More than a decade ago, we were blessed with an abundance of pop stars and a bumper crop of music videos so bountiful that we had to store them in silos (true story: we’ve still got old LFO clips to get us through the lean times). Sales were sky-high and the music business was booming. It’s difficult to imagine now, so you’ll just have to take my word for it: It was the best.
Not coincidentally, this was also the era of “Spanking New Music Week,” which began as a way for the Britneys, Xtinas and Justins of the world to premiere their brand-new videos on MTV— like when Brit took over Times Square in 2001. It was an event. The franchise quickly became so popular that it morphed into a month-long extravaganza that featured pretty much everybody, on every channel, everywhere (shoot, we even did “Spanking New Music” tours).
Of course, you’re probably aware that things are different these days; the business has changed, the bumper crop has withered to a degree. There are still plenty of high-profile music videos — we’re still doing “MTV Firsts” on the regular — but rarely, if ever, are they released over the span of a week, let alone a month. Instead, with labels increasingly dependent on “tentpole” releases, the big-time music videos are strategically parsed out, to maximize impact and, hopefully, sales too. This is a business, after all. But it’s also a bummer.
But, over the past seven days, it appears someone didn’t get the memo. Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Eminem and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis all released new videos. Arcade Fire contributed two of their own. It may not have been “Spanking New Music Week,” but it was about as close as we’ve come in a while. And it served notice that, while the business might not be what it was a decade ago, our stars are just as vibrant and varied as ever.
Take, for example, Katy’s “Roar” video, a colorful, campy spin on an old “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle” short that also happens to be the perfect synthesis of her as an artist. She is eternally the cheerleader, the character, adept at playing roles for both entertainment and inspiration. In essence, Sheena was pretty much written for her. Could anyone else have done it justice? Of course not.
The same could also be said of Miley’s “Wrecking Ball” clip, which created much buzz when it bowed on Monday, thanks in no small part to the scenes where Cyrus tongues a sledgehammer and writhes on top of a wrecking ball. Of course, folks missed the video’s most revealing moments, when Miley stares directly into the camera, a single tear tracing down her face, though I suppose that was to be expected. Cyrus has no problem dealing with the controversy and pushing her wild-child antics further than any pop star in recent memory. And regardless of what you think about “Wrecking Ball,” you cannot deny the fact that it is unquestionably her.
Then there are the week’s big hip-hop premieres, Eminem’s rattling “Berzerk,” which blends the Beastie Boys with Billy Squier, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ wonderfully weird “White Walls,” an oddball clip that finds the dynamic duo lounging poolside with several senior citizens. Both are steeped in nostalgia (both sonically and in terms of sentiment) and loaded with guest stars (Kendrick Lamar, Kid Rock, Rick Rubin, A$AP Rocky, Trinidad James, Sir Mix-A-Lot, etc), yet each could only be made by their respective artist. Em’s in prime, potty-mouth form, dishing out jabs at pop-culture detritus and actually smiling like he did in his Slim Shady heyday. Meanwhile Macklemore is at his silly, subversive best, the kind of rapper capable of boasting about being the new Bernie Mac, all while dressed like a Mariachi man.
And finally, Arcade Fire proved they’re still the rock and roll champions of the world, releasing a pair of videos for their new “Reflektor” single, one an amazing, interactive clip, the other a straightforward (though seven-minute) video directed by the legendary Anton Corbijn . Both are mysterious, mercurial things, beautifully realized, and, after a week of brightly-colored big-budget clips, they served as an antidote. Not to mention a reminder that rock, regardless of size or scope, is still capable of bringing the world (or at least its Internet servers) to a screeching halt. Art, it would seem, has a place in 2013 too.
And so does a week’s worth of big-time music videos. Can we make this a regular occurrence? Maybe not quite yet, but as we’ve learned over the past seven days, the stars are up to the task, each capable of making art that’s stunning, striking, scandalous and even a little silly. So let’s make this happen. Let’s bring back the glory days. Let’s start Spanking once again.