Music and film are a divine marriage of two of my favorite art forms. Add dance and you have a match made in heaven. When one genre collaborates with another and another, it is a delicate balance of creativity that needs to be juxtaposed in a successful way. Because the opportunities are seemingly endless and there is an infinite amount of possibilities, a visual story can easily go awry if you don’t play your cards right.
With the advent of so many technologies, we can now add even more image architecture to music videos, creating a virtual landscape that can be manipulated innumerably.
It is only natural that I have been dreaming about directing and choreographing music videos for most of my MTV generation life. Sadly, what started as a new global medium for music has turned into a commercialized object of fictitious reality television that lives off the sweet fruit of effective marketing strategies. I knew growing up that it wouldn’t be the most prosperous profession, but what music videos did and said (in my day) meant a lot to the business and could make or break an album. It, in its own right, was advertising.
I’m not here to put down the advertising industry as a whole, it makes the world go round, really. There is an art to it and consumer psychology is a brilliant and interesting science. It all goes back to Warhol’s adage about life imitating art.
I have been fortunate enough to be a part of this video:
It was an easy collaboration between the director, the band, and me. I had met them through a fringe show I produced that they played at. At the time, I was still pseudo involved with the Peekaboo Revue and we were performing monthly shows at the pre-fire shambled Five Spot in Old City. We all agreed on doing something old-timey and Vaudeville inspired. It was no secret that I had a love of Bob Fosse and risqué dance technique. We agreed that it would be bluesy and have dancing girls and sepia tones and the director took it from there. I was pleased with the results and I am so happy with what we put together.
In order to judge my top picks for the past decade, I had to just think of the most memorable videos I have seen lately. I wrote down the first ones that came to mind based on their prevalence. After that, I started thinking more about my favorite artists and then I went browsing. The criteria for this list is concept, choreography (where applicable), direction, editing, story, and art production. All of these videos I have seen in their entirety before I made this list, except the last two which I added based on other lists floating out there. I have to say, if I would have seen them earlier, they would be at the top of my list.
It seems as though this list is dominated by women. It’s not just because of my love for female artists because of their more emotional side, but I think that we all know that women are better at physical presentation than most men, even though directors tend to be male. Here goes:
1. Get Me Bodied (Beyoncé)
I hadn’t seen this video until today. I know, I totally lied and cheated but, I had seen clips of this video a while back and never had the balls to watch it. The thing is, I knew that this was going to be one of those videos that would make me want to off myself because I didn’t think of it first. Of course what I mean by “didn’t think of it first” is that I’m not the one who got to put it out there.
I’ve been kind of obsessed with Ms. Knowles for the past month or two. I’ve been going back and watching her videos and more and more I am seething with envy and inspiration. She too seems to have an unhealthy obsession with Fosse style, and almost all of her videos pay homage to that magic man that left us with so much to work with.
This video is a direct interpretation of this video, a scene from Fosse’s musical comedy, “Sweet Charity”:
She also bites off of that musical/film in another of her videos for “Freakum Dress” where she uses the popular hooker with a heart of gold number “Hey Big Spender”.
In “Get Me Bodied”, from the first wind up of the lipstick in sync with the music to the final booty shake, we are taken through an amazing adaptation of Fosse’s work that would make him want to light up a cigarette during and certainly after the entire experience, shaking his head in a approval along with the beat. What is wonderful about the choreography is that while it is based on a specific work, it is brought into the 21st century with pizazz and modernism that rivals the original version.
Beyoncé plays the muse role with sultry sexiness and voluminous vigor. She looks like she’s having fun. Not only are we treated to this wonderful homage to the man himself, in the video, there is a reprise at the end that montages the current classic style of dance floor moves.
This video is socially and culturally relevant, bringing the past into the future while creating something altogether new. I was shocked and smiling along as she went through the proper procedures with which to correctly dance your ass off while at the club. From the “Uh oh” to “The Tick” to the “Old School” to the “Cool Off”, I was reminded of the moves I am constantly engaging on the dance floor that have inspired my dance vernacular for some time now. In this, she has created an indelible artifact of pop culture.
2. Y Control (Yeah Yeah Yeahs)
Spike Jonze is no stranger to creating masterpieces and lent himself favorably to this band for this video. Having directed the memorable films Being John Malcovich and Adaptaton, (amongst others) he has also created some of the best music videos ever written. Some of my favorites are Buddy Holly by Weezer, “It’s Oh So Quiet” by Bjork and “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys.
There is nothing like the breathless chill that comes from watching something so remarkably jarring and entertaining. This pure avant garde expression can really take its toll on your mind and haunt you for days, like it did me. Dead dogs, creepy vampirism and jaded, ghoulish children round out a well-edited video noir, leading way for Karen O’s no holds barred attitude towards expression reigns supreme here in her relentless signature flailing, creating a rock spectacle that truly represents a perfect culmination of varying talents.
3. Walk Away (Franz Ferdinand)
“Walk Away” is an immaculate presentation of perfection in every facet of this video. Not only is the concept and direction an obvious combination of painstaking chores, but the editing speaks in a quintessential way. The way the pictures are matched with the music is a paragon. While subtly sexy and lambently sad, this montage of emotions not only stands as a beautiful picture on its own, it also goes well with the song. Each and every frame tells the story.
4. Lose Control (Missy Elliot)
This video was a big shock to me when I first saw it. Not only does the beginning start off as compelling and in-your-face as the song, but the entrance of Ciara and the jazzy swing dancing jitterbug action just totally threw me. After such a reminiscent stroll down one of the most influential dance forms America has ever known, I was exhausted. It didn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the song and yes, the modern technology took something away from the authenticity, but there is no doubt that it was fucking awesome. A+ for combining and interpreting the swing dancing and adding stepping and traditional African dance. It read like a tribute to African ancestors abroad and in America.
5. Reptilla – The Strokes
The minimalism of this video really caught my eye. I have seen this attempt at simplicity before but many times it was a botched attempt to focus on the less is more conundrum. This video is all about the music and effectively depicts the visual form of the actual song. The well-placed and well-edited imposed images are a necessary dish of extreme close ups. Simply amazing.
6. Fell in Love with a Girl (White Stripes)
Truly a fantastic and fun video, the use of Lego’s is just extremely creative and lends itself well to the punk driven chord progression and two minute song.
7. Back In Your Head (Tegan & Sara)
For about a month straight I kept hearing this song on NPR. Apparently, Tegan and Sara were the newest, coolest shit, and every hipster should be listening to them. Soon, I was downloading this particular song and listening to it over and over again, singing it loudly in public places and sometimes alone in my room. This song came along at what I guess one could say was the perfect time, where I was struggling with the fear of leaving the one I love for all the wrong reasons. “I’m not unfaithful but I’ll stray” is repeated over and over again throughout, and at a time of ambivalence, it becomes a really hard song to listen to in the company of your lover. Awkward! Anyway, it’s a good song, and of course I love the rest of the lyrics, such as “When I get a little scared, run run run…run…”. One day I decided to youtube the video, and there it was. It was weird, fun, heart wrenching, but made a lot of sense. I was worried at first that I got it so quickly and that there were no really veiled statements in the song. It is obvious to me that the video is speaking to the exact sentiment that plays out in the song and at the end, you always end up back at the beginning. It’s the vicious cycle that we all go through. “I just want back in your head…”. The best song that has ever gotten stuck in my head, and always does, every time.
8. What’s a Girl to do? (Bat for Lashes)
This is another one of those songs I heard on NPR one day and I went to look at the video on my computer. It was so whacky, so dark, so creepy, I loved it. The whole Alice in Wonderland, dreamy feel is marvelous. I immediately related to the whole good nightmare thing, and loved the touch of the boys doing tricks on BMXs. The simple theater craft is delicious. The song and the video haunted me for weeks until I put that inspiration to good use and came up with what is still one of my favorite dance pieces I’ve concocted thus far:
9. Work It (Missy Elliot)
Coming from one of the best albums of the decade that brought hip-hop back to its rightful place, this video melds together the style of the new, influenced by old school jams. Despite the pre-coital bliss inspired lyrics, the video does a good job of paying tribute to pop culture relevant modernism, technology playing its part in this uproarious little ditty. Of special note was all the controversy this video coerced, which is always a sign of good art.
10. Single Ladies (Beyoncé)
In yet another homage to Bob Fosse, Beyoncé manages to put together a clean-cut visual conversation piece, blowing Madonna out the water and solidifying herself as the Diva of the Decade. Stealing just enough inspiration from Fosse’s acclaimed “Mexican Breakfast” dance starring Gwen Verdon, this exhausting and appealing routine will go down as being one of the most iconic music videos of all time.
11. I Need Some Fine Wine, And You Need To Be Nicer (The Cardigans)
It pains me sometimes to think about how most people think of The Cardigans as that one-hit-wonder band that did that fun modern disco song for that Leonardo DiCaprio movie. Well, I do in fact love that song, as fun and happy as it isn’t, but I know better to know that this band is not only a tremendous talent in music, but they have made some of the most memorable music videos I have ever seen.
This video has a socially adept statement of feminism starring the frontwoman who plays the Punk Rock Barbie in the band. In three different montages, she positions herself in three commonly variable sexual objectifications: the hard working secretary who bangs the boss, the glamorous housewife waiting on hand and foot in the household, and the kinky dominatrix in the bed room. She is the Virgin, the Madonna, and the Whore, every man’s fantasy. These caricatures are beautifully filmed and superimposed, allowing every frame to look like a photograph. In the foreground, she plays the woman she wants to be (herself) and takes a stand as the one who really wears the pants. Well done.
12. Hey Ya! (Outkast)
Perhaps the funnest video of the decade, Outkast, like predecessors Missy Elliot, Eminem, and later, Kayne West, took on the challenge of redefining hip-hop while staying true to the deep, dark roots of it. The style of Outkast and all of its eccentricities, fit well into the beginning of the 21st Century, opening up a once famous then infamous art form to a broader audience. This video serves as a statement of peace between hip-hop and its dissenters, using a lost pastime as its vehicle to present the much needed treaty.
13. Conquest – (The White Stripes)
The Album “Icky Thump” gave The White Stripes back its street cred after they (to some) seemed to have sold-out after the success of their vamped up “Get Thee Behind Me Satan”. A few songs on the album rocked harder than they ever did before, returning them to their original grungy luster. Then this gem of a song came along, “Conquest” and took us all by surprise. Jack White is no stranger to experimenting with almost every type of music and with every type of instrument he can get his hands on. This video though, is an awesome work that exemplifies the personality of the band. It is in part a self-exposition, Jack playing out his inner ego, Meg playing out her outer cynic. The video is hilarious and uses CGI in a cheesy, funny way. Not only is the mariachi inspired tune suitable for this Spanish flair, it is by far one of their most interesting songs. The matador theme is something anyone can love due to the bittersweet nature of their heroism, and in a way, he is making a understated jab to the chin of this ancient art, and uses it in a clever way to depict his own hypocrisy.
14. Hung Up (Madonna)
Dance. That’s what it’s all about in this video. Madonna goes back to her origins in this nostalgia laden testimonial of the importance of dance in her life and in American culture. Every dancer has heard “go back to the barre” at least thrice in their careers. There is always the teacher that told you to practice your pliés for the rest of your life, when ever you can, because that is the foundation of movement. Madonna finds her center in this video where she looks hotter than ever and manages to have a topic that is dear to her come out simplified and thoughtful.
15. Juicebox (The Strokes)
You had me at David Cross. All cheeky humor aside, this video is a powerful satire of Y Generation social standards. Technology is the catalyst, the antagonist and the protagonist in the romp through the city with fits of pornography, hedonism and desperation. The degree of desperation device works well, and the cycle all starts back at the beginning in a wonderfully spastic way. The controversial homo eroticism came as a sweet and surprising shock, and caused quite a stir in the media. I guess it was so unsuspecting coming from such a popular rock band, but soon enough, people started to realize that the graphic depiction of two males together in the same video as the glorification of two women being together, was an obvious test of tolerance for the new century. Weird and profound the whole thing together. And still, it was very honest.
16. Sober (Pink)
We all know Pink kicks ass. She makes out with herself in this video! Not only is the whole thing well designed and has some great editing, but she really feels the whole thing and you can literally see the subject matter on the screen.
17. All Nite (Janet Jackson)
Oh, the Super Bowl. What can we say? The Jacksons will be the Jacksons and they have a reputation to uphold. Not only are they one of the most important families in music history, they have made some of the most memorable music videos to date. Janet has a lot to live up to in her own accomplishments, but this video in particular really struck home with me for the amazing choreography. There’s not much to be said about the content or the creativity, but it looks really fucking cool and the dancing is unbelievably good and tight.
18. Caught Up (Usher)
Another selection based solely on choreography, although there is a lot of concept going on in this video, it’s all about the dance. Usher has a wonderful MJ inspired style, but it is all his own and boy does he have stage presence. The whole gangster shenanigans is cool, but really, we all know Usher ain’t no thug. C’mon.
*19. Modern Girl (Sleater-Kinney)
Being an underground indie band, Sleater-Kinney doesn’t put out many music videos but they really should. The creativity of their music would be a wonderful compliment to some visual stylings, but alas, they are not the super stardom type who can afford producers, dancers and fancy technology to make beautiful music films. In this multi-camera’d beast, the simplicity of one of the band’s slower songs really shines. It is a perfect, comfy video that proves that you don’t need all the hodgepodge to make something captivating.
*20. Here It Goes (Ok Go)
I don’t know who the hell these boys are but this video is FUCKING AWESOME!!!!!!
*note: These are videos I stumbled upon today. Happily and gratefully.