MVA Madness Round 1: Orange
March Music Madness has had a bit of a late start, but we're ready to get voting. You can read more about this competition here, but now is the time to make choices between these 16 artists who have one thing in common: choreography in their music videos. References to specific videos will all have links provided if you need some help deciding, or scroll straight down for the polls. Don't forget to download your own printable bracket and make your predictions early.
UPDATE: Polls are now closed - scroll to the bottom for results!
Talk about legends! Our very first poll sets a modern day queen up against an artist who paved the way for Bey's own career. Although many of us may still associate Beyoncé with her iconic videos from her I Am... era, such as "Single Ladies," "If I Were A Boy," and the collaboration with Lady Gaga on "Telephone," she has since established herself as someone who drives the music video genre into the future with her visual album projects for both her self-titled release and 2016's Lemonade. And you know I cannot talk about Bey without mentioning her most iconic and important video to date, "Formation," that dominated all online conversations for several months. (In case you were wondering, my personal favourite video may always and forever be "Countdown"). So no, I don't think anyone should be surprised that she out-seeded the king of pop himself in this bracket.
Although many younger voters may only know Paula Abdul from her regular judging spots on reality TV shows like Americon Idol or So You Think You Can Dance, her legacy is as an artist who solidified the marriage between music videos and choreography. Early videos such as "(It's Just) the Way That You Love Me," "Forever Your Girl," and "Cold Hearted," became iconic cultural moments that young children learned to copy, leading to numerous call-backs and references. The black and white video for "Straight Up" popularized tap for young fans, and in the context of pop music, that is no easy feat, even in 1988! Although Paula is an absolute choreo goddess, she also made use of a good old fashioned narrative device in videos for "Rush, Rush," and "Opposite's Attract," (which is not to say these vids don't also have some good moves).
I think this is a bit of a weird showdown. On the one hand, we have the 90s dance diva, Jennifer Lopez, who rose from In Living Color Fly Girl fame to become a massive film and music star. Her videos continue to be high-budget spectacles, full of beautiful views and tight choreography, and almost always include a skit at the beginning, setting up some kind of setting or story. I think the classic J.Lo visuals come from early in her career, with "If You Had My Love," "Jenny From the Block," and "Love Don't Cost A Thing," (particularly the dance break in the middle - you can find it at 2:44). She continues to make music video waves with the more recent Iggy Azalea collaboration, "Booty," and the fun dress-up video that was "Ain't Your Mama." Surprisingly, her most viewed video on YouTube is her 2011 hit, "On the Floor," but my all-time favourite J.Lo song and vid, hands down, is "Get Right".
Lopez goes up against the elusive and hesitant pop star, Sia. In some ways, these two women are polar opposites from one another, Sia hiding behind wigs of every shape and size, J.Lo preferring to be in the spotlight at all times. But the two share a deep love of choreography and prioritize it in their videos. Although it was far from her first video, Sia made a huge splash with the brilliant "Chandelier," and developed this into a near-perfect (if not at times controversial) regular format of having young dancer, Maddie Ziegler, represent Sia's own inner-child with "Elastic Heart," and "Big Girls Cry," and the powerful dedication to the victims of the Pulse shooting in "The Greatest". Sia hasn't always been hiding; her interest in making thought-provoking music videos has a long history, exemplified by "Buttons," "Clap Your Hands," and the simple creativity of "Breathe Me".
Madonna owes a lot of her 4-decade-spanning super-stardom to her love of dance. She has musically reinvented herself multiple times, but the one thing that remains consistent is her dance-infused music video style. She began with simple videos like "Borderline," but as she rose to popularity, so did the budget for videos in the golden era of MTV. Her controversial, sexually-charged videos, such as "Like a Prayer," "Justify My Love," and "Erotica," became famously banned in some areas for their content, only boosting her own iconic status. Era after era, she has continued to draw us in with her video production and choreo, with everything from "Music," to "Hung Up," and more recently, "Bitch, I'm Madonna". Still, I don't know if anything she has done or will do can ever top the cultural effect that "Vogue," had on mainstream radio and dance floors everywhere.
Similarly (though for not quite as long), Usher is a star we've had the pleasure of watching grow up. I'm not sure that I will ever replace my initial music video association with Usher: his perfectly executed chair dance in "Make Me Wanna," (which is one of the most 90s thing you will ever watch). Since then, he has put out videos that encapsulate different moments in his career, for example, from that same era, "My Way," through his Confessions era with "U Don't Have to Call," then his club music stint with the likes of "OMG" and "DJ Got Us Falling In Love," and even more recently with one of my fave Usher songs ever, "Climax". "Burn" has a pretty sick vid too.
Personally, I think it's outrageous that Britney Spears has won the Vanguard award before Missy Elliott, but it is true that both brought definition to the 90s and 2000s with incredibly memorable visuals to match their massive hit songs. I dare you to listen to "...Baby One More Time," without envisioning the Britney we were introduced to, in a school uniform and pigtails. Time and time again, she brought us stunning outfits and colours and settings, whether as a flight attendant in "Toxic," or that red (alien?) jumpsuit in "Oops,I Did It Again." She seems most comfortable dancing with a bare midriff as can be seen in "Stronger," "Hold It Against Me," and nearly every other video/performance she's ever done. Even now that she has grown older, sexuality is at the heart of her music videos; she refuses to fade into the role of "former pop star," continuing to collaborate with younger fresher artists like Tinashe in "Slumber Party".
Missy Elliott deserves a Vanguard award, um, yesterday. Her work with Hype Williams and Dave Meyers throughout her career has pushed every boundary and expectation. Similarly to Britney's debut hit, Missy's "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" will forever be married to the outfit she wears, in this case, a black garbage bag. Although strong concepts are sometimes at the core of particular videos, it's simply not a Missy experience without dope choreography, whether danced by children, like in "Gossip Folks," or Missy herself and a crew of grown dancers in nearly everything else. She also was initially known for her bizarre visuals that will not leave your brain, whether it's the bees in "Work It," or the weird underground setting of "Get Your Freak On." Another video-related gift she seemed to enjoy giving the world was an extra interlude of another song, often paired with a separate dance break, as in "Lose Control". More recently, she has brought back the exercise ball and made dancing puppets cooler than I ever expected (in "Better" and "WTF" respectively).
It will be hard to hide that Janet is my favourite in this competition. Far too often she is forgotten in the shadows of her brother, but although she may have not have always had the same scale and budget (save their collaboration on the expensive and brilliant, "Scream"), she consistently delivers stories and messages through truly outstanding dance sequences. One of the things I most appreciate about Janet is that although she is obviously the star of the video and can easily hold our attention on her own (like in "Pleasure Principle"), she is all about shining the spotlight on her other dancers. Check out the boys in "Nasty," or the entire dancing cast of "Alright". And that's just from the 80s, the first decade of her career... and I haven't even mentioned possibly her best video of all time from that decade, "Rhythm Nation"! But seriously, she went on to produce great videos for 4 more decades, some highlights being "Together Again," and "All For You".
In order for me to continue to rant about my love for Janet videos, she first needs to beat out Ciara in this dance-off. If this were nearly anyone other than Janet, I would be rooting for Ciara so hard. Her dance moves are slick, and she keeps things incredibly sexy. "Like A Boy," and "Oh" are the two that stand out from earlier in her career, as well as her collaborations with Missy Elliott, but she's remained consistent even 10 years later with "Dance Like We're Making Love," or "I'm Out." My favourite choreo from Ciara is from her 2009's "Ride".
Although I have all kinds of issues with Justin Timberlake, I cannot deny his relationship with music videos. His time with N'Sync was filled with video production, but I am convinced that it was his use of this medium that most helped establish such a sustainable solo career. His solo videos served as regular reminders to his audience that he could cut a rug. Remember back to "Cry Me A River," and the way those visuals were so tied to his rise to pop stardom? Or the way he combined classy attire with suave dance moves to seduce our consumer ears, as in "Sexy Back," or his Jay-Z assisted "Suit & Tie." In his most recent release, "Filthy", he's passing on his dance skills to robots. Still, my favourite video of JT is "Love Stoned/I Think She Knows".
Justin starts out the competition dangerously, going up against another dapper, dancing performer, Ne-Yo. He might not be as huge a name, but I'll be honest and say that he had me the moment he brought Gabrielle Union to star in "Miss Independent". "Closer" may be one of Ne-Yo's most successful upbeat songs, and is accompanied by an interesting combo of highlighted on-screen lyrics, fantastic lighting, and some very fly choreography. "One In A Million" is my personal fave, as he enlists two dancers to help him serenade his lover, classic boy-band style. In case you were wondering what he looks like without a hat, "Another Love Song," features his bald head and even more dancing around a restaurant. But if you prefer the storytelling of a good ballad, it doesn't get much better than his duet with Rihanna ("Hate That I Love You").
Chris Brown is whatever - let's just say I'm not a fan. However, the one thing Chris Brown can definitely do is dance - and his music videos are built around that fact. Also, did you know that Chris Brown has been in more music videos than anyone else in these brackets? He has a knack for finding his way onto a feature verse of nearly anyone in the industry. For this competition we're going to be focusing on his videos, and not so much his cameos, but even so, he's done every dance trope in the book. There's the dance off ("Run It"), the Bring-the-Community-Together-Through-Dance ("Yeah x3"), Apocalyptic Future Dancing ("Tempo"), and my personal favourite, the Lose-My-Job-to-Chase-a-Woman storyline in "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)".
It seems fitting that Chris Brown would go up against Bruno Mars, another pretty boy whose moves convince women to adore him. Instead of relying on storyline tropes like Brown, Bruno basically sets each video in a different decade, hoping to tap into nostalgia from a broad demographic. He successfully hits my own nostalgic weak spot with his In Living Color-inspired "Finesse," but years ago he went even more extreme with his video for "Treasure," which passes for footage of a 70s disco band. I would also love to remind you of a few of his creative ventures in video making, starting at the beginning of his celebrity with the animated cassette tape in "Just the Way You Are," and later when he combined his love for animation and dance in "That's What I Like".
I really shouldn't have to break down Michael Jackson's history with music videos. I mean, MTV's Vanguard Award is literally named after him because of how he continually reinvented the medium while working with some of the best in the film industry. Each of his videos featured dance, and most of them also crafted a story well told to match the iconic imagery. Whether it was the simplicity of "Billie Jean," the choreography of "Bad," or the sheer scale of "Thriller," "Smooth Criminal," or "Remember the Time," MJ stunned us with videos perfectly accessible and innovative for their times. It's hard to imagine the music video without him.
MJ defends his honour against the self-reinventing, always dancing, Swedish icon, Robyn. We were introduced to her through some fairly standard 90s music videos like "Show Me Love," and "(Do You Know) What It Takes," when she broke into mainstream North American radio, but after that, we didn't hear much from her for over a decade. When she released Body Talk in 2010, the videos for both "Dancing On My Own," and "Call Your Girlfriend," took the internet by storm, and few people realized this was the same Robyn Carlsson that we loved so much in 1998. Robyn also makes really cool videos with Royksopp, like this one for "Monument".
Time to make some decisions and send in your votes - they will not be counted unless you select the "Submit" button after you've selected your choices! Thanks for participating, and check back soon for more MVA Madness!