Sunday, October 18, 2009

20 Best Promo Videos Ever (Part Four)

I'm really drunk and it's 1AM on a Saturday night, so honestly, what better time could there possibly be to post the top 5 music videos ever made? Fuck it. I'm down if you are.

#5 Aphex Twin “Windowlicker” (Chris Cunningham, 1999)
It’s got the narcissism, the bling, the women being objectified, the limousine (38 windows in length), and in its highly quotable 4-minute intro, it’s got 127 uses of profanity (including 44 uses of “fuck”). And of course, it’s got The Face: the eerie Cheshire grin of Richard D James. By the time the song starts, it’s clear that the two windowlickers from the intro have been in The Twin’s world all along, and never stood a chance against its demonic master.

Six months earlier, Monster Magnet’s “Space Lord” was partially the same concept: The most extravagent rock-n-roll videos of the time were hiphop videos. Chris Cunningham essentially took that idea and transported it via spaceship approximately ten million galaxies parallel to wherever Ma$e’s “Feels So Good” was shot, gathered together grotesque masks and digital art, and discovered a world where Aphex Twin has become the greatest rock star who ever lived.

P.S. That one shot with the slow motion champagne bottle is A-fucking-plus.

#4 Sigur Ros “Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa” (Celebrator, 2001)
Sigur Ros and slow motion shots are kind of like peanut butter and jelly at this point - such a classic combination. I always figured the clothes and attitudes of this video were of present day Iceland, but it turns out the setting is in the 1950’s, a time when hope of a love such as theirs (the pair of 12-year-old dudes who star in the video) was never something society would even consider, let alone accept. There are so many stand-out images included here: The porcelain dolls, representing hope; the Holy Bible, tragically symbolizing denial; a bottle with the alien-fetus image from Ágætis Byrjun printed on it, which doesn’t really represent anything other than a subtle and awesome way to incorporate Sigur Ros into the story. (All four band members also make individual brief appearances.) Although this 11-minute song has been shortened to 7 minutes for the video, the final 45-seconds are here intact, probably the best part of the song, when Sigur Ros decides to increase the tape speed by a milli-fragment, creating this aura of sudden devastating cruelty, compared to how otherworldly the previous 10 minutes had progressed. Celebrator’s images oblige in this video’s heartbreaking conclusion.

NOTE: Oh my bad.. the last section of the song does not fully appear in the video version. It still rules though.

#3 Radiohead “Paranoid Android” (Magnus Carlsson, 1997)
Robin’s bizarre adventures are normally accompanied by his own calming soliloquy and some quiet triphop music (one favorite being his trip to the grocery store). However, his most famous adventure took place after Magnus Carlsson was commissioned to send Robin on yet another undertaking, this time with only Radiohead’s upcoming single as the soundtrack. Parlophone were hoping for “another video like ‘Street Spirit,’” but Radiohead were adament on going with a cartoon. Luckily for them, Robin was more than willing. And luckily for Robin, “Paranoid Android” just happened to be a brilliantly unorthodox mindfuck of a single with a whole range of darkness and creepiness to accompany his discovery.

#2 Guns N’ Roses “Don’t Cry” (Andy Morahan, 1991)
After 5 years of releasing primarily performance videos and ones with significantly lower costs by today’s standards, Guns N’ Roses kicked off their two-and-a-half year album-promotion cycle for Use Your Illusion with the mysterious and extravagent clip for “Don’t Cry.”

The following summer, this video became largely overshadowed after the premiere of the enormously popular “November Rain” video, which had an easier narrative to follow and included several equally iconic and gorgeous shots, such as Slash’s guitar solo outside of the church. At the end of 1993, the third part of this apparent trilogy concluded with “Estranged,” the 12th (that’s correct.. TWELFTH) and final video released to promote Use Your Illusion, and the least popular video from this trilogy, now regarded as a bloated triumph after its inclusion in several of those MTV “Most Expensive Video” specials.

While the original lineup were infinitely badass in their earlier videos, and gloriously coroding throughout Use Your Illusion, “Don’t Cry” marks the only time these two eras properly intersect, creating the quintessential Guns N’ Roses clip. Confusion, death, chaos, drugs, revenge, anger management, Los Angeles, the downfall of hair metal... So many themes, so many brilliant sequences... Axl drunkenly stumbles through a cemetary with a gun in the middle of a blizzard. Slash drives a car off a cliff with his girlfriend inside of it and plays a guitar solo above the wreckage. Axl and Shannon Hoon run around on top of a skyscraper, and someone holds a sign that says “Where’s Izzy?” (He had left the band weeks earlier.) The band’s model girlfriends get into a bar fight, smashing glasses. Axl’s triple-personality disorder is physically shown on screen. And finally, he becomes reborn again. 5-minute video clips are rarely this dense, a huge part of why “Don’t Cry” still demands repeated viewings. In terms of 80’s metal excess, it doesn’t get more rock n’ roll than this.

#1 Jay-Z “99 Problems” (Mark Romanek, 2004)
With the exception of Coldplay’s “Speed Of Sound,” “99 Problems” stands as the last music video Mark Romanek has directed so far, capping off perhaps the most stunning videography of any modern video director. His resume includes Michael & Janet’s “Scream” clip, Fiona Apple’s "Criminal," Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” and NIN’s “Closer” & “The Perfect Drug.” Romanek’s videos are like watching an out-of-order slideshow, except the pictures all happen to be brilliant and speak a thousand words each... And the rushed photographer only has 5 minutes to show 3 carousels worth of these brilliant slides, so that by the time it’s over you’ve been given such a sensory overload that many of the images are permanently burned into your brain. The afformentioned videos are all examples of this, Romanek’s signature style. However, “99 Problems” is the grittiest of all of these.

“99 Problems” was also intended to be Jay-Z’s final single from his last album before retiring from hiphop. Had he never returned from retirement only 2 years later, the video’s conclusion may have gone down as possibly the the most explosive swansong of alltime, a graphic slow-motion sequence in which the rapper himself is shot multiple times by off-camera assailants and presumably murdered.

Jay-Z originally wanted direction from Scorsese or Tarrantino, but Rick Rubin convinced Jay to call upon Romanek. Jay’s only real input was that he wanted “powerful images” of Brooklyn, a phrase that actually downplays the immense weight of these shots, shockingly surpassing that found within Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” video from 15 years earlier, and sort of revamping the same concept for post-9/11 New York.

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