Despite what you might think, there are actually great music videos out there. And two of them are nominated for Video of the Year at the VMAs: Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (which is about as close as an “iconic” clip as we have these days) and Kanye West’s stylized, minimal “Love Lockdown.” The other three in the category — Eminem’s “We Made You,” Britney’s “Womanizer” and Gaga’s “Poker Face” — are certainly among the biggest, and they should rightfully be lauded for that. But, in my estimation, they’re hardly the best, either.
That might explain why pretty much everyone I talk to is hard-pressed to name a music video that’s moved them in any particular way over the past year: People only knew about the huge ones, so choosing their favorites is sort of like trying to decide between “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” and “The Final Destination” for Best Picture; you tend to abstain completely. People have been weaned on a steady diet of blockbusters, which has turned their brains into mush. So I decided to remedy that.
I’ve compiled a list of my favorite music videos released over the past 12 months, clips that, for whatever reason (gruesome special effects, copyright issues, child-exploitation laws), have largely flown beneath the radar. It’s a shame, because all of them are amazing. They give me hope and remind me of a time when I used to fill VHS tapes with old clips by Beck and Pavement. My hope is, by watching them, you’ll remember that time too.
So here are my picks for Video of the Year. And yes, there are something like 13 of them. Brevity has never been my thing. And it really shouldn’t be anyone’s — brevity (and pretty much everything else) killed the video star.
Coldplay, “Strawberry Swing”
I think there are about 15 different versions of this video (or something like that), but this is my favorite: a whimsical, stop-motion clip that stars Coldplay frontman Chris Martin as a cape-clad superhero. He soars — and sinks, and crawls — through a world made entirely of chalk drawings (the work of British collective Shynola), rescues the damsel in distress and walks off into the sunset. It’s joyous, magical, downright brilliant stuff — proof that videos can still move you.
The Dead Weather, “Treat Me Like Your Mother”
Jack White and Alison Mosshart don leather jackets, trudge through a suburb in Palmdale, California, and address the oedipal complex by blasting the sh– out of each other with machine guns. Clips are emptied. And reloaded. There is much blood, and even more sexual tension. Somewhat fittingly, this premiered on Cinemax, where this kind of coital carnage happens on the regular, though usually in the “Busty Cops” series.
Dinosaur Jr., “Over It”
If you like old dudes skateboarding (and wiping out big time) on the streets of Tallahassee, Florida, well, then this is the video for you. If you don’t like old dudes skateboarding (and wiping out big time) on the streets of Tallahassee, Florida, well, then what the heck is wrong with you?
Franz Ferdinand, “Ulysses” and “No You Girls”
Franz Ferdinand released a pair of really great, strangely overlooked videos to promote their really great, strangely overlooked Tonight: Franz Ferdinand album. “Ulysses” is a sweaty, sticky trip though dingy bars and even dingier motel rooms — like a series of Polaroids of a night you’d soon forget, even if you can’t remember all of it. The alternate version of “No You Girls” — directed by the band itself — is a never-ending loop of backstage antics and televised performances, sort of like what would happen if Michel Gondry directed a tour documentary.
Grizzly Bear, “Two Weeks”
The great Patrick Daughters (Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps,” a million others) reimagines Grizzly Bear as ultra-creepy, oddly greasy Kewpie dolls, complete with glowing red cheeks, bottomless dimples and saucer-huge eyes. The only thing? Those cheeks keep glowing, and those dimples just get deeper, and those eyes — yow. It just gets creepier and creepier, until everyone’s head explodes into showers of sparks. There are also gratuitous bow ties involved.
Lily Allen, “The Fear”
If Merchant Ivory Productions decided to make a version of “Alice in Wonderland,” only with dancing butlers, pirouetting presents, smoke bombs and Allen’s gravity-defying bangs, this would be it. A sexy, cheeky and effervescent big-budget pop video, the kind they generally stopped making 20 years ago. Brilliant stuff. Then again, I might be a bit be a bit biased.
Over the course of six super-unsettling minutes, MGMT (and director Ray Tintori) positively brutalize a tiny child — certainly no older than 2 — with visions of terrifying, maw-dripping, blood-oozing monsters, basically sentencing the kid to a lifetime of therapy (and seriously calling into question the qualifications of his parents). Of course, it’s genuinely awful, but it’s also pretty provocative, too, recalling the sorta-twisted Saturday morning visions of Sid and Marty Krofft and the definitely twisted photography of Jill Greenberg, only, you know, on drugs. Art? Child abuse? Both? They certainly don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Mostly for legal reasons.
Modest Mouse, “King Rat”
The late Heath Ledger had something to do with this warped animated clip — I believe the correct thing to say is that he “conceived” it — which spares no detail in its depiction of illegal whaling (or, more specifically, in its depiction of whales hunting humans). Bodies are flailed and skinned and turned into petroleum products in particularly graphic detail, while Isaac Brock wails and spits in the background like a Tourette’s patient. A bit gratuitous, a bit graphic, but undeniably gripping too.
Neil Young, “Johnny Magic”
Like if your dad made a music video, only if your dad was awesome and decided to convert his 1959 Lincoln Continental into an electric vehicle and write an album about it.
Phoenix, “Lisztomania (Brat Pack Mashup)”
The late John Hughes probably would’ve loved Phoenix, or at least been deeply flattered by them, since they bottle all the jittery joy of his best films in their hooky, boyish super-pop. So, somewhat fittingly, this bootleg video takes the best track on their Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix record and syncs it with the best moments from Hughes’ films (and “Mannequin” and “Footloose” too) — i.e. whenever anyone dances/embraces/pirouettes for no particular reason — with predictably joyous results. Watch whenever you want to ram your head through your cubicle wall.
Wale, “Chillin’ “
Roughly 40 percent of this video takes place outside of Ben’s Chili Bowl, which is probably my favorite restaurant in the universe. The other 60 percent is pretty great, too, but, seriously — have you ever had a chili half-smoke?
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Zero”
Karen O dons her leathers and prowls the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown, strutting her stuff, denting the roofs of cars and generally freaking out passersby. By the end of the clip, she’s found her YYY mates, and they rock out in a 24-hour discount store while tickertape showers down from the ceiling. It’s tough, sexy and overly-blissed — just like the song itself.
Questions? Concerns? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.