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,

1 comment:

  1. "Fertile Green"was so sweet. Really it was. (and now you know I'm off my medication.) What I want to see is Madonna working with Die Antwoord. Now THAT would shake some people up and get her out of her current same-old-same-old.

    I'm sure I'll be having nightmares tonight.