Growing up in the 2000’s I watched a lot of music videos. MTV and VH1 still showed big blocks of videos every morning and afternoon when I enterred high school. By the time I went off to college all of that time had been replaced by reality shows.
At the time, I loved music videos and I dreamed of making them. My favorite thing in the world was when cool bands collaborated with up and coming directors to create bizarre little experimental films around my favorite songs. I downloaded some of my favorite videos to my iPod and watched them on a loop on the school bus. The weekly Top 20 Countdowns were mandatory viewing in my household.
And though music videos are still a living breathing artform on YouTube today, I do feel some wistful yearning for the days of Morning Rush and (to a lesser extent) TRL. I discovered a lot of great songs and bands through those curated segments. That mystique feels very muted on YouTube.
So, as I’ve been thinking back to the music videos of adolescence I thought I’d share a few that inspired me in my formative years.
Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Released in 2000 (when I was eight), the video for “Californication” looks a lot like a Nintendo 64 game I would have plaeyd at the time. The Red Hot Chili Peppers mime their song in front of green-screened sky background, but most of the time that is in cut-out in a tiny corner of the screen. The “stars” of the video are virtual versions of the Chili Peppers who run, swim, drive and snowboard through a virtual Californian hellscape. The graphics haven’t aged incredibly well, but the conceit is still kind of novel.
This is one of the earliest videos I remember. I saw it at my grandma’s house. She had MTV long before my parents did. I was very into video games at the time, we had just gotten our N64. I remember thinking it was so cool that the band had made a video game of themselves. Of course, I had no idea that game didn’t exist. It was still super cool though.
The Scientist by Coldplay
Coldplay’s video for “The Scientist,” is still one of my favorites of all-time. Director James Thraves used a reversed narrative structure 1 and crafted a tragic backstory for Martin’s lyrics. Martin, to his credit, learned to sing the song backwards for the video and provides a revealingly emotional performance. He plays a grieving man whose significant other has been killed in a car crash. The viewer doesn’t know this until the song’s climactic coda. For the preceding two minutes we see him sleeping in the streets of London and sulking throughout the city.
I was shocked when I first saw Martin fly up off of his street mattress. A younger me couldn’t believe the lengths this video went to. They crashed a car just to play it back backwards! Manchester Orchestra’s video for “Simple Math” would push a lot of the same buttons for me later on, but you never forget that first moment of awe.
I’m Not Okay (I Promise) [Dialogue/MTV Version] by My Chemical Romance
Conceived as a movie trailer for a Revenge of the Nerds-esque comedy. This video stars Gerard Way and company as a group of emo-goth nerds at a preppy private school. Vignettes include people being locked in lockers, bathroom hook-ups, bad first kisses and a fight with the lacrosse team. It’s a surprisingly upbeat little video despite all of the guy-liner.
I have probably watched this video a thousand times. Frequent readers and friends will know that I love coming-of-age movies. This mock movie trailer falls right into that sweet spot. Seeing one of the most “goth” bands of the moment acting so goofy was also appealing to me. I knew people who were scared to listen to MCR. This video always reminds me of how fun they could be.
Crazy by Gnarls Barkley
The breakout hit from Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton’s collaboration with Goodie Mob’s Cee-Lo Green. The song became a massive radio hit, but the rorshach test music video is one of my favorite parts. The use of motion capture on Cee-Lo’s face to create the animation makes for some really cool moments.
I mostly remember this video for how different it was. So much of MTV at the time was live performances and skilly skits. This video, like the rest of Gnarls Barkley’s first few years, felt like something wholly different. I don’t think they ever re-captured the “lightning in a bottle moment” of that first album unfortunately.
The Hardest Button to Button by The White Stripes
A year before he released Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and became a force to be reckond with in the film world Michel Gondry directed his fourth of five videos for The White Stripes. As Meg and Jack play their repetitive parts they move across New York City in a strange kind of stop motion. With each bass drum kick Meg moves forward leaving a trail of drums behind her. Jack similarly jumps from place to place by playing the song’s signature riff. As the music builds in complexity so do the shots. At one point the band form a carousel of their instruments and rotate around one another.
I saw this video a few years after it came out, when I started studying music videos in an advanced art class at my high school. I was shocked to see one of my favorite bands had worked with such a well-known director. This was one of the first times I started to really take music videos as an art form seriously.
These were just a few of the videos that really stuck out to me from that time. There are countless others. As a music nerd I was constantly on the hunt for cool new bands and videos. I even made a handful of pretty mediocre videos myself during this period. I just liked the art form that much.
I don’t watch nearly as many music videos today, event though the medium is arguably in a better place than it has ever been. I’m always on the lookout for some new or interesting approach though. So if you see anything, send it my way.