Music Videos

Picture Week


By D.B. Atkins


Music video is in a state of crisis according to Kevin Godley, who has directed the Police, Herbie Hancock and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, among others. In a frightfully serious speech at this year’s MTV awards, Godley warned viewers of encroaching mediocrity—a certain crassness and commercialism, not to mention a lack of creativity. After strapping myself to my sofa and watching six straight hours of MTV, I fear Godley is right. Here’s why:

1) Not enough blonds to go around. The industry is running out of blonds. How many fair-haired, unemployed actress-models can there be with cheekbones as high as an elephant’s eye and legs up to their ribs? The same blonds are beginning to appear on different videos. And above them all, with icy eyes and a jaw-line sharp enough to grind a lead guitarist into fine powder, stands the new blond totem of MTV, Aimee Mann of the group ’til tuesday. Marilyn Monroe would not have made it in music video because her thighs were too ripe. Depressing.

2) Not enough exotic locations. In the wake of Duran Duran’s globe-trotting, all other artists have had to scramble for what’s left of the world. Not much, it turns out. One group, the heavy-metal band Heaven, went to the trouble of helicoptering onto a thin butte in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park to shoot Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. The boys lip-sync up there on the sort of rock spire you’re used to seeing in television commercials for light pickup trucks. How exotic is that?

3) Not enough sincerity. This must explain the current vogue for black-and-white videos. Bob Dylan, John Cougar Mellencamp, Sting and others are all going retro. Black-and-white demonstrates that you are a serious artiste, that-you mean what you say, and that this is a sincere act of communication between said artiste and the viewer, not just some advertisement for a record.

4) Not enough original ideas. An increasing number of videos now have for their subject matter, ta-da: other videos. What Steve Perry started—lampooning over-blown productions with his video-within-a-video of Oh Sherrie—Phil Collins has given the final boot with Don’t Lose My Number. He sends up the whole process of deciding what kind of a generic “concept” video to make while “quoting” famous videos of years past, tongue firmly in cheek. After Collins’ giddy drunk of a video satire, Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing—about MTV itself—is like a hangover. Two aspirin will not suffice.