You know, I get the feeling video clip directors back in the 70s and 80s were on a lot of drugs.
I've just been watching some late-night Rage, ABC's perennially popular visual radio show. Today's videos may be uber-slick, CGI-ed up, and full of hot babes with perfect thighs, but they lack the daggy charm or outright bizarre-ness of the original MTV years. I present the following as evidence:
Pat Benetar with "Love is a Battlefield". First of all, the woman is a sparrow, and no amount of baggy, ripped and multi-coloured early-80s outfits can hide that fact. Although it was good that the 80s was a time when a woman called "Pat" could become a pop star. You have to have a normal name spelled weirdly now - think Britney, Rihanna or Jordin. In this vid, Pat seems to be standing up for young women, and getting kicked out of home and forced to dance in a seedy club for her trouble. There's lots of shots of her looking broody in the back of a bus. However, she does get all up-in-the-grill of a dodgy-looking gangster (dodgy as in really, really pissweak), then breaks into an awesome dance routine with her fellow clubbers. It's all about the sisterhood, y'all, and the clip ends with them on the street at dawn, hugging each other. Aw, bless.
Robert Palmer "Johnny and Mary". I didn't even know this song was by Robert Palmer. I thought he was all schmicko suits and hot babes in tight black dresses and red lipstick, a'la "Addicted to Love". This video is an extended mime. As in, a guy and a girl (I assume the eponymous Johnny and Mary), flailing about an empty office space looking confused and/or sad. Palmer himself speaks into a microphone of sorts at a desk, while crumpling up ever more bits of paper. It's freaky. And I'm pretty sure the chick playing Mary is a dude.
Simple Minds and "Don't You (Forget About Me)". I've never seen The Breakfast Club, the film that made this song famous. But if lead singer Jim Kerr is anything to go by, it involves some fairly disastrous hairdos. The rolled-up sleeves of his beige suit prompted the Wah to remark: "The 80s was the only time when geeks could become rock gods". Scottish geeks too - Simple Minds hailed from Glasgow. The film clip involves the band sitting around a big old house full of old furniture and assorted junk. I assume to represent the whole "Not forgetting (about you)" thing. And why the brackets? What was so wrong with "Don't You Forget About Me" as a title? Perhaps they thought it was too threatening for American teenagers.
David Bowie and "Sorrow". Dear God that man must have snorted half of Columbia's gross national product, surely? Wearing a ridiculous red fright wig (knowing Bowie, his own hair), lip gloss, and a crisp white double breasted suit, Bowie creepily moves around a bunch of skinny blokes wearing full-body black-and-white spandex suits, who've been handed instruments but been told to stay perfectly still, lest their genitals burst free from their lycra prison and fall victim to Bowie's infamous androgynous insatiability. The only black guy is given a sax and a jazzy orange hat, and throws in a bit of junk-thrusting for good measure. What does that say about race relations? Meanwhile, a woman wearing only slightly less eye make-up than the Thin White Duke himself sits atop what looks like a converted tennis umpire's stand, attempting to poke the spandex dummies with a large silvery pole. She has the "long blonde hair" that Bowie sings about, and the director cleverly gets her to twirl it whenever that lyric in the song gets a mention. See, that's the kind of ground-breaking work that lead Rihanna to actually have an umbrella in the song "Umbrella", because metaphor is just not enough on its own. This clip must also pre-date the era where people realised how pointless it was to hold a microphone - particularly one with a crappy cord - in a video set on a soundstage. Really, it only makes sense if you're pretending to be in the studio recording, or performing a "live" gig in front of an audience. Otherwise, we all know you're miming. Find something else to do with your hands, Bowie.
But wait a second.
Rage is being guest-programmed, and the band that's rostered on (of whom I've never heard) has picked a song called "Disco Science", which has no lyrics, but instead, lots of shots of imitation Japanese kabuki performance, except with light sabers and a woman who shoots lasers from her nipples.
So yeah. Maybe modern day video clips are just as messed up. Enjoy, children of the 2030s!