Thursday, May 4, 2017

Where Artists Don’t Appear in the Their Own Music Video

Music Video is a subset of the Short Film genre. The content can be racy, frivolous, touching, or even completely removed from the subject of the actual song it accompanies.

Over the decades since the inception of MTV (and earlier), music videos have become more and more sophisticated, evolving into an integral factor of any music marketing. Today, the finest directors, cinematographers, costumers and other crew add music video credits to their CV with pride.

In an earlier blog, I mentioned how rogue Australian music executives in the 1980s produced their own music video, with actors playing musicians, when their counterparts in the US wouldn’t supply one. Such was the response to that piece, I went digging through history to locate other videos where the performance is primarily undertaken by anyone other than the recording artist themselves.

Today, when personal branding (and a certain amount of narcissism) is essential in such arts, it stands out and makes a statement when the artist is played by someone else entirely.

Here are few:

Elton John: I Want Love (2001)

Likely to be one of Robert Downey Jnr’s few performances while in drug rehab, this video makes the cut on so many levels. Directed by Samantha Taylor-Wood, the video features RDJ lip-syncing to Elton John’s heart-wrenching lyrics while wandering through a deserted mansion. 

The entire clip is shot in one continuous take, resulting in a monumental outcome for both the cast and the crew. Apparently, 16 takes were shot, with the director deciding on the very final for release. Given the plight of RDJ at the time, the performance and pertinence of this ‘short film’ don't fall short. It’s a masterstroke, nearing a masterpiece.

Bree Sharp: David Duchovny (1999)

This has now become the the “unofficial” official video for this track. Pretty much shot entirely on home video, Charles Forsch and Will Shivers compiled this insiders piece while working as production assistants on The X-Files TV series. Opening with housemates miming the lyrics, their coverage extends to random individuals on the streets of Hollywood. It then proceeds to the more famous, who might have just been hanging around the Hollywood studios at the time. 

There are some real X-Files crew gems in here (such as producer Chris Carter singing away at his laptop), as well as appearances by loads of celebs including Whoopi Goldberg, Gillian Anderson, and even Brad Pitt. Duchovny of course is in there too. Originally shot to screen at an X-Files end of season wrap just for cast and crew, the video eventually surfaced on YouTube. The closing credits include all of those who appear in the video, as well as some out-takes. It’s quite a bit of fun, in a late 1990s kind of way.

Carly Rae Jepsen: I Really Like You (2015)

Directed by Peter Glanz, the video features Hollywood’s Mr Nice Guy Tom Hanks in the lead, but also boasts appearances by Justin Beiber and cameo appearances by Rudy Mancuso and Andrew B. Bachelor (A.K.A. King Bach), well-known users of the short-form video sharing application Vine. 

It turns out that Hanks is friendly with Jepsen's manager, Scooter Braun. One night over dinner, Braun shared Jepsen's concept for the clip with Hanks, who offered himself for the role. Hanks and Jepsen had previously met at Braun’s wedding. 

Much of the video takes place in front of the Mondrian Hotel in Manhattan. Opening with Hanks waking to a 5AM alarm, he lip-syncs through most of the track, documenting his day on the way to shoot a dance routine for the music video. With Hanks stuck in traffic, Jepsen texts, enquiring about him being delayed. She uses emojis in the text that translate as ‘Run Forrest Run’. The video is everything you would expect from the always affable Tom Hanks.

Talking Heads: Wild Wild Life (1986)

Taken from David Byrne’s movie True Stories, the film’s premise is based on weaving news items from tabloid newspapers into the narrative. There are two versions of the video for this song. An MTV version (which more prominently features the band's members), and the one below being the version seen in the film. It’s true to say that members of Talking Heads do appear to sing in this clip, but masquerading as characters taken from popular culture at the time.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Band They Misrepresented Down Under

A hit music single in the 80s is not a hit without a music video to go with it. At least that’s what the Australian distributors of ‘Life at the Outpost’ thought in 1980.

After forming in California in 1979 (though originally from Ontario Canada), Sean Delaney’s Skatt Brothers were immediately compared to the Village People until they later returned to their more rockish roots with the release of their second album "Rico & The Ravens", which curiously was released in Australia only.

But a passing glance at the album cover art raises questions. If the album depicts the members of the band, then who the hell are those guys singing in the music video?

‘Life at the Outpost’ peaked at number 13 on the Australian singles charts in October 1980, but only after the record executives in Australia pleaded with their counterparts at Casablanca Records in the US for a music video of the track.

Their pleading continually led to no such request being fulfilled.

In a media landscape where music video TV shows were scattered all over the schedule, the suits in Sydney found it frustrating to properly market this disco-era tail-end ditty. The final vestiges of high street discotheques found the track an illuminated dance floor favourite. But this wasn’t translating into sales, and the execs saw their mid-year bonuses slipping away.

Left with no other choice, the guys at Polygram/Mercury in Australia decided to go it alone, and produced their own music video of the song, with ‘actors’ miming the lyrics.

It features a bunch of guys hanging out at a cowboy bar, the Outpost. Some of them might be on shore leave, just sitting back, playing pool, kicking back a few cold ones. They singalong, trying to entice the local ladies, including the tempestuous Miss Lilly, who happens to also be the night bartender at the Outpost.

This might have been a stroke of genius (and bravado) at the time. Looking back however, it’s hilarious to watch. Stereotypes aside, while these guys might be able to mime, they certainly can’t dance. It’s kind of like watching pro-wrestlers trying on the moves.

I’m not sure whether/how/when to look away, which is why both the video and the story behind it remains compelling.

It is genius of course, because of how this misrepresentation punched the song almost into the Top Ten. Whether or not the Skatt Bros are nonetheless pleased to have their legacy immortalised via YouTube in this fashion remains unknown.

Here are the actual Skatt Brothers, performing on Australia's 'Countdown' in 1981: