Although music videos are no longer important, they still hold the power to
mesmerize. MTV – the art director’s dream – hardly anticipated the influence
that this frenetic form would hold over the popular culture when it debuted
in 1981. Call it art or call it crass commercialism, music videos wormed
their way into the worldview of young lives, morphed into a cottage
industry, and threatened the very status of record albums and non-photogenic
pop singers. Music and television were married at last, in the stylistically
visual way that was always meant to be but was somehow never given the old
college try until decades into the technology.
beloved music channel offers this 20th anniversary retrospective,
but it’s a cheat. Thanks to MTV’s obsession with youth and what’s new, there
is very little retro here and lots of current and near-current crowd
pleasers (at least current for 2001, when this DVD was first introduced).
Sure, you have your obvious nods to video history: your Flock of Seagulls
(“I Ran”) and your Robert Palmers (“Addicted To Love”), but if you’re going
to call it 20, then don’t tip the scales in favor of videos that have
barely yet cooled off.
not complicated: an MTV 20th anniversary video retrospective
should always include The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star,” the
prophetic song which kicked off the music channel on opening night. As well,
there is no sign of Michael Jackson or Peter Gabriel, two video pioneers,
nor is there a trace of Cyndi Lauper, Madonna or any character connected
with David Lee Roth’s “Just a Gigolo.” However, the Blink-182
music video parody, “All the Small Things,” is included, but completists
will be jonesing for the missing links.
Possibly the rights to these artists’ videos could not be obtained, but even
so, MTV is squeamish about anything not too new – that’s why VH1 was
Still, there are plenty of tasty nuggets to harvest. Gary Numan’s “Cars” and
Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” are hootable like old videos should be, but
Digible Planets’ “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like That)” and The Red Hot Chili
Peppers’ “Higher Ground” are awesomely powerful, intensely beautiful and
downright exciting. In addition, Lisa Stanfield’s “All Around the World,” is
a satisfying example of song-to-video perfection.
you are to learn any lessons at all about this unique history, it’s that
there is a huge rift in sensibilities between 80s and 90s artists on video.
The 80s pop stars (Tears For Fears and the Thompson Twins) are feeling their
way – obviously, glaringly attempting to figure out how to fill up three
minutes of video time; the 90s artists (Chumbawamba and Smash Mouth, in
their Cosmo Kramer wardrobe) are broadening the art’s horizons while, at the
same time, minimizing their own style. The common denominator: all are
posing. However, the old dependable music video staple remains consistent
throughout: hot girls.
You’ll learn that time flies too: was it really almost ten years ago that
Soundgarden recorded “Black Hole Sun?” And prepare yourself: it’s been over
a decade since House of Pain jumped around to “Jump Around.”
You’ll also enjoy another music constant: the vague itch of “what the hell
is going on?” Okay, Godspeed participates in a wiccan ceremony, so we’re not
required to know what’s happening, but attempt to explain The Fixx’s “One
Thing Leads To Another,” or Elvis Costello apparently singing about Princess
Di and Prince Charles in “Everyday I Write the
Book.” Okay, we grant them poetic and artistic license, but unfortunately,
not all art scores. And the ultimate in “what the hell is going on?” is the
self-conscious mugging of Steven Tyler and
Aerosmith, trying to relate to The Kids as late as the 1990s.
also get a complete glimpse of “jams,” featuring hip-hop artists and
rhythm-and-blues singers, with their casts of thousands. Most of what we are
served is more lukewarm than piping hot; most of it is from the 90s, which
is not surprising for this retrospective: MTV was notorious for barring many
black artists and rap singers from their well-watched playlist for quite a
number of years. Still, you get your share of bouncing cars and bouncing
booties (“Back That Thing Up” is not referring to a Brinks'
also get some deep insight from the artists themselves, MTV style. For
instance, on 9.21.99, the rapper Juvenile stated, “I thought I was Run DMC,
LL Cool J or somebody back in the day. I was into it all. If there was
making money and it looked good and it was dealing with rap, I was always
with it.” We also get some pop-up factoids that may only appeal to young
people (or may not): “[Brian] McKnight began his acting career by
appearing as a recurring character on the WB network’s sitcom, Sister
Rarely on this collection is a piece of history for history’s sake. One
possible exception is the Jesus Jones classic “Right Here, Right Now,” which
apparently is about the fall of communism. It’s one of those rare videos
that transcends disposability and takes on a whole new power in its retro
are also given a semi-generous portion of “bonus beats,” including
Technotronic’s “Pump up the Jam” and The Chemical Brothers’ “Setting Sun.”
Again, we’re having fun, but are we learning?
Today, in order to be swept up by wall-to-wall music videos, you would have
to tune in to MTV2 (if you can find it). However, the feeling is not the
same as it was back in the day. Although videos continue to find imaginative
ways to lure you in, the novelty has long-ago worn off.
network that came out of nowhere and revolutionized youth culture and media
sensibility, we’re expecting more than the pretty but skimpy hodgepodge of
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Posted: December 23, 2005.