the song. The ending is very “Close Encounters”.
John Frusciante – Going Inside. I have always liked music videos and considered them a perfectly valid form of expression (many do not), but this was the first time I was genuinely bowled over by a video. The visuals are absolutely perfect for the song, but what I like most is probably how the looped parts are not in time with the beat. It is a song about confusion, and the video expresses that confusion perfectly.
Daft Punk – Around the World. A genuine music video classic! When you have no lyrics to express, express to music – or in this case, illustrate it with dancers. Beautiful.
Bright Eyes – First Day of My Life. Can a music video possibly get any cuter or sweeter than this? I think not. Beautiful lyrics as well, “I would rather work for a paycheck / Than be waiting to win the lottery” is one of my absolute favourite pair of lines. This video also illustrates with all due clarity that a music video does not need to show the artist to be memorable.