A Close Reading of Literal Music Videos

Here at Better Than Voodoo, we like to take on the big questions, and today is no different. With that in mind, I ask, which is a better literal way to interpret a music video: by representing the lyrics in literal images, or by representing the images of the video with literal lyrics?

We’ll start this inquiry with what is believed to be the first entrant into the burgeoning field of Literal Music videos, a-ha’s “Take On Me.”

This one’s pretty hard to top. The production values are top notch, and it originated the genre. Beyond that, you can buy Pipe Wrench Fight t-shirts if you so choose. And why wouldn’t you?

If you’re looking for more of this, the versions of Tears for Fears’ “Head over Heels” and Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” are pretty delightful as well.

But recently, the trend has taken something of a different tack. As evidence, I present what I believe to be the originator of this particular trend, a brilliant literal Microsoft Paint-based rendition of Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Going Down.”

The recent literal interpretation of Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now” is a little different in that it doesn’t play on misheard lyrics, it just takes the lyrics very, very, literally, which has the added effect of emphasizing how often he says “Shit” in his songs.

Now, I know what you’re wondering: “How do these two sort of similar trends on the internet relate to one another?” Good question.

The answer is this: in the 1980s, music videos were ridiculous. You can blame the passage of time and say that our culture will look silly in twenty-five years. But…I mean, did you watch the “Safety Dance” video? There’s just a midget dancing around a maypole getting whacked on the ass! It’s fucking insane. And not in a cool, ironic way. The lead singer just grimaces through the whole video. That shit (no Chris Brown) is dead, fucking serious. Today, though, music videos are, for the most part, just safe and boring.

Oh, and they effectively don’t exist any more. Fall Out Boy did make one for “Sugar, We’re Going Down.” It has a kid with antlers walking around, and uses that to teach us a lesson about Prejudice, and Being Comfortable in Our Own Skin, Kirk Herbstreit-style. It’s just that if you parodied that, nobody would know what was happening because nobody has seen a music video since 1997.

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