Some music videos use abstract imagery to illustrate the feeling behind a song, while others literally hit us over the head with their literal interpretation of the lyrics à la Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball". Unlike the "literal music video" meme, which dubs new lyrics over the original video that more closely matches what's happening in the video, these videos require no editing to get their direct translation across. So for all of you who prefer their music videos "straight up," here is a list of artists who don't like to read between the lines.
A Little Respect – Erasure
No (dis)respect to Erasure, but we can't believe someone signed off on this. Not only do they act out the lyrics, but they superimpose it over the duo singing. How do we know he discovered "something to make me sweeter," by putting sugar in tea of course! Then they break they heart by holding up a heart and breaking it with a hammer. We've seen school plays with more understated symbolism.
Dancing in the Streets — David Bowie and Mick Jagger
It didn't take much to make a music video in 1985, just some colorful windbreakers, snapping fingers and entire premise of just dancing around...in the streets. When two of the biggest pop icons of all time covered this Martha and the Vandellas Motown classic, one would think their budget might cover more than a trenchcoat and some anonymous warehouse in Newark. But as the song suggests, these two spend the entirety of the video "dancing in the streets," in one of the worst examples of white people dancing ever committed to film.
Dancing on the Ceiling — Lionel Richie
Not to be outdone by his fellow pop rivals Bowie and Jagger, Lionel Richie took the concept of a literal dancing music video one year later, added a rotating room and around $400,000 and what you see is what you get. How would one show the elation of dancing on the ceiling without actually doing so? This innovative video apparently also warranted a behind the scenes special on HBO. But without these groundbreaking visuals, we would never have Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity" and we don't want to live in that world.
With Arms Wide Open — Creed
We get chills when we hear this song, and by chills we mean cold sweats. Creed was one of those pants that got filed under "grunge" at Sam Goody but we all knew it was Christian Rock. In order to really make the audience feel what the song was about, there was no shortage of times that lead singer Scott Stapp threw us arms open in the air. Would the video have the same emotional punch had he sat on a rock with his arms folded? We all know the answer to that one.
Sledgehammer — Peter Gabriel
Before Miley started licking her tool set, Peter Gabriel took the sledgehammer to new artistic heights and made it more than an erotic prop from Tool Time. Sure, he follows he same pattern of literal interpretation of the lyrics, but he does so using claymation, pixilation, stop motion animation and creative metaphors. While the lyrical imagery is direct, the meanings behind it are not and it remains one of our favorite music videos of all time.
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Aaron D. Settipane/WENNWhile Pharrell Williams has continued to be as prolific this decade as he was during his '00s heyday, his commercial streak appeared to have completely deserted him. N.E.R.D.'s last album, Nothing, sold less than 20,000 copies in its first week, unlikely collaborations with Mika, Gloria Estefan and The Hives came and went without any fanfare while you had to go as far back as Gwen Stefani's "Wind It Up" in 2006 to find his last Top 10 hit as producer. However, thanks to his contributions on two of the biggest songs of the summer, Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," he’s now re-emerged as one of pop's best-loved creative forces. Here's a look at five of the best singles to bear his name on the credits.
Kelis – "Get Along With You"Williams' production duo, The Neptunes, arguably never bettered their work on Kelis' highly under-rated debut, Kaleidoscope, the highlight of which was this emotionally charged rejection of material possessions which came equipped with an equally stunning Tim Burton-esque video.
Britney Spears – "I’m A Slave 4 U"A decade before Miley Cyrus' desperately try-hard attempt to distance herself from her teen-pop past, Chad Hugo and Williams helped Britney Spears to make a similar transition look effortless with this supremely sensual slice of R&B which drew comparisons with everyone from Janet Jackson to Prince.
Justin Timberlake – "Like I Love You"Doing for Timberlake what they did for his former sweetheart, the Neptunes struck gold again with a hypnotic blend of acoustic guitars, spacey electro bleeps and lo-fi beats which immediately positioned the 'N Sync star as a potential King of Pop.
Pharrell ft. Jay-Z – "Frontin'"Following on from N.E.R.D.'s In Search Of, Pharrell's debut solo single "Frontin'" continued to prove that he could cut it as a frontman too with a soaring falsetto-led vocal which matched perfectly with the slick hip-hop funk production.
Solange – "I Decided"Having previously worked with Beyoncé on the likes of "Work It Out" and "Green Light," The Neptunes then teamed up with the other Miss Knowles for an impossibly joyous Motown pastiche inspired by the likes of The Supremes and Martha & The Vandellas.
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S10E20: Last night’s episode of American Idol proved two things. First, it proved that while some of these contestants are simply better than the others, they are all talented. Usually by this point, a few people’s voices are shown to be flimsier than we’d thought. Suddenly those notes aren’t so perfect and it’s clear that the pressure is just too much. That happened a bit with Ashton Jones and Karen Rodriguez, but now we’re left with a group of folks who’ve either got amazing range or incredible quality to their voices and it’s getting harder to decide who to boot.
The flip side of this coin is that last night’s theme was Motown, which as a genre tends to be crowd-pleasing. If you have any ounce of performing sensibilities anywhere in you, a Motown song is sure to put that on full display. In other words, we’ve got somewhat skewed results here. When the contestants were choosing from early 90s and late 80s songs last week, they all faltered a bit, but suddenly they’re all pretty damn good? I’m not saying they don’t have talent; I’m saying song selection played a huge role this week.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at last night’s eleven performances from those that had me saying “We are not worthy!” to those that only elicited an “Eh.”
“All I Need to Get By” by Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrells
I will still admit that Jacob is not my favorite of the bunch. He’s not my style and that’s okay, but the fact that he’s not my favorite and the fact that everyone was so entertaining last night and he’s STILL my number one should be a testament to his talent. He’s got the whole package and we saw a few folks who’ve got that going on last night, but he’s got it going on the most.
Simon Says: That was fantastic.
“Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
Say what? How is Paul this high up? Well, if you’ve read my previous Idol updates, you know I have a wee bit of a crush on him, but he’s also really, really great. The reason he’s so high up today is that he is so effortlessly himself onstage. That may seem like a silly compliment, but it’s great to see someone who gets up on stage and does a song as well-known and as steeped in Motown sensibilities as “Tracks of My Tears” and doesn’t let the song own them. He was singing Motown, but really, he was singing as Paul and that’s what was so fantastic.
Simon Says: Look, you were great, but this is American Idol not Indie Music Idol. I just don’t know how far this will take you.
“You Really Got a Hold on Me” by Smokey Robinson
I peeked around the interwebs this morning and saw an avalanche of hate for Miss Reinhart and I’ve got to be completely honest, I still don’t get it. I love this girl. As Jennifer so aptly pointed out last night, she’s got this incredible voice that she somehow has complete control over. She wants it to go this crazy, unexpected place and it just does – and it does so effortlessly. Plus, she’s freaking adorable. I really need to know what the rest of the world is smoking that is turning them against Haley because I think she rocks.
Simon Says: It took you a while to find yourself onstage but you got there.
“All in Love is Fair” by Stevie Wonder
I am only putting Pia up this high on the list because I can’t help but appreciate her natural, God-given talent. Home girl can SING. She hits crazy notes without even trying and that’s incredible. However – and this is a big however – she NEEDS to get out of her ballad box. I hate to say that Jennifer was right (again) and I hate even more to say that someone should emulate Celine Dion, but yeah. Pia needs to get down with some Celine because if she doesn’t start bringing some life to that stage, her voice is going to be wasted on some girl whose feet seem to be glued to the mike stand.
Simon Says: Yeah, yeah you can sing, but I was bored.
“Heat Wave” by Martha and The Vandellas
Thia is BACK. And thank goodness for that. I’m still a little wary of Thia because when she loosened up for this song – which was fantastic –she still seemed a little stiff like one of those kids on Toddlers and Tiaras. However, she finally brought back that fun, jazzy, amazing voice that we fell in love with during the audition process. I just hope she can figure out how to work that stage now.
Simon Says: You sounded great, but you looked uncomfortable up there. Are you uncomfortable on stage?
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye
This is one of those situations where the star student thinks they deserve an A+ every time, so they let their game fall a bit and everyone just kind of goes along with it. I love Casey, I really, really do, and this performance was good, it just wasn’t explosive the way his other ones have been. At this point, he knows he’s good, he knows audiences love him, and he’s going crazy with it. Maybe it was the weird slicked-back hair giving him this bastardly edge, but he wasn’t as connected as he usually is. He needs to come back down into that Casey sweet spot, where he was sexy because he just was, not because he was forcing us to think so.
Simon Says: It was kind of unpleasant, which is unusual because you’re a likable person.
“You Keep Me Hanging On” by The Supremes
I still love this girl and this performance was adorable, she looked great, her vocals were on, but something else was off. Maybe she’s still recovering from the flu, but she just didn’t have that fire that she used to have. Technically it was all there, it was just missing a little something extra for me.
Simon Says: Look, you like it up there. We get it. It just wasn’t there for me tonight.
“Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder
Sorry folks, I do not like this guy. He’s not pleasant to listen to. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he belongs in an 80s band, not on American Idol. All he’s got going for him are those high notes and the fact that he can strut around onstage like he thinks he’s Mick Jagger. That’s great and all, but he’s a lot of show without a lot of substance and frankly, that’s what annoys me about a lot of folks who cycle through on Idol and I’m over it.
Simon Says: You’re having fun up there and that’s great, but the vocals aren’t always on and that’s kind of important in a singing competition.
“Dancing in the Street” by Martha and the Vandellas
On one hand, I’m really happy about this performance because the girl got her voice back! Yes! On another hand, she cannot seem to find her overall voice as a performer. Who the hell is this girl and what is she trying to tell us? It’s exhausting trying to figure her out. My biggest problem isn’t the seemingly out of place African dancing at the end of the song, it’s the fact that she’s supposed to be doing this fun, upbeat song, and she’s got the intensity of someone singing about death and heartbreak in her eyes. I like her voice, but I just don’t know what she’s doing.
Simon Says: I’m not sure what that was.
“For Once in My Life” by Stevie Wonder
Poor Scotty. He tried. He really did. Unfortunately, he’s got that great voice (hello, incredibly low note!), but Motown just doesn’t work for him. I wish he could have pulled a Paul and really made it his own, but he ended up sounding like some Vegas lounge show with an Elvis impersonator that someone’s slots-playing, chain-smoking, see-through green visor-wearing, you’re-going-where-I-damn-well-ask-you-to-demanding great aunt dragged you to. It wasn’t great.
Simon Says: Scotty, I’m afraid it just didn’t work.
“Hello” by Lionel Ritchie
First off, you’ve got a choice from an entire catalog of Motown greats and you choose LIONEL RITCHIE? And you choose the jokiest of his songs? Really. Come on, Stefano. Secondly, it just did not work at all. He didn’t feel genuine. It didn’t seem like he even wanted to be up there. Yeah, he hit the notes, but it was just not enjoyable to watch. I fear his time may be up. He doesn’t have as crazy a following as some of the others do and this certainly didn’t help that.
Simon Says: I’m speechless, but not in a good way. What happened to you?