While out partying two Sun nights ago, I was asked by a 'scene' photographer from Now Magazine to comment on Michael Jackson's death and pose for a shot. This put me in a bit of an awkward position because unlike many people, I didn't grow up listening to his music and loving him. Though his death came as a surprise, I was not that saddened. To me, Michael was an effeminate, eccentric caricature of a man/boy and I was always puzzled by how reverently the mainstream public embraced him. So, I ended up drunkenly saying: "You can't top dancing zombies. No one can ever do that again. That's just where I'm coning from."
Though his talent was undeniable and I do like some of his songs, in my mind, his greatest contribution was the music video for "thriller"- a true milestone for the medium. Amidst the overwhelming onslaught of tributes, retrospectives, investigative reports and memorials that have followed his death, clips from the "thriller" video continue to give me chills.
This got me thinking about other music videos that have impacted, inspired or influenced me.
Below is an alphabetical list of 92 that came to mind that I have been rewatching recently. Why 92? Just because. I would have embedded links to them but due to annoying copyright issues many of the vids keep getting pulled and put back up with other links. You'll just have to settle for my brief commentary. So, discover ones that sound interesting to you or revisit ones that you may have forgotten. Maybe you will get inspired too.
I'm sure I've left out some good ones so feel free to weigh in with a response.
Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and 91 other Music Videos that have Impacted, Inspired and Influenced Me
A-Ha- "take on me"
- A classic with special effects that still hold up while the 80s hairstyles thankfully don't. The ending would have been better if the lead girl went to live with the hero in the comic book/sketch world but then we wouldn't get the best part- when he shakes off his sketchiness to become real in her world.
All American Rejects- "move along"
- Appeals to my appreciation of static, tableau style shots. Added bonus is they move along at a crazy fast pace to the beat.
Aphex twin- "windowlicker"
- One of the all time best videos and by clocking in at over 10 mins, is actually more like a short film. Terrifically twisted and hilarious, director Chris Cunningham parodies the stereotypes of hypersexuality, overindulgence and greed perpetuated by hip hop videos.
The Avalanches- "Frontier Psychiatrist"
- A song that samples dialogue from John Waters' 'Polyester' (1981) (among other things) better be paired with a campy, ridiculous video. And it is. Each sample is literalized in one zany, goofy, low tech stage production. May fav is the chorus of see-through dancing sheet ghosts.
Bat for lashes- "what's a girl to do"
- Consisting of one long take, Natasha Khan wears a goddy sweater and rides her bike down a country road in the dead of night flanked by bmxers wearing masks that perform tricks in sync with the beat. Strangely beautiful and technically impressive.
Beyonce- "me, myself & I"
- Oddly unBeyonce-like. Stripped of her recent 'diva' ego, Beyonce discovers that her man is cheatin,' confronts him, keys his car, chops off her hair and emerges a brand new woman- all revealed in reverse, backwards.
Bjork- "all is full of love"
- Another stunner by Chris Cunningham. Robot Bjorks are woken up/operated on by other machines and subsequently sing to each other, make out and finger each other. Somehow a perfect marriage of video and song.
Bjork- "it's oh so quiet"
- Spike Jonze's playful take on the Hollywood Musical genre.
Bjork- "pagan poetry"
- Subtle, sensual and scary. Low end DV images of Bjork being pierced and threaded with strings of pearls (including an extreme close up of her nipple) are paired with simplistic sketches.
Bush- "greedy fly"
- Epic, rainy, dark and filled with weird Kafkaesque imagery.
The Chemical Brothers- "let forever be"
- Michel Gondry at his best- playfully depicting a young woman's dreams and nightmares in inventive ways. A trippy take on the Hollywood Musical genre.
The Chemical Brothers- "setting sun"
- A hot raver girl wakes up in a field, finds her way home and gets plagued by recurring flashbacks/hallucinations of the previous night's party. Then her high mirror image/evil twin storms in for a confrontation. Who cares if it doesn't make sense- we've all been there.
The Chemical Brothers- "star guitar"
- A perfect translation of song into video as trees and buildings fly past the window of a speeding train in sync to the beat.
Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya, Lil Kim, Missy Elliot- "lady marmalade"
- This is included here for the costumes and makeup and for how frumpy Lil' Kim is.
Coldplay- "the scientist"
- Some more reverse, backwards narrative for you. I couldn't get the image of the car crashing in reverse out of my head. Beautiful and stirring.
- Simple and brilliant. Working out the timing would have been difficult. Plus, this was back when Chris Martin looked good.
Daft Punk- "around the world"
- Intricate and crazy, Michel Gondry represents each element of the song by a different group of dancers in costumes. It must have required an insane amount of rehearsal and directing it was probably a nightmare. I can only imagine screaming: "Now skeletons, go, now spacemen, mummies, no wait, the synchronized swimmers were off beat. Fuck!" I like the mummies and their dance moves the best.
Death Cab for Cutie- "I will follow you into the dark"
- Though a little bit sappy, this video makes up for it by being a little bit creepy. As Ben Gibbard mourns the death of a loved one in his one room apartment, a tiny hole in the floor grows until it engulfs the room and Gibbard willingly jumps into it (symbolizing suicide?).
- You can't really go wrong by opening a video with a shot of gold sneakers. Similar to The White Stripes' "the hardest button to button" video, objects and people are added and subtracted to a room as the camera dizzyingly whirls around 360 degrees.
Dragonette- "take it like a man"
- Opening with an almost shot for shot remake of the scene from 'Boogie Nights' (1997) in which Mark Whalberg first fucks Julianne Moore but with Martina Sorbara as the star performer with the burgeoning talent. Cheap, funny and well styled.
Elton John- "this train don't stop there anymore"
- Meant to flow like a one take, tracking shot (but not one), Justin Timberlake stands in as Elton John making his way through labyrinthine backstage hallways, meeting stand ins from the past (Liza, etc) before taking the stage at the conclusion of the video. Touching and memorable.
Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton- "doctor blind"
- Seemingly bland as Emily Haines languidly wanders a dull department store (Zellers?) until she turns around and finds all the other shoppers lined up behind her. She pushes the person closest to her, creating a domino effect of bodies knocking over in slow motion and a very cool video.
Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton- "Our hell"
- Truly striking and haunting. Weird guys in masks, white trash sunbathing, Emily Haines crying, a sad clown and more all shot with infa red or the florescent thing they use to find DNA (cum or blood stains) on CSI (?). Unlike anything else I've seen.
Fatboy Slim- "praise you"
- Yes we have all seen it a thousand times but like 'The Blair Witch Project' (1999), it is brilliant with its DIY, low tech, why didn't I think of that! approach. Plus, it is still funny.
Feist- "1, 2, 3, 4"
- As giddy and exuberant as a Sat morning kids show minus the schmaltz. Feist and a troupe of vibrantly dressed dancers (including a friend and the lead actor of my most recent short film) dance on stage with a swirling camera in another one take wonder.
Feist- "inside and out"
- Playing with still images, negative space/negatives, and black and white. Clever and chic with nods to the nouvelle vague- specifically 'Cléo from 5 to 7' (1962).
Fever Ray- "if I had a heart"
- Derek Jarman (the shards of shinning mirrors, costumes) meets Kubrick (the tracking shots). Unsettling and obtuse.
Fiona apple- "criminal"
- The wreckage of the coolest house party you weren't invited to is inspected with a roaming spot light. All waifish and wispy (and hot), Fiona confesses to the camera, hides in the closet like an abused child, strips in the kitchen and bathes with a hairy legged, unseen man. Cool and weird and featuring bedsheets we have up at my cottage.
Fischerspooner- "never win"
- Pausing, rewinding and fast forwarding the image as a whole and components within the image (characters, props, etc) to the beat never looked so...neat. Features some cool dancing and Gaultier inspired makeup.
Foo Fighters- "everlong"
- First of all, this is actually a really good song from the Foos. Pairing them with Gondry for another one of his dream adventures was a good idea. Dave Grohl and the drummer (in drag) play a happy couple who must battle henchmen in their dreams while they sleep. Featuring the organic, homemade special effects (as opposed to CGI) and surreal props we expect from Gondy.
- With skin as white as milk, Shirley Manson appears like an apparition, back lit by a spiralling white spot light and defined red beams. Simple and pretty.
Gnarls Barkley- "crazy"
- Rorschach inkblot tests get animated.
Goldfrapp- "ride a white horse"
- Serving up some decaying decadence and grotesque glamor!
Hot Chip- "ready for the floor"
- As wacky and nerdy as the band. The lead singer does his best Joker meets the Mad Hatter impression in a toy factory/contemporary art gallery. Overall it feels a little New Orderish but I love the bit where the dancers in front of the black screen get splattered with paint.
Jamiroquai- "virtual insanity"
- Ingenious! The entire floor of a modern room acts like one of those flat escalators at the airport as Jamiroquai (in that hat!) flamboyantly dances about and maneuvers around furniture. I love the beetle and 'The Shining' (1980) inspired blood pooling.
Janet Jackson- "got 'til it's gone"
- From the wallpaper to the clothes, to the cast, this vid is perfect. Amazingly styled and art directed, Romanek accomplishes exactly what he attempts- the viewer is totally immersed in 60's, 70's African and African American culture. With a sense of freedom of expression and empowerment, coloured people dance and party the night away in a bar that clearly states "Europeans only" as Janet performs as a lounge singer. Political and powerful.
Johnny Cash- "hurt"
- Combines old film clips and photographs from Johnny's past with footage of him lamenting the man he has become. Painful and moving.
- Over the top, extravagant and in your face. In this vid, Kelis is frivolous, fierce and the H.B.C as she literally walks all over people and flashes her bling.
- Lost on some dusty stretch of highway in the desert, Ladytron interact with a wolf, a fuckload of rabbits, smash up a car and find some great places to pose for the camera. Love the glinty, sun drenched cinematography and the awesome closing shot.
Legion of Green Men- "synaptic response"
- A copper/marionette mannequin awakens and does some interpretive dance with a bunch of antique objects including a camera on a tripod and a protractor. Reminds me of 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929) and some of the early Surrealist films.
Living Things- "bom bom bom"
- Propaganda poster animation on acid. Plus, the lead singer is hot.
- Includes some amazing editing. Madonna appears as some kind of Hindu witch that transforms into a hound and a flock of ravens in the desert. She also dances with two other versions of herself.
Madonna- "human nature"
- "Express yourself don't repress yourself," orders Madonna as the S&M bitch goddess in this video. Subtly has never been her thing but Madonna really runs with "breaking all the rules." Featuring choreographed bondage, simulated cunnilingus, gang banging and all kinds of fetish play performed with a fuck-you sense of humor.
Madonna- "ray of light"
- Life on fast forward or on too much drugs with Madonna dancing like a madwoman. Brilliant.
Marilyn Manson- "the beautiful people"
- Without the videos Floria Sigismondi directed for the band, Marilyn Manson would never have made the same impact they did. Marilyn Manson (the man) is some kind of demented cult leader on stilts in this one. The insane asylum styling with antique medical equipment and torn up fetish wear stomped Manson into our minds.
Marilyn Manson- "tourniquet"
- This video takes Sigismondi's aesthetic one step further and all the disturbing elements of her photography and previous videos get dialed up. More animals are incorporated (a vulture, beetles, sea horses, a horse- even Manson gets transformed into a giant moth). Manson seems to be playing a self mutilating Buffalo Bill type character keeping a half woman alive in a glass enclosure assisted by a dirty child or dwarf. Yup.
Martina Topley Bird- "anything"
- Sigismondi shows a softer side with Martina naked and covered from head to toe in black, sparkly paint.
Massive Attack- "butterfly caught"
- In a sparsely decorated apartment lit by flickering fluorescent bulbs, Robert Del Naja's skin is slowly imprinted with the markings and patterns that adorn the wings of moths and butterflies. Creepy, cool and the special effects are impressive.
Matthew Good Band- "the future is x rated"
- A tongue-in-cheek, behind the scenes/tour documentary style video where the band poke fun at themselves, reality television and infomercials. Surprisingly funny and features some well written quotes that scroll across the screen and appear on hand scrawled signs.
Miami Horror- "don't be on with her"
- Opening with static and skipping lines like you are watching an old, run down VHS recording, this video is cheap, tacky fun the whole way through as the band performs on a fake Euro Trash music show from the early 80s.
Michael Jackson- "thriller"
- What more could you ask for? Choreographed dancing zombies? Check. A werewolf? Check. It is like an all out celebration of my favourite holy holiday- Halloween!
Michael and Janet Jackson- "scream"
- An angry Michael and Janet retaliate against the media for misrepresenting and pressuring them in this futuristic banger that reportedly cost 7 million to produce. Features some amazing choreography, special effects and the pair display some serious attitude, chemistry and sex appeal (as weird/impossible as that may sound).
Missy Elliot- "she's a bitch"
- You betta watch out. Missy is comin' at ya as a bald, bloated sea monster...that tries to dance. As well as a futuristic, S&M cowboy...I mean cowgirl.
Moby- "natural blues"
- Christina Ricci as the angel of death pays a visit to an elderly Moby as he reminisces about his life in an old folks home. Surprisingly heart wrenching from Lachapelle. The blending of old home movies with the present reality of the video impacted me and my own work. Includes a nice cameo by Fairuza Balk. Side note- My current part time job is as a cleaner in the veteran's ward of a hospital and I'd say this is a pretty accurate depiction of what these people's last days are like.
Nine Inch Nails- "closer"
The video reeks of Joel Peter Witkin and the Brothers Quay but oh what a sweet stench it is. I remember when it first aired. I was 9 or 10 and both disturbed and turned on by the images of Trent Reznor blindfolded, gagged and bound. The use of antiquated film and it skipping, burning and scratching has had a strong impact on my own work. You can see the influence of this video everywhere including 'The Cell' (2000) and Tamia's video for "imagination."
Nine Inch Nails- "starfuckers, inc."
Trent and Marilyn Manson dressed in drag angrily skewer society's obsession with celebrity, Hollywood and groupie mentality in raw, dirty and funny ways. Fitting for a song with such awesome lyrics as: "when I suck you off not a drop will go to waste. It's really not so bad once you get past the taste."
Nine Inch Nails- "the perfect drug"
Tim Burton meets Edward Gorey meets Edvard Munch
Nirvana- "heart shaped box"
- I never really bought into the Nirvana hype and worship. But the sacrilegious imagery paired with pop art colours, sets and the singing mechanical ravens in this vid almost sold me.
No Doubt- "underneath it all"
- Great editing right off the bat with Gwen taking and retaking off her clothes. Followed by a series of scenes unrelated to each other or the lyrics (and hey, why not, it is a music video after all) showing all sides of Gwen: the hip, street girl who can play bball with the boys in her band, the reggae bike rider, the glamour puss, a prettier version of Sinead O'Connor from her "nothing compares 2 U" video and finally, the real, stripped down Gwen, fresh faced and pure, jumping on her bed in the sunlight.
Of Montreal - "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse"
- Kind of like the video for Robyn's "konichiwa bitches" meets the video for The Avalanches' "Frontier Psychiatrist" with its wacky, tacky styling and stage performance (there is even a white sheet ghost as one of the audience members)! Ridiculous.
Orbital- "the box"
Tilda Swinton as an alien tweaks out while walking the streets. Awesome.
Patrick Wolf- "wind in the wires"
- Back when Patrick Wolf was beautiful he made a video that totally fetishized his long dark hair, bow tie lips and skinny lankiness. (how does someone let themselves go so much?- I don't care if they fall in love!)
Peaches- "talk to me"
- Hair, hair, everywhere (and not just from Peaches' armpits this time). Peaches freaks out in a haunted house accompanied by female back up dancers with some serious rogaine/miracle grow addictions. Reminiscent of the "windowlicker" video with a little 'Videodrome' (1983) thrown in for good measure.
Peter Gabriel- "sledgehammer"
- Another classic. Claymation, pixilation, and stop motion animation give life to the images in the song in this wonderfully weird, magical masterpiece. Gabriel apparently had lie under a sheet of glass for 16 hours while filming the video one frame at a time
P J Harvey- "a place called home"
- This is a good example of why music videos don't always need crazy concepts or story lines. Sometimes sticking to one cool effect (in this case, layering different takes of the same shot so they bleed and ghost over each other, creating multiple P Js) and experimenting with it is more than enough.
P J Harvey and John Parish- "black hearted love"
- In a dark forest, P J Harvey jumps up and down on an inflatable castle in the pouring rain. In slow motion. What else do you want?
P J Harvey- "C'mon Billy"
- P J Harvey as a lounge singer gets the man she has been yearning for- even if he doesn't want her back. A dark and creepy little vid with a good reveal at the end.
- Stay off the drugs kids- or stay ON your meds if you are prescribed them. The world of singer Brian Molko (when he used to be hot) gets seriously warped. Some nice 'Requiem for a Dream' style shots, people in masks and a chair that lip syncs the song! Plus, Brian wears underwear for most of it.
Portishead- "only you"
- At first I didn't love this video. I didn't think it suited the song. But the images of Beth Gibbons and an unknown boy singing and moving underwater, then transposed into a dark alley are surreal and pretty. Features some good editing.
Queen and David Bowie- "under pressure"
- Found footage cut to the beat! Idea-associative editing! Awesome.
Radiohead- "house of cards"
- Like Bjork, Radiohead consistently push the boundaries of the medium and freely experiment. In 'house of cards' no cameras or lights were used. Instead, 3D plotting technologies collected information about the shapes and relative distances of objects. Kind of like the cover of Joy Division's 'unknown pleasures' album come to life. As haunting as the song.
Radiohead- "karma police"
- Featuring a perfectly cast car and precise cinematography and editing. This noirish revenge video is creepy and perfect.
Radiohead- "no surprises"
- Little lights blink in time with the music, slowly revealing Thom Yorke's face behind glass (actually contained in a glass helmet). Water slowly creeps in, submerging Yorke completely. He holds his breath for as long as he can, staring directly into the camera before the water empties out and Yorke gasps for air, lip syncing the rest of the lyrics. Brave and brilliant.
Radiohead- "street spirit (fade out)"
- Things are slowed down and sped while subjects in the same scene move at different speeds, acrobatic nuns dance, locusts fly and a crazed doberman freaks out, all shot in stark black and white and in a trailer park. Jonathan Glazer's finest work and a video beautiful enough to be paired with the song.
R.E.M- "imitation of life"
- Michael Stipe best describes this amazing video set at a crowded pool party: "The entire video took twenty seconds to shoot. What you're watching is a loop that goes forwards for twenty seconds, backwards for twenty seconds, forwards for twenty seconds, backwards for twenty seconds, with one camera, static, and then using a technique called 'pan and scan', which is a technical thing that is used when they go from a widescreen format and reformat to fit your television or DVD, moving in on certain parts of the entire picture. And you'll see that we do that picking up various people within the frame." Little narratives and story lines emerge, revealing people's insecurities, obsessions and lives.
Robyn- "handle me"
- Decked out in Jeremy Scott, Robyn dances and poses to the beat in the cubes left over from Madonna's "human nature" video. Well edited. Hump that teddy bear!
Robyn- "konichiwa bitches"
- The craziest cartoon karaoke kids show instructional video ever! Each of Robyn's rhymes and metaphors are literalized with cardboard cut-out props, set dec and costumes stolen from grade school plays.
Sarah Harmer- "don't get your back up"
- Simple and quiet. Sarah lounges around in a hotel bathtub, orders room service and flounces around the bedroom.
- I like a girl who isn't afraid to get ugly and in this video where Sia's face is taped, tied, pinched, bound and smothered, she definitely gets ugly. Simple, light hearted and fun yet disturbing, you can never guess what they will do to poor Sia's face next. I love the pastel 80s Sears portrait backdrop too.
Sigur Ros- "Saeglopur"
- As the sun sets, a thin young boy walks into the ocean, leaving his girlfriend at the shoreline. He submerges himself just as the song crescendos, descending into the depths. I feel you, kid. Sometimes I just want to leave everything on land behind and swim into the dark. But the ocean doesn't want to let him go as he is attacked by a jellyfish monster and sea kelp.
Sinead O'Connor- "nothing compares 2 U"
- At a time when flash, glitz and big hair were big in videos, Sinead O'Connor went the minimal and bald route. The video consists almost solely of a closeup on O'Connor's face as she sings the song's lyrics. Toward the end, two tears roll down her face, one per cheek, and it is a monumental moment in the video and for music videos period.
Smashing Pumpkins- "1979"
- As perfectly as Romanek captures the essence and feel of a time and place in his video for Janet Jackson's "got 'til it's gone", the directing team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, perfectly capture the reckless, restless, angsty rage of mid-nineties teenagers stranded in suburbia. The video follows a day in the life of disaffected teenagers, depicting an idealized version of teenage life while also capturing the directionless, bored feelings teenagers experience. I can't watch the video without being struck by strong waves of nostalgia for that time and for watching the video when it first came out. Probably in the top three vids on this list for me. The band members have cameos in the video with James Iha appearing as a convenience store clerk, D'arcy Wretzky as an irate neighbour, and Jimmy Chamberlin as a policeman. Band manager "Gooch" plays Jimmy's partner
Smashing Pumpkins- "ava adore"
- Billy Corgan as Nosferatu takes us on a tour of various sound stages in one long tracking shot. Strangely, the behind the scenes stuff (lights, dolly track, camera guy pulling cable) are obviously revealed at one point. I love it when the band walks into the movie theatre set and their image is playing in real time on the screen behind them.
- An unnecessary and tame yet interesting R & B take on Nine Inch Nails' "closer" video.
The White Stripes- "seven nation army"
- A constant, trippy optical illusion with a great colour scheme (red, white and black). Copied by a lot of shitty bands including The Ting Tings in their video for "shut up and let me go."
The White Stripes- "the hardest button to button"
- Using pixilation animation, dozens of drum kits and guitar amplifiers multiply and subtract to the rhythm of the song as Jack and Meg perform.
Thunderheist- "jerk it"
- A hipster chick jerks off a cock for the entire video. Really. But not that kind of cock- a real cock. A rooster! She holds it up by its feet and shakes it, the close ups of her facial expressions, arm muscles and leg muscles moving in slow motion making you think of other things. Funny and smart.
- The Brothers Quay pop up again in this scary stop motion animation nightmare.
Tori Amos- "spark"
- The video opens at the scene of a car crash- but this car crash has saved the life of Tori Amos who was kidnapped, blindfolded and bound in the trunk. Lying on the ground outside the car, she can't untie her wrists or blindfold but she does muster the strength and perseverance to get up and blindly make her way through the forest, relying on her instincts to survive as she is pursued by one of the kidnappers. She manages to make it across the river, lose the blindfold and make it to a road where you think she will finally be saved. But you're wrong. Enthralling and truly suspenseful.
Tricky- "makes me wanna die"
- Hazy and kind of like an artsy Fear Factor episode for Martina in the dirty bathtub, Sigismondi really throws in the wildlife, including water snakes and various lizards. She even goes as far as transforming Tricky into a half man/half lizard with eyes that rotate individually and gives him a flicking, forked tongue. The video closes with a stunning image of lizards piled atop Martina's head like a headdress.
Xiu Xiu- "Bishop, CA"
- Scratchy, grainy film images of nature and the sky. Like a collection of the artsier outakes of someone's road trip footage. An eerie postcard of America?
Yeah Yeah Yeahs- "gold lion"
- The band performs some kind of ritualistic burning ceremony in the desert where their instruments go up in flames.