MVA Madness Round 1: Green
There are some amazing showdowns already happening over in the BLUE and ORANGE brackets, so if you haven't already voted, make sure to have your say while you still have time. This particular blog is devoted to the Green quadrant, filled with artists who love a good story. Their videos tend to be known for their emphasis on narratives, and each will have some examples linked for your own researching purposes. Don't forget to fill in your own brackets and let me know your final four choices! And now, on with the polls!
UPDATE: Polls are now closed - scroll to the bottom for results!
If we could only discuss one Guns n' Roses video, it would be the 9-minute-long "November Rain," which can only be described as epic. At the time it was one of the most expensive videos ever made, with their 1.5-million-dollar budget spent on a custom-made wedding dress and a whole lot of helicopter shots (since drones were not yet invented for these purposes). Then they outdid themselves with "Estranged," which had a reported budget of over 4 million dollars, and similarly intersperses a GNR performance with super dramatic footage. The story of "Don't Cry" is based on a true event, where Axl Rose and his girlfriend (at the time) fought over a gun when he threatened to commit suicide. The video for "Sweet Child o' Mine" has 2 versions (one is black and white), and simply presents footage from band rehearsals and sound checks. In the video for "Patience," Axl records the song, while Slash sits in his hotel room bed with a snake and rotating women joining him. Read into it what you will.
Arcade Fire may be the underdog in this match, but I think they are going to bring tough competition. Most of their videos also have interactive versions where you can manipulate the images yourself. "The Suburbs" is likely their most acclaimed video as it is a shortened form of the Spike Jonze directed film, "Scenes from the Suburbs," inspired by the album, The Suburbs. Both stories follow a group of teenagers as they try to entertain themselves in their hometown suburb, which is under martial law. From the same album, "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" also sets its video in the suburbs, as singer Régine Chassagne dances around a neighbourhood. "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" presents Alexander's great adventure with an animation where the main character goes on a harrowing but beautifully stylized journey. I'm not 100% sure what's going on in "Reflektor," other than a lot of paper maché masks, but its quirkiness is mesmerizing and on brand for AF. This video for "Afterlife," which also happens to be one of my favourite AF songs, is brilliant for so many reasons: they shot it live at the 2013 YouTube Awards show; it's directed by the king of solo-dances, Spike Jonze; it stars Greta Gerwig (of later Ladybird fame) dancing around post-breakup; and finally, it's a lot of fun. And it's not even the official video for the song.
I like to call this match-up "the big gay showdown." I am fascinated by the careers of both of these artists, as so much of their success has relied on marketing to a very particular population in a very particular time. They actually get to capitalize on their queer storylines, whereas artists in past eras have had to encode their messages in subtext. Troye Sivan rose to fame by way of his YouTube channel, and his devotion to the video side of his music career continues to pay homage to this fact. Through all of his videos, he is loudly, proudly, unapologetically gay. His 3-part Blue Neighborhood series ("Wild," "Fools," and "Talk Me Down") follows two boys from childhood through their young adult years, capturing the joy and grief of their love story. "Heaven," Sivan's collaboration with Betty Who, pulls together footage from LGBTQ+ movements throughout history over lyrics like: "without losing a piece of me, how do I get to heaven?" His most recent video for the catchy-as-hell "My, My, My" is slightly less narrative-driven: Troye dances around a warehouse, announcing to the world that he has every intention of being your next queer icon.
Hayley Kiyoko has had slightly less mainstream attention than Troye, but has been dubbed the "lesbian Jesus" in very specific circles. Like Troye, she gives her videos as much care as she does her music, carefully making sure they add to the stories of her songs rather than distracting. "Girls Like Girls" is her most popular video, and one of the only ones she hasn't also starred in. The video shows two girls falling for each other, making one of their boyfriends mad, and then comforting one another. "Gravel to Tempo" features Hayley not fitting in at school, but then gaining confidence and proudly flying her freak flag in the face of the popular girls. "Sleepover," easily her sexiest video, shows her dreaming about her female friend in a less-than-platonic way... I'm just not a fan of the milky bathtub. I have been especially appreciating her most recent videos for "Feelings," which feels like a nod to MJ's "The Way You Make Me Feel," and "Curious," which flips the script from what we expect to happen between the singer and her 'straight' friend.
LL Cool J has been around since the birth of mainstream hip hop, but is way too often forgotten in conversations about old school rap music. "Mama Said Knock You Out" speaks for itself; the black and white video features LL rapping in the centre of a boxing ring. He enjoyed the black-and-white look for "Going Back to Cali" as well, where he tours around his two favourite spots in LA: Venice Beach and the Griffith Observatory. "I Need Love" might be a cheesy slow jam, but I can't get enough of this young, earnest LL who is trying to maintain a relationship in the midst of his touring schedule and newfound celebrity status. I also have a soft spot for LL's collaborations, in particular his remix of "Loungin," recorded with Total, and "Hey Lover," featuring my favourite boy band of the 90s, Boyz II Men. Both of these videos give fairly literal visuals to the stories told in LL Cool J's verses, and maybe this is saying more about the era during which I was watching BET than about the quality of these vids, but in my mind they are truly iconic.
The Beastie Boys definitely earned their MTV Vanguard award in 1998. Although they leaned heavily into their reputation for knowing how to party for videos like "Hey Ladies" and "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)," they also experimented with a plethora of film genres in their music videos. The Spike Jonze directed "Sabotage" is their buddy cop movie. "Intergalactic" is their Japanese Kaiju (monster) film. And "Make Some Noise" is their star-studded action flick complete with more cameos than I can count.
David Bowie spent his entire life making deeply imaginative music videos, right up until two days before his death, when he released the two eerie videos for "Lazarus," and "Black Star". But he was known for his less-traditional narrative films long before his last album. In fact, he helped make the medium what it is today with his early high-budget creation for "Ashes to Ashes," which at the time of its release was the most expensive music video ever made. Bowie saw this new art form as a way to highlight social truths. "Let's Dance" tells a story of an aboriginal couple dealing with colonialism and racism in their everyday life. "The Stars Are Out Tonight" stars Tilda Swinton as Bowie's wife, playing on their similar appearance, which had already been pointed out plenty of times.
I'm fairly certain that Mary J. Blige was born a relatable queen. She is every woman, and her videos underline the fact that she has been through the ringer of life, but has and will continue to come out the other side strong and fabulous. "No More Drama" tackles addiction and domestic abuse, often displaying three panes of film showing three similar characters in similar stories. It reminds me a bit of "Runaway Love," Mary's collaboration with Ludacris, another medley of stories about escaping painful situations. In "Be Without You," the present is shot in black-and-white, while colour flashbacks show Mary fighting with the subject of the song, played by Terrance Howard. "Just Fine" has less of a narrative than the others, but is definitely worth a watch for the costumes alone. "We Ride (I See the Future)" is such a great track, and the video has a few stunning settings... seriously, what I wouldn't do to be present for Mary's mountaintop, orchestra-backed performance!
R.E.M. has a whole lot of videos to choose from, but here are some of my personal favourites... "Imitation of Life" is a study of an eclectic pool party in the 70s; the video loops and zooms and pauses its way through 20 seconds of footage, stretching it into a 4-minute music video. "Daysleeper" also plays with time to show mundane activities; whether it's a crane loading a boat, or Michael Stipe in an office lit up by his green computer screen, everything is shot in a jolty stop-motion fashion. "Everybody Hurts" tells the story of multiple individuals and families stuck a massive traffic jam on the highway, ending with Michael Stipe leading everyone to abandon their vehicles and walk away to freedom. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" doesn't look like a traditional narrative, but the perspective we're given makes me ask questions about who is shooting this video. Do the low angles suggest a child is operating the camera? "It's the End of the World" features a young boy rummaging through the papers and toys strewn about an old farmhouse, at times presenting items to the camera, before he gives up and practices his skateboarding tricks in the messy room. Although it's more conceptual, it begs us to ask story-like questions: Whose stuff is this? What is the boy's relationship to this place or the pictures he shows the camera? What happened here? Is this what the end of the world looks like: having some young punk go through all our belongings and not recognize their importance or sentimentality?
Sigur Ros is especially good at films with people at either end of life's spectrums; the travelling band of children in "Glósóli" and the senior citizens of "Hoppípolla" (aka my elderly goals) are both so joyfully magical. "Svefn-g-Englar" also focuses on a group of people, this time a group of adults and children with Down Syndrome dancing in a field. This is particularly beautiful and moving as Iceland has been scrutinized for aborting babies that test positive. Sometimes Sigur Ros seems to be mainly interested in making you cry like a baby, as they are rather successful with in "Viõrar vel til Loftárása" (likely part of the inspiration for Troye Sivan's Blue Neighborhood project). More recently they have been going quite a bit darker, with extended metaphors for addiction and domestic abuse, such as in "Fjögur Píanó".
"It's My Life" is Bon Jovi's most-viewed music video ever, featuring a Bon Jovi fan (played by Will Estes) who has 5 minutes to make it from his house to a Bon Jovi concert taking place in LA's 2nd Street tunnel. The couple in this video are allegedly Tommy and Gina of "Living on a Prayer" fame, which ironically is a song whose lyrics tell a story but whose music video just features the band performing with particularly fantastic 80s hairdos. "Runaway" flashes to a young woman who, for most of the video, looks super awkward, until she finds herself dancing at a Bon Jovi performance. Actually, she still looks pretty awkward then too. Every 80s rock band needs a video that basically documents the band on tour, and "Wanted Dead or Alive" is Bon Jovi's version of that, as Jon is seen composing in a hotel room and staring out the tour bus window.
Prince has the advantage of drawing from the feature film of the same title as his 1984 album, Purple Rain. Although the music video for "Purple Rain" is not a story in itself, it transports us to the climax of the film where The Kid (aka Prince) performs the song to a thrilled crowd. The song doesn't need help to hit an emotional chord, but the story associated with it sure doesn't hurt. "When Doves Cry" also uses more dramatic footage from Purple Rain, but is most impressive when the second half of the video uses a mirroring effect on Prince and The Revolution. "Mountains" was a self-directed video made to accompany his film directorial debut for Under a Cherry Moon. The music cuts some of the black-and-white footage of the film, while an early use of a green screen helps them achieve the effect of Prince and his band flying through the clouds. "Partyman" was yet another soundtrack piece, but instead of cutting in scenes from Batman, Prince dresses up as his interpretation of The Joker and throws one of the coolest looking parties pre-1999. I can't leave this blog without talking about "Kiss." Not only is this one of his most incredible songs ever written, the video is also a great representation of Prince's own quirky sensuality, and shows off his rather under-rated dancing.
You may have all kinds of opinions about Taylor Swift, but she is pretty consistently fitting mini-movie plots into her music videos. Most recently, in "Delicate," Taylor seems to feel trapped by her celebrity status, but is transformed by a note passed to her on the red carpet that allows her to be invisible for the rest of the video. We pick up bits and pieces of a story through flashbacks in "I Knew You Were Trouble," which discovers Taylor in what looks like the abandoned Coachella grounds, as she recalls how much trouble one of her exes gave her. Declan Whitebloom directed "We Are Never Getting Back Together" to look like it was shot in one take; Taylor is seen giving her ex several second chances in different rooms of her apartment, while every chorus comes back to a party featuring a whole lot of people dressed as animals. "Blank Space" is without question my favourite T.Swift video; it looks like it's going to be a depiction of beautiful, rich life, but in the heat of an argument, Taylor embraces her exes' criticism and gives us the crazy Taylor we didn't know we wanted. Although "You Belong With Me" should not have won anything over Beyoncé's "Single Ladies," it does tell a cute story, and sets up Taylor's own identity as girl-next-door as she began to crossover from a predominantly country fanbase to mainstream pop.
I cannot believe that in my original post, I completely forgot about Eminem. If you are like me, I most associate Eminem with his ridiculous brash humour that creates the foundation for videos like "Without Me," and "The Real Slim Shady," but then I remember that he can create some pretty heavy stuff to. "Stan," might be his most brilliant work of all time, and "Love the Way You Lie," looks at a toxic, violent relationship with Rihanna that is chilling while being an incredibly catchy track at the same time. Of course there's the brilliant storytelling that comes from 8 Mile and its song that everyone can rap along to, "Lose Yourself."
P!nk has developed a reputation for being a very physical live performer, but nearly all of her tricks were first attempted in music videos. My favourite video of hers made me question whether she should be in the choreography (orange) bracket, because she is actually an incredible dancer as well. "Try" has her throwing and being thrown around by her partner, as they perform what I can only describe as a "fight-dance." In "So What," P!nk processes her rawest feelings at a low point in her marriage, and comes up with her funniest video yet. The theme of her dramatic love-hate relationships continues in her most recent video, "Beautiful Trauma," in which she shows off her ballroom dance skills with none other than Channing Tatum. "U + Ur Hand" takes inspiration from a slightly less personal realm, and looks at her alter-ego, "Lady Delish," in a storybook style. My party anthem of choice, "Raise Your Glass," is in song and video an ode to the outcast, and features nerd-P!nk (in black-rimmed glasses) sleeping with several religious leaders.
For N.W.A.'s inclusion here, I am considering their work together alongside their individual solo acts (Dr. Dre, Eazy E, and Ice Cube). For now, we'll start with their two best videos while they were still together. "Straight Outta Compton" is a simple depiction of the relationship between N.W.A. (and black men in general) and the L.A.P.D. in, you guessed it, the city of Compton. "Express Yourself" draws some striking parallels between slavery and modern incarceration. "Appetite for Destruction" compares the temptation for drugs to Adam and Eve's tragic apple craving. On a lighter note, Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day" is one of the greatest storytelling raps of the 80s, and the video does not disappoint, adding visuals to the lyrics. Dr Dre's "Let Me Ride" is fun video featuring some amazing cars, but ultimately it represents a truce between former NWA members, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, who appears in this video shortly after the 5:00 mark.
And there you have it! Watch out for the final polls of round 1, which I hope to post by this weekend. For now, it's time to make some tough decisions...