The music video is an interesting and rewarding artform to explore, but one that doesn’t get enough attention from those who love film. While music videos as we traditionally think of them are unarguably mired in the world of the commercial, this doesn’t prevent them from often serving as an amazing bridge between music, art, and cinema. A perfect format for short-storytelling, aesthetic exploration, tone poems, and (most importantly) experimentation, it is the playground of filmmakers and artists who are often pulling off the most fun and inventive accomplishments of anyone working with motion-pictures. Each week Renn Loves Music Videos will take a look at a batch of music videos –new, old, weird, radical, classic, experimental, and everything in between– to try and figure out what makes each one special.
Keep in mind that many older videos aren’t available in magnificent quality.
Graphic photo: Nathan Jones
The Dead Weather is generally known as one of “Jack White’s other bands,” and while I’m admittedly not as familiar with their entire catalog as I’d like to be (yet), there’s no denying this song has a unique, declarative fury to it. The music video directed by Jonathan Glazer that now accompanies it is equally furious (and appropriately desaturated and dusty). It’s among my favorite of the last couple of years- a simple, straightforward, but impeccably edited short film that has the luxury of being a slow-burn, partly because its conceit is so clear and partly because the song is so goddamned good.
It’s not digging deep here to say the short is dramatizing those truly nasty moments in relationships, where arguments spiral so out of control and you’ve slung so much pent-up shit at each other that your fury has emptied you out. I’ve found these fights often devolve to the point where both parties are so exhausted and depleted that they can’t muster up any more than sputtering syllables of incomprehensible anger to lob at each other. Jack White and Alison Mosshart’s over-the-top gunfight sums it up pretty perfectly, and their swaggering, stumbling marching perfectly fit the rhythm. The beautiful peeking sunlight through his jacket and the way they just sort of dumbly stumble away cap it wonderfully. A great one.
Also, I love the serious wicked panning on the bomb fuse soundfx at the opening. Combine that with the delicate use of visual effects and you have an example of how something very simple can also be very sophisticated.
Yep, Gaga. If it’s a problem, go be a bitch about it elsewhere.
I’m not going to launch an impassioned defense against Gaga in case of haters (not worth it), but I will say I think she’s often great. Frequently condemned for ripping off Madonna (whatever the fuck that would mean in pop music, of all things), I think she’s actually done a very interesting job of picking up the pop narrative that Madonna abandoned in the 90s to chase after the plastic, manufactured path that the post-Britney Spears pop stars blazed. I guess it’s easy to cram a bunch of pregnant religious symbolism in with some tits and have a video, but Gaga has consistently demonstrated a dedication to putting out interesting imagery at an impressive pace. I’m kind of enjoying the return of high-fashion influenced art to pop videos, which had largely descended into repetitive flashy club scenes and shit.
Coming off of a string of ambitious and extremely sprawling videos, Gaga paired up with frequent choreographer Laurieann Gibson to direct this herself, and surprisingly it’s one of her tightest videos yet. Mostly eschewing the hybrid video/short-film format she’s employed for many of her recent videos, Judas is simple and effective. There’s no accounting for subtlety in the video or the song, but a tune about the difficulties of reconciling your darker past with more hallowed intentions becomes a visually interesting, dynamic video piece. What I love about Gaga’s employment of high-fashion is the visual density it usually adds to any given frame, and that’s never been more evident than here. The narrative (which co-stars Norman Reedus!) is ambiguous enough that it can be read a few ways, but clear enough that it’s more than just a sloppy congregation of images, or a rip-off of Like A Prayer. My reading leans towards Judas representing our inability to disengage with those that have betrayed us, to the point of losing a clearly more healthy option. That’s me and my bullshit talking though. I’d be interested to hear if you read something different.
The camera work is a little over the top, but it’s a music video for fuck’s sake, so get that bastard up in there and swooping around, I say. The choreography is sharp and fun to watch on its own, so the additional energy makes sure the video never lags or feels too long.
It’s no pox upon on you if you find Gaga obnoxious, but you’re definitely missing out on appreciating an artist who’s genuinely dedicated to producing a staggering volume of interesting imagery. And at the end of the day- the shit’s catchy.
Lemon Demon is the music video arm of the Cicierega empire, which is made up of a ton of viral-hit generating fronts that young Neil has put together over the years. Potter Puppet Pals is probably the most famous of the lot (…or perhaps the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny? …or Brodyquest?) but Lemon Demon is still responsible for my favorite of his work: Word Disassociation. A catchy tune that caters to my word nerd sensibilities, it’s comes with a very clever, DIY video that is filled to the brim with dozens and dozens of delightful beats.
Though clearly shot in a dude’s house with a camcorder in a very primitive fashion, there is a remarkable understanding of the rhythm of the song, and how to support it visually through editing and the pacing of movement within the frame. It’s astounding how well Neil accentuates the structure of the song with different motifs and visual breakdowns. There’s not an off beat in the entire piece. I’ve watched this one routinely for years now, and I never tire of it.
For my first hip-hop video I’m not reaching to far to pull out one of Hype Williams most famous videos, and one that certainly changed the way rap music was visualized for some time. That said, this video is fucking sick (yep).
Pioneering a fish-eye/sped-up look that would become a staple of rap videos in the 90s, Williams found a perfect aesthetic to match the breakneck energy and physicality of Busta. Filled with cheesy sets, fun, self-effacing outfits and choreography, Woo Hah!! has Busta’s manic absurdity driving it from the center. Nobody has ever played to an ultra-wide lens the way he does (except maybe Ludacris), and as cheap as the look became, it’s so refreshing when viewed after almost two decades of the overly serious, haughty bullshit that has infected many rap videos since. Like any good rap video should, it’s filled with tons of gaudy fashion and stage-like sets, video filters, and mischief, but ultimately it’s all just trying to keep up with the song itself, which is nuts enough for half-a-dozen head-nodding tracks (much credit to Galt MacDermot’s original instrumental, from which the main hook is sampled).
I wouldn’t expect this to be Busta’s only appearance on this column.
That’s it for this week!
I appreciate you taking the time to read through this column, and I hope you’re looking forward to more.
I’m very much open to suggestions so if there’s a video you’d like to see appear, shoot me the name and a link to a place where it can be watched. I’ll make sure to let everybody know who submitted it. General feedback is also very welcome, via email, or on twitter… @RennBrown.
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