Friday, December 28, 2012

Playback 2012: 12 Great Music Videos

English rapper Plan B, aka Ben Drew.
His video for "ill Manors" made my list of 2012's greatest videos. 

Lots of people are proud of the fact that they can name the first music video to air on MTV back in 1981 -- "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles. What few people know is that the song went to number one in 16 countries, excluding the United States, in 1979. And airing on the network still couldn't rescue The Buggles from one-hit-wonder status.

Conceived primarily as a marketing device to promote sales, the music video has been around in some form or another since the 1960s. MTV, and later VH1, provided the outlet for the medium to flourish and suddenly every artist and band needed a video. When those networks abandoned music videos for reality-based programming, the Internet proved to be an even more perfect fit. Launched in 2005, YouTube has made viewing music videos fast and easy. Proof? Justin Bieber's "Baby" video has been viewed over 800 million times! (Feel free to weep for humanity). Can't find the video you're looking for on YouTube? It's probably on VEVO or Dailymotion.

So, what makes a great music video? We could debate this for an entire lost weekend. For me, it starts with a good song. Sometimes the artist/band is mesmerizing enough to hold my attention without a lot of bells and whistles. Then again, I love it when they come up with an unexpectedly clever or witty concept. But I can really appreciate a superbly choreographed and edited performance, too.  And finally, there are those rare music videos that transcend whatever's fashionable at the moment and introduces or advances a new aesthetic. Here are 12 of the videos I watched repeatedly in 2012. It's a diverse collection, selected for many different reasons, and I believe they're all truly great. Your reactions may vary, of course. Comments welcome.

"Gangnam Style" - PSY. Let's get things started with the video that finally surpassed Justin Bieber's "Baby" as the most-watched of all time on YouTube. Yes, "Gangnam Style" has over a billion views as I write this.  Psy is a South Korean songwriter/rapper/dancer/producer whose international hit refers to the affluent Gangnam district of Seoul. The video -- a satire of the lifestyle there -- is bursting with energy, comically brilliant ideas and zany dancing.

"Call Me Maybe" - The U.S. Marines Lip-dub Version. Carly Rae Jepsen's ubiquitous sugar-rush pop hit had a sweet little video that depicted her swooning over the boy next door, who looks like an Abercrombie & Fitch model and turns out to be -- spoiler alert! -- gay. The song inspired literally hundreds of spoofs, parodies and feel-good lip dub videos that you can find all over YouTube. The best, to me, is this one put together by a bunch of U.S. Marines stationed in Afghanistan. Confession: I'm a sucker for this kind of video. Some folks can't seem to appreciate watching military personnel cutting up and having fun, but I wholeheartedly approve of something this harmless, especially if it keeps them sane over there.

"Express Yourself" - Diplo (featuring Nicky Da B). Diplo is a Philadelphia-based DJ, producer and songwriter. Nicky Da B comes from the world of bounce rappers, a cultural creation emerging from New Orleans. Their musical collaboration is hyperactive, edgy and funky. The video is an intoxicating mash-up of rapping and ass-shaking on the streets of New Orleans. I'm serious about the ass-shaking.

"Losing You" - Solange. Solange Knowles is the younger sister of Beyonce. Feel free to make your comparisons. I believe she successfully emerges from her big sister's shadow with "Losing You," a terrific mixed-mood dance dirge. The video was shot in a section of Cape Town, South Africa, and features locals as well as Les Sapeurs (Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People), a group of men from the Congo who make and model colorful handmade suits. The captivating mixture of splendid fashion, unusual location and Solange's impossibly long legs is a fascinating juxtaposition to the lyrics.

"My Country" - tUne-yArDs. Tune-Yards (stylized as tUnE-yArDs) is the brainchild of New Englander Merrill Garbus, a woman with an extraordinarily versatile voice, described by the New York Times as "somewhere between Aretha Franklin and Yoko Ono. At times it's a roar, and at times it's coy, but her ability to modulate it shows off a rhythmic and artistic intelligence that echoes Bjork, and even to a degree M.I.A." The video for "My Country" features the kids of Brightworks School and San Francisco Rock Project, a non-profit dedicated to providing musical education for young musicians 7-18 in California's Bay Area. About the only thing that could upstage Garbus' show-stopping vocals are a mob of dancing, face-painted kids making goofy faces.

"The Full Retard" - El-P. If the title alone doesn't offend you, something in the clip probably will. Here we have Brooklyn rapper El-P teaming up with a demented, murderous, drug-addicted squirrel puppet. There's a crime spree. And debauchery. Yeah, the puppet goes to some dark, fucked up places. It's a bangin' song and a hilarious video (once you accept it as a parody of a million bad rap videos and terrible badass movies). It's totally NSFW (not safe for work). Seriously.

"How Deep is Your Love" - The Rapture. They're a New York-based post-punk revival indie band
that mixes a lot of genres. "How Deep is Your Love" is NOT a cover of the old Bee Gees hit, but rather a terrific gospel-disco number that really finds its groove about forty seconds in. The video is a loving ode to African-American church ladies. Vocalist Luke Jenner has been miniaturized and inserted into their Sunday rituals. It's sublime and ridiculous.

"Want it Back" - Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra. Alternative rockers Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra have a dark, but energetic sound. Palmer's voice is distinctive and memorable. So's this video, a beautiful stop-motion animation piece that features the song's lyrics written on a variety of surfaces, including Palmer's naked body. Taking three days to shoot and featuring the skills of tattoo-graffiti artist Curran James, this is one of the most visually arresting videos of the year. (So let's be clear: This is uncensored and NSFW.)

"Borrow and Bomb" / "I Got News For You" - OFF! Formed in 2009, OFF! is a hardcore punk band featuring members of other bands like Circle Jerks, Black Flag and Burning Brides. They specialize in aggressive songs that kick ass even if they only last about a minute. This video is a clever, lampoon of those local TV shows that were so prevalent back in the day. Divided into two parts, the first features Kids in the Hall alumni Dave Foley as the befuddled host of Teen Talk with special guests OFF! Then the whole thing switches to a workout program called Electracize that's hosted by a sweaty bear in a tank top and leg warmers. Even if you don't like punk, the video's aesthetic is genuinely hilarious. (And Canadian Dave Foley is one of that country's national treasures.)

"National Anthem" - Lana Del Rey. Singer/songwriter (and fashion model) Lana Del Rey uploaded some of her music to a YouTube channel in 2011, got discovered, and signed a recording contract. Her first album hit big, got positive reviews and led to a January 2012 appearance as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. Her music is chilly, torchy and a little hip hoppy. She can get away with this line: Money is the anthem of success, so put on mascara and your party dress. This seven minute video for "National Anthem," is undeniably brazen and self-indulgent, featuring Del Rey as some kind of Marilyn Monroe/Jackie Kennedy hybrid married to a "president" played by rapper ASAP Rocky. A spin on the romantic myth of the Kennedy presidency unfolds in stunningly hypnotic Super-8 photography. And you'll know from the first minute where it's all headed -- a can't-look-away re-enactment of the JFK assassination that either embodies bad taste or transcends it, depending on who you are.

"iLL Manors" - Plan B. At 28, British rapper Ben Drew, AKA Plan B, wrote and directed the film ill Manors, then produced a soundtrack album for it as well. NPR said Plan B's burning scorn for society on the title track "is a bitterly articulate howl of underclass rage." It's one of the best songs of the year -- that no one in America seems to have heard. But then, it's protest music, a fairly elusive genre in the U.S. The video is a riveting, dizzying, seamlessly edited combination of scenes from the 2011 London riots and staged carnage. It's immersive, feeling more like a documentary than a music video.


"Let's Have a Kiki" - Scissor Sisters. First they recorded the best novelty dance track of 2012, then they put together an inspired, gloriously low-budget "instructional" video treatment to bring us all up to speed.

And if you'd like to see any of my 13 honorable mentions below, click on a title to take you to the video.

"Wut" - Le1f. The openly gay rapper recorded dance floor gold, then infused the video with his wicked sense of humor, hilarious fashion sense and moves. 

"Time to Dance" - The Shoes. This French dance/pop duo released a smashing remix of their 2011 hit and made it the soundtrack for a jarring eight-minute video that answers the question, "What if Jake Gyllenhaal was a deeply disturbed, chain-smoking gym rat with a propensity for killing hipsters?" Beware. You may never look at his earnest, puppy dog face the same way again. 

"Wandering Sailor" - Kingship. The song is a pretty solid retro-rocker with a great vocal. For the video, this Brooklyn-based duo (Paul Leschen and Chris Hall) delivered a highly-stylized, kitschy-sexy homage to the little-seen 1982 foreign film Querelle. You might have problems with the ending; I didn't. 

"Tightrope" - Walk the Moon.  These Ohio indie pop-rockers know how to write an infectious tune that makes you want to sing along. The video is jubilant, goofy and insanely cute. It's simply impossible to hate a video that represents fire with red-painted spirit fingers.

"Wildest Moments - Jessie Ware. One of my favorite discoveries in 2012, this lovely English singer/songwriter makes evocative electro-soul. The video keeps things minimal. It's just Ware, impeccably styled and placed against a blank background, slowly rotating in a circle for the camera as she sings. Not every video  -- or artist -- needs explosions, choreography, lasers or an impenetrable plot to sell a song. 

"Just Breathe" - Willie Nelson. Nelson, with his nasal voice and relaxed, jazzy singing style, can't simply be categorized as a country artist. He transcends the genre. Married four times, Nelson has fathered seven children, including Lukas, who duets with him on this Pearl jam cover. Lukas sounds eerily like his father and their collaboration is remarkably tender and raw. Their performance is served extraordinarily well by the no-frills video treatment.

"Her Fantasy" - Matthew Dear. Let me state my bias up front: I think Matthew Dear is brilliant. (And kinda quietly sexy.) I defy you not to move to his music. "Her Fantasy" is luscious synth-pop-dance perfection. The trippy video features a quirky cast of characters from a dance floor in an alternate universe -- where no one dances.

"Hold Me Back" - Rick Ross. Controversial rapper Rick Ross usually makes videos filled with bling, booty and badass posturing. You'll still find some of that in the stripped-down black and white clip for "Hold Me Back," but what sets this one apart is location - it was shot in the decaying Calliope Housing Projects of New Orleans.  Ross is sweaty, bare chested, angry and surrounded by real people - the kind that generally make mainstream white audiences very nervous. It feels a lot more genuine than his other videos. And Ross uses the word nigga about 45 times. I didn't count how many times he used the slang term for vagina. So you've been warned.

"The Descent" -  Bob Mould. The video for alternative rocker Bob Mould's song depicts the topical tale of an aging man who gets laid off from his corporate job. He leaves that world and the city behind, embracing a different kind of life altogether. I think most of us have had fleeting moments where we considered doing exactly what he does here. Even better, that's Bob Mould himself playing the corporate cast off. He's utterly convincing (and one pretty hot daddy.) The song is great, too - a chunky, powerful slab of guitar rock.

"Somebody" - Jukebox the Ghost. Shiny, happy indie pop. Clever video with swell choreography. Resistance is futile.

"Candy" - Robbie Williams. English singer/songwriter Robbie Williams has been around since the early '90s, first as part of the the boy band Take That, then emerging as a solo artist in the 2000s. He's the best-selling British solo artist of all time in the United Kingdom, but inexplicably ignored in the U.S. Here, he's some kind of sexy guardian angel-boyfriend having a particularly crazy day that includes getting set on fire and run over by cars. The song? Pure, unapologetic pop.

"How" - Regina Spektor. Born in the Soviet Union, singer-songwriter Regina Spektor came to America at the age of 9 -- during the period of Perestroika, when Soviet citizens were permitted to emigrate. As an adult, she eventually wound up in New York City and became involved in what's been called the anti-folk scene. Anti-folk has been described as a musical genre that takes the earnestness of politically-charged 1960s folk music and subverts it. It sounds a little more raw or experimental, and even mocks the seriousness and pretension of the established mainstream music scene. You get all that in Spektor's piano-driven break-up balled "How." The quirky video shifts between serious and loopy imagery that feels deliberately designed to keep you from settling into the sadness of the lyrics.

"The Diplomat" - Pig Destroyer. They're a grindcore band from Richmond, Virginia. "The Diplomat" is a better-than-average example of the genre, and the video is colorful, garish, cartoonish, violent and, most interestingly, brilliant social commentary. 

This is my last post of 2012. I'd like to thank the people who followed this blog faithfully and gave me lots of positive feedback. I'll be back in 2013, but I'm flirting with ideas for changing the format. Stay tuned.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Playback 2012: 8 Regrettable Music Videos

Before 2012 is over, I'll be doing a blog about my favorite music videos of the year. But this week's blog is all about the most regrettable music videos I saw.

Madonna is crying black tears because she made my list of 2012's most regrettable music videos.

Now, honestly, I could not have possibly seen every music video released in the past year even though I subscribe to a bunch of YouTube music channels and scour various websites on a daily basis for new clips. By my own estimate, I watched well over a thousand of them in the past year. Yes, literally thousands are made every year, but these are the ones that had me cringing and rolling my eyes. Or just wondering, What the fuck?!? So here they are, the eight most regrettable music videos of 2012... in my very subjective, personal and biased opinion. Your reactions may vary, of course. Comments welcome.

Here's my list, in no particular order...

Taylor Swift - "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." Maybe you know her remarkable story already. She started out country in 2006, did the pop crossover thing in 2008 and has subsequently sold over 26 million albums and 70 million digital downloads. She has six Grammy Awards and reviews of her work have been strong -- Rolling Stone once described her as "a songwriting savant with an intuitive gift for verse-chorus-bridge architecture." This year, at the age of 22 (Jesus Christ, she's only 22!), Swift released her fourth album, Red. It went to number one as did the first single, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." I think it's supposed to be some kind of girl-power break-up anthem, except that she sounds barely agitated, not angry. It literally makes me yearn for Alanis Morissette, someone who could write and deliver lyrics that made you believe her ex-boyfriend was a real bastard. So the last thing Swift's song needed was a corny video where she jumps around in her pajamas and is surrounded by musicians dressed in animal costumes... for some reason. The whole thing feels like it's been designed to pander to a fan base who needs Taylor Swift to remain perpetually sixteen.

Jason Aldean - "Take a Little Ride." Aldean hit it big in 2010 with an album called My Kinda Party, featuring a power ballad duet with Kelly Clarkson ("Don't You Wanna Stay"), the satisfying "Dirt Road Anthem," and a bunch of other radio-ready songs about drinking, raising hell and screwed-up relationships. He sells it all convincingly enough with his authentic rural Georgia nasal twang and winning (if familiar) formula. Then came "Take a Little Ride" last summer, a song that feels like it was written specifically for a truck commercial. To drive the point home for advertising agencies, the video treatment illustrates just exactly how easy it would be for them to turn Aldean's song into a truck commercial... by essentially making a freakin' truck commercial. And don't get me started on how Aldean's stylist dressed him in a pair of jeans with holes at both knees. I've hated that look since 1990 when Whitney Houston did it in her video for "I'm Your Baby Tonight." What do they want us to believe, that these celebrities spend all day on their knees?

Crystal Castles - "Plague." They are a Canadian electronic experimental duo that specializes in lo-fidelity melancholic homemade productions. "Plague" has a gothy, ominous vibe that may or may not get under your skin. I kinda dig it. The accompanying clip, however, looks like lost footage from some late '70s Brian DePalma horror movie. A woman flails violently and helplessly in a subway station, seemingly the victim of demonic possession. It's mesmerizing and disturbing. Then, at 1:54, the video switches away to a ballet studio for thirty seconds of weirdness before shifting back to crazy subway lady. Finally, after three minutes and twenty-five seconds you will have to decide if all this means something or if Crystal Castles is just fucking with us. (Hint: It's the latter.)

High on Fire - "Fertile Green." They're a stoner metal band from Oakland, California. Yes, stoner metal is an actual subgenre that combines elements of traditional heavy metal, psychedelic rock, blues rock, acid rock and doom metal. It emerged from California in the early 1990s. It's loud. The trio known as High on Fire has been around since 1998 and their website suggests that they don't release albums, they unleash them. They also characterize their sound as "punishing." To prepare you for the experience of watching their "Fertile Green" clip, the band provides some exposition: The video follows the story of Balteazeen, the Christ Twin, who sacrificed himself to give Jesus life. Forever hunted, he roams the slaughterhouse of Time, searching for answers to the riddle of his own existence...

And how does one gain access to the "slaughterhouse of Time?" Through the vagina-like opening of a giant rock formation that's shaped like the female body. Of course.

Madonna - "Girl Gone Wild." I know. People are going to hate me for this. But I am prepared to make my case. Madonna released her twelfth studio album, MDNA, in 2012. Reviews were mixed. Now, I don't own any Madonna albums, though I have downloaded a handful of her digital singles. She's capable of making really fine dance/pop music. Frankly, Madonna has nothing to prove; she's the best-selling female recording artist of all time. But every single from MDNA felt generic or cliched. Worse, you can feel her pouring a lot of desperate energy into sounding 23 instead of 53. And that's what I found so disappointing about the video for "Girl Gone Wild." The whole thing feels like a frenzied, futile attempt to make us think it's 1992, when she was at her most controversial, releasing the Erotica album and her coffee table book of softcore pornographic photographs, Sex.

Die Antwoord - "I Fink U Freeky." Die Antwoord is a South African electronic-rap-rave band whose music is boisterous, vulgar and a little bit brilliant. I like them. I almost didn't include this one on the list because there are, in fact, things I admire about their video for "I Fink U Freeky." It's not easy to create something genuinely creepy, gross and unsettling, but they've done it here using rats, snakes and people with scary teeth. The question is why would you make this video? So it earned a place on the list for simply being the only music video in 2012 that made me truly wonder... what the hell is wrong with these people?

Justin Bieber - "Beauty and A Beat." Every generation has its teen idols -- celebrities who are widely idolized by teenagers. Especially teenage girls. Frank Sinatra is generally regarded as the first one, selling a lot of records back in the 1940s, then reinventing himself as a serious actor and musician in the 1950s. Teen idols are often deliberately cultivated to be as bland and non-threatening as possible. They have fresh, wholesome faces (think Ricky Nelson or David Cassidy) and appear safe, approachable. Frequently, there's something almost asexual about them, too. And that brings us to the stunningly successful worldwide phenomenon known as Justin Bieber. His songs are hooky, Auto-tuned candy corn that you'll either love or dismiss without reservation as garbage. His autumn single, "Beauty and A Beat," caught my interest solely because it's a collaboration with Nicki Minaj, a controversial, unapologetically foulmouthed rapper-singer-songwriter who is everything Justin Bieber is not. The video begins with this fake allegation:

In October of 2012 three hours of personal footage was stolen from musician Justin Bieber. The following footage was illegally uploaded by an anonymous blogger. 

There are actually human beings on the planet who believed those statements to be true. That's comical but beside the point. This video looks like his handlers' maladroit and woefully over-the-top attempt to edge Bieber towards a more mature audience. The way to undermine that edging is by starting out with that bit of stolen footage nonsense and then shooting the video in a waterpark filled with dancers, some of whom are skilled at synchronized swimming and a few that get dangerously close to working stripper poles. The song is unremarkable, notable only for it's dubstep breakdown featuring Nicki Minaj, who is allowed to use the word "bitches" in her verse, but eschews her usual rapid-fire obscenities. She dutifully appears in the video, rapping away and mock-swooning over a suddenly hormonal and gyrating Bieber. My eyes! My eyes! It's not just the most unsuccessful coupling of the year; it's the most ridiculous.

David Lynch - "Crazy Clown Time." Filmmaker David Lynch has given the world Twin Peaks, The Elephant Man, Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, among other things. His unique cinematic style has been dubbed "Lynchian," and his work is violent, disturbing, mystifying and weird. Often at the same time. I'm not sure anyone has been clamoring for music by Lynch, but he made some over the last few years anyway. His latest effort is an album entitled Crazy Clown Time, and not surprisingly he directed a video for the title track. That's Lynch singing the simple, fragmented lyrics in some kind of modulated falsetto. The images are a hallucinatory but literal translation of the words -- which are all about a bunch of people losing their shit at a backyard party. It's seven interminable minutes of pointlessness that were no doubt interpreted as unconditional brillance by his ardent fans. The best I can say about it? There's no clown in the whole damn thing.

Look for my ten favorite videos of 2012 before the end of the year.

Peace out,

Friday, December 7, 2012

The (There's No War on) Christmas Special 2012

Welcome to this special Christmas edition of my blog. I'm old enough to remember when the only time you heard the word gay was when people sang Christmas carols. Don we now our gay apparel, for instance (from "Deck the Halls"). Or, make the Yuletide gay (from "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"). Funny how that word evolved to become a label for someone's sexual orientation.

Icon. If I had to pick a favorite character from all the Christmas specials I've seen in my life, it would be Hermey the Misfit Elf from 1964's Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Why? Well, lots of reasons. He had the balls to quit Santa's workshop when the other elves ridiculed him about his dreams of becoming a dentist. He befriended fellow outcast Rudolph and accepted his glowing schnoz. He fought the Abominable Snowman, rendering him harmless by pulling out all of his teeth. He realized his dream of becoming a dentist and ultimately opened a practice at the North Pole. And he had one of the most iconic hairstyles in TV history.

Hermey the Misfit Elf and Rudolf.
Sure, that bright-red-nose business is impressive and cool, but Hermey's hair is just as wondrous.  

Brew. Looking for a seasonal ale? Every year since 1975 San Francisco's Anchor Brewing has created one. Available from early November through mid-January, it's a rich, dark spiced ale. The recipe is tweaked from year to year, as is the label, which always features a different tree. I've had this year's creation and it's delicious.

Oreo. I told you about Nabisco's Candy Corn Oreo in October. Their latest holiday-themed limited-edition cookie is the Gingerbread Oreo. It's the company's Golden Oreo with a filling of gingerbread-favored creme. It was described online by one reviewer as, "Not disgusting at all!" I'm told you can find them at Walmart.

Clarity. The Daily Show's Jon Stewart expertly undermines Fox News' annual -- and increasingly ridiculous and desperate -- insistence that there's a War on Christmas.

Tunes. Lots of diversity among holiday releases this year...

Pentatonix - "Carol of the Bells." Pentatonix is an a cappella group of five vocalists -- Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado, Mitch Grassi, Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola -- who won the third season of NBC's The Sing Off in late 2011. They've developed a devoted following since then, covering popular songs by other artists, giving live performances and creating their own YouTube channel, of course. One of the most amazing things about them, aside from their tight harmonies and incredible arrangements, is the stunning vocal percussion and bass done by Kevin Olusola. It's called "beatboxing," which involves producing drum beats, rhythm and other musical sounds using one's mouth, lips, tongue and voice. Here's "Carol of the Bells" from PTXmas, their holiday EP. You can find it on iTunes.

The Killers ft. Ryan Pardey - "I Feel It In My Bones." The Killers (who easily get my vote for one of the most attractive bands on the planet) have released seven Christmas-themed songs and music videos over the years.

Some of their Christmas songs have been serious ("Boots"), some seriously goofy ("Don't Shoot Me, Santa"). "I Feel It In My Bones" is somewhat of a sequel to "Don't Shoot Me, Santa," which featured a comically demented, vengeful St. Nick. He's back, and he still needs therapy.  (Side note: All proceeds from their Christmas songs go to the Product Red campaign, which funds African AIDS charities.)

Father Tiger - "On Christmas Day." According to their Facebook page, Father Tiger "is a modern indie synthpop duo with a love of vintage analog synthesizers and everything mid-century modern." I just discovered them recently and I'm totally digging this holiday effort, a charming, synthpop hipster carol and video. (Also, the actor bear they chose for their star is mighty easy on the eyes.)

Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta - "I Think You Might Like It." Thirty-four years after starring together in Grease, they've reunited to record an album of holiday classics called This Christmas.

Why is Travolta's name first? We all know who the real singer is here.
And what's in Travolta's cup? Hot gay chocolate?

"I Think You Might Like It" is an original song written for the album by Newton-John's longtime collaborator, John Farrar.  He wrote "You're the One That I Want," her duet with Travolta in Grease. This song is old-fashioned and relentlessly cheerful and that's okay. But the video... the video. As one of my Facebook friends said when he saw it, "Oh, dear." First, the good news... Olivia looks fantastic. You're probably going to say she's had work done. Whatever. I don't care. It's good work. She's 64. Cut her some slack. The bad news... the video is awe-inspiring, must-see kitsch primarily due to the insanely ridiculous presence of Travolta. If you think his hair on the album photo above looks like it was drawn on his head with a Sharpie, wait until you see the preposterously jet-black real thing coupled with the most unfortunate goatee in the history of celebrity facial hair. Consider that at some point prior to shooting this, 58-year-old Travolta must have looked in a mirror and liked what he saw. The only possible explanation for this is that his stylist hates him. And hypnotized him. Okay, back to the video. There's a special guest appearance by Travolta's family, and somebody else's family and some soldiers, all of whom are apparently just fine with his new cartoon head. There's Travolta's private jet and references to It's a Wonderful Life, in case you forgot that it's a Christmas song, and then there are several completely unnecessary homages to Grease. Of course. And there's dancing -- line dancing. Remarkably, Newton-John rises above all of this. She really is a Teflon icon.

Comfort and joy,