MVA Madness Round 1: Blue
While the orange brackets were full of artists who championed choreography in their music videos, these blue brackets are all about a strong concept that drives the images. With each match-up description, you'll find a handful of links to particular videos as you decide on your favourites. Then you can scroll down and fill in the ballots, and don't forget to track along with the competition by saving your own printable copy with your predictions for the Final Four!
UPDATE: These polls are now closed - scroll down to see the results!
Whatever your opinion may be about Kanye West, the man knows how to make a music video that people talk about. His pinnacle of concept (and controversy!) came when he released his video for "Famous," which features a $750,000 sculpture of 12 naked celebrities in bed together, including Taylor Swift, Kanye's wife Kim Kardashian, and presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, among others. For the album MBDTF, Kanye accompanied it with a Michael Jackson-esque film using stunning visuals, particularly for the video of "Runaway". Although the pieces fit into a larger body of work, the entire film (also entitled Runaway) is much stronger in concept than narrative. Some of Kanye's videos are super dark ("Flashing Lights") and others are downright silly ("The New Workout Plan") but no less memorable or effective. In my opinion, "All Falls Down" is too often neglected - it's so clever in its reveals of the camera's POV and work with reflections.
The White Stripes may not have had a long run, but in the time that Jack and Meg had together, they made some pretty incredible videos. I'm a huge fan of the multiplying drum sets in "The Hardest Button to Button," and the stop motion lego theme of "Fell In Love With a Girl" is mesmerizing. "Seven Nation Army" is both their biggest song and most memorable video, featuring a Russian-Doll effect of continuously tunnelling triangles. Their video for "Conquest" is very unique - featuring a relationship between a Matador and Bull. "Icky Thump" relies more on narrative than their usual videos, and is shot like a Mexican film, complete with Spanish subtitles.
Radiohead may only be seeded in 8th place, but I think they are easily a favourite in this bracket. Not only have they created a deep catalogue of videos, they have employed a huge range of concepts within their videos, managing to carve out a niche all to themselves. In "No Alarms and No Surprises," a tank slowly fills up with water, submerging Thom Yorke completely for a minute until it drains and fades to black. Their most narrative videos are also brilliant and unique, including "Just," where we're left to wonder why a man is lying in the street, and the stop-motion claymation for "Burn the Witch," which is disturbingly playful. I also recommend a more recent release - a fun elevator video for "Lift." My favourite Radiohead video is the black-and-white shot "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" that dramatically slows down several scenes in a trailer park, without telling you exactly what you're looking at or why.
Weezer wormed their way into our hearts at a time when the "adorable nerd" trope took over most media. With some clever editing tricks, they rode the wave of 60s nostalgia by clipping their band into an episode of Happy Days in the video for "Buddy Holly," and ever since, they have been working hard to remind us how cute they can be. That may be especially true for "Island in the Sun" where they teamed up with music video legend Spike Jonze and a whole bunch of little baby animals. ("Undone - The Sweater Song" also features dogs briefly). They even manage to pull off shooting a video at the Playboy Mansion ("Beverly Hills"), maintaining their adorableness by appearing awkward and out of place next to the models. In 2008 they returned to their reliance on nostalgia, this time by packing their video for "Pork and Beans" full of internet meme references and YouTube personalities - a video that was dated the moment it was conceived, but somehow it still works even now!
Kendrick Lamar has not only become one of the greatest rappers alive, but also a maker of captivating and symbolic music videos that capture every human emotion, often simultaneously. His most recent Grammy for a video went to "Humble," directed by Dave Meyer, who fills a video with stunning images, begging us to make connections between the lyrics and visuals without fully spelling it out for us. But get used to that kind of analysis if you're planning on watching more Kendrick videos. "D.N.A." is my other favourite from DAMN, which features Don Cheadle and Lamar in an interrogation room, spitting the verses rather intensely at each other. "Alright" became the anthem of Black Lives Matter protesters everywhere, and was paired with a near perfect video. Shot in black and white, it follows superhero Kendrick as he flies through the projects, giving hope to the people. From that same album, "King Kunta" also captures pure joy and celebration in the midst of the poverty of Kendrick's hometown, Compton. But perhaps the greatest expression of joy and pain is in his collaboration with Flying Lotus, "Never Catch Me," where two children dance away from their own funeral. Consider finding some tissues first.
I know I put these brackets together, but believe me, I was so angry when I saw that Outkast was going up against Kendrick. Although their videos aren't nearly as heavy, they are bold in their colour and playfulness. "Hey Ya" is easily their most recognized video, as a band made up entirely of André 3000s performs on a spoof of The Ed Sullivan Show, complete with screaming, fainting fans. But this is nowhere near their only impressive video. "The Whole World" finds the duo along with Killer Mike rapping from the centre ring of a circus. "The Way You Move" features a whole lot of dancing in different costumes appropriate to whatever the setting they happen to drop into. The Dave-Meyers-directed "B.O.B." seems to follow the formula for a classic hip hop video - it has the cars, the women, the bling - yet it runs as if it's on speed, with the characters constantly on the move (and maybe also on acid, judging from the oversaturation of every colour). What does Outkast have in common with both Michael Jackson and Halsey? Pulling inspiration from the tale of Romeo and Juliet. "Roses" is their high school theatre-style adaptation, and it's one of the most entertaining music vids on this list.
Although this match-up seems strange at first, I actually find it to be quite appropriate. Both Korn and M.I.A. rely on shock factor to make a statement about society. If you have never before experienced a Korn music video, prepare to be disturbed. Their most awarded and discussed video is for "Freak on a Leash," from their 1998 album, Follow the Leader. Directed by graphic artist Todd McFarlane, who designed the album art, the video moves seamlessly between animation and live action, featuring a bullet that rips through the "real world" before returning to its animated home. They continued to play with animation in "Evolution" and "Right Now" (the second I do not recommend, but the infographics in "Evolution" are pretty cool). They take a lighter approach with "Twisted Transistor," which pokes fun at the music industry while having band members played by rappers, including Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, Lil Jon, and David Banner.
M.I.A. has always relied on a strong concept, even when her content was lighter, as in the 2005 "Galang," which features a young M.I.A. dancing in front of her own animated graffiti artwork. Later she gets more serious, with a protest video about the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia ("Bad Girls"), a video directed by Romain Gavras imagining what a war on redheads might look like ("Born Free",) and a beautiful way of tackling the refugee crisis through the timely video for "Borders". Her recent 2017 video for "P.O.W.A." is worth a watch for the colours alone. It's no question that music videos have been an important way for M.I.A. to flush out the messages of her music and continually connect to her fans.
The Foo Fighters videos, regularly under the direction of band leader Dave Grohl, are clearly inspired by his sense of humour. Take "Big Me," the parody of a Mentos commercial, or "Everlong," the Michel Gondry-directed satire that jumps in and out of dreams faster than you can fall asleep, or "Long Road to Ruin," the spoof of a 70's Soap Opera, or "Learn to Fly," in which Dave Grohl plays every character on an airplane (except for the one that Jack Black portrays). Not all their videos are hilarious; some are mostly serious - see "My Hero" for a more pensive side of the Foo Fighters.
On radio, Kylie Minogue may be known for her dance floor bangers, but she has also turned out some highly artistic videos with the help of some big name directors. "Can't Get You Outta My Head" is easily her most successful hit, and chances are you remember the futuristic visuals that went along with it, particularly the men in red visor-masks dancing along with Kylie. She turns her video for "Confide in Me" into a 6-minute-long infomercial, with the title as the call to action. I'm not sure how I feel about "All the Lovers," but it is certainly memorable, with a sort of orgy pyramid taking place in the middle of a city, Kylie standing at its peak. A near opposite would be her subtle video for "Slow," where the camera switches between ultra-close-ups on the singer and wider pans to show her in a sea of isolated, bathing men. But in my mind, Kylie's best video comes from director Michel Gondry. "Come Into My World" features Kylie wandering around a single intersection in Paris, but each time she makes a complete round, another Kylie appears out of the same shop. At the end of the video, there are 4 Kylies present and overlapping each other, while the scene builds in chaos as Gondry has also multiplied the extras and their actions in the background.
When I think of Coldplay's music videos, I remember watching the "backwards" video for "The Scientist" and going directly to A&B Sound to buy the single. It was the first and only time I purchased a single by a band I thought I'd never heard before (I'd heard "Yellow" but I didn't know it was them). Speaking of "Yellow," the video for that song is significant in that it was shot in a single take, which was more of a novel idea at that time, though it's used more frequently now. Even since their early days, Coldplay has consistently put energy (and funds) into making some truly memorable vids. "Up & Up" plays with size and scale, "Strawberry Swing" makes use of stop motion and chalkboard drawings, and "Life in Technicolor II" features Coldplay puppets (for better or worse)!
St. Vincent's videos feel a little less "novelty" and a little more unsettling, but no less fascinating. One of my favourites will always be "Actor Out of Work" which features multiple actors crying on demand. For her most recent album, Misseduction, both "Los Ageless," and "New York" play with odd imagery including the roles and personas that women often take on in much of American suburbia. Her portrayals of breaking out of conformity are thoughtfully imagined in "Digital Witness" and, well... you can tell me what's going on in the slightly more narrative, "Jesus Saves, I Spend".
Bjork is well into her third decade of making brilliantly thoughtful videos to accompany her distinct musical sound. In 1993, many North Americans discovered this Icelander with the video for "Big Time Sensuality," which was shot in black and white entirely from the back of a truck that drove the singer around New York City: simple but so memorable. The video pictured above is from the incredibly fun musical-themed "It's Oh So Quiet," directed by none other than the incomparable Spike Jonze. But usually Bjork is a bit more on the dramatic side, as in the Michel-Gondry-directed "Hyperballad," or, perhaps her most acclaimed video, the robotic, romantic "All is Full of Love."
Fatboy Slim has worked with some of the same directors as Bjork, and has similarly made videos that have worked their way into our pop culture memories forever. Perhaps the most brilliant move was having Spike Jonze direct a video of Christopher Walken dancing around an empty hotel for the entirety of "Weapon of Choice." Then again, so was getting a dance troop to do a flash-mob-style music video on a sidewalk in L.A. for "Praise You," this time featuring Spike Jonze in front of the camera! Even when they weren't working with Spike, they still managed to turn out vids like the extra-long PSA "Don't Let the Man Get You Down," the bizarrely comedic "Ya Mama," or "Right Here, Right Now," which chronicles the history of human evolution.
Peter Gabriel is one of the first great music video artists, and it is important to keep the era in mind when watching his music videos. Nearly everyone in the concept and narrative brackets have used stop motion at some point, and although Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" wasn't the first ever, it's the most recognizable, popular use, extra impressive considering this was 1985. He ended up making his video for "Big Time," from the same album, in a similar style, with the same director, Stephen R. Johnson, who was clearly at the top of the game. Gabriel continued to impress us in 1992 with "Digging in the Dirt," this time working with director John Dower. Although his stop motion videos are his most famous, "Shock the Monkey" has garnered plenty of interest for its metaphorical narrative, where three separate scenes (featuring a business man, a hospitalized(?) man in face paint, and a monkey, respectively), all start to merge together. Anti-war song "Games Without Frontiers" pairs footage from the Olympics alongside footage from a 1951 instructional video about nuclear attacks with surprising success.
FKA Twigs shocks her audience in a different way, often messing with all of our expectations. Watch "Two Weeks" carefully enough and it will get more impressive each time; you'll notice layer upon layer in the continually expanding scene as the perspective widens. Usually when artists do a close-up video, the effect is an especially human vulnerability (as in Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares to You"), but when FKA Twigs does it in "Water Me", she manages to appear less and less human throughout the video. She is known for her dark sensuality, often exploring the tension between pleasure and pain, as in "Pendulum" or "Video Girl". I have yet to see a video from FKA Twigs that isn't thick with layers of symbols and meaning, and to top it all off, she can also dance, which she shows off a little in "Glass and Patron".
And so, here we are with another set of difficult decisions. Who would you like to see more videos from in future rounds of MVA Madness? Submit your votes below now!