With over one million copies sold in its first week and three top ten singles leading up to its release in the US alone, Lady Gaga’s new album Born This Way has become a cultural phenomenon, in which Gaga’s declaration of individuality leads all her little monsters to the glorious truth: I’m OK, you’re OK. Actually, we’re all fierce and fabulous.
Last year’s media attention on bullying seemingly inspired a slew of affirmation songs (for instance, Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Taylor Swift’s “Mean”), but no one has embraced the self-acceptance theme with the fervor of the Lady. This pops up repeatedly throughout the new CD, nowhere more clearly in the title track, in which she advises, “Don’t hide yourself in regret / Just love yourself and you’re set.” Why? Because you were born that way, baby, whatever “way” that might be. A more personal plea comes in “Hair”: “I just wanna be myself / And I want you to love me for who I am.”
You ever have one of those periods where you decide to re-explore a band you haven’t really listened to in years and end up remembering why you loved them in the first place? Right now I’m on a very big Clash kick, something I haven’t experienced since roughly my junior year of high school (my fondest Clash-related memory of that period being cooped up indoors rocking out to the live CD From Here to Eternity during a summer family trip to Florida). Consequently, I’ve been making the rounds around YouTube the last few weeks in search of all things Clash in order to help satiate my renewed hunger for works of the legendary punk rock quartet. Viewing the group’s virtual promo reel, it’s plain that the Clash wasn’t the most conceptual group when it came to making music videos. Aside from the notable exception of the kooky “Rock the Casbah”, the British group’s videography is predominantly focused on performance clips. That’s certainly not a problem, given the Clash’s renown as one of the most exhilarating live groups of its era.
Unsurprisingly, the video for the Clash’s 1978 single “Tommy Gun” (taken from the group’s underrated second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope, a.k.a. “The First Attempt to Break America, via Lots of Hard Rock Guitars”) is a no-frills performance piece, devoted solely to presenting the band playing its damnedest on stage, the only concession to visual flair being a backdrop of assorted national flags. Fuck the fancy set designs, this is punk rock. Despite its occasionally obscured cinematography (which seems dead-set on avoiding full-body shots of guitarist Joe Strummer as much as possible) and some of the song’s own deficiencies (with all its fits and showboating chord crashes, it’s essentially one long intro, albeit a striking one), all four members of the Clash overcome any flaws the clip contains by virtue of being so powerfully charismatic, demanding the viewer’s attention via the unbridled passion and sheer awesomeness they exude even when miming to a prerecorded track. In short, the Clash show how punks can be proper rock gods.
Music videos do not play the vital role of exposure in the metal world that they do in the pop world, simply because metal music videos are often more performance-driven than story-driven. With a few rare exceptions (see “Light the Torch” and “Deliverance is Mine” by Soilwork, a two-part video story that will likely become a trilogy), almost all metal music videos show the artists performing their instruments in some fashion. In fact, that is all that is seen in a fair number of metal music videos. The reasoning behind it is simple: metal fans are usually more appreciative of the actual composition that goes into their songs because it is done on actual instruments, and thus seeing the human element of the music being played is visually gripping.
However, when metal music videos incorporate a storyline, usually it has something interesting, or at the very least attention-grabbingly awful, to offer (see “The Beast and the Harlot” by Avenged Sevenfold for an example of the latter). Storylines will sometimes relate to the actual concept of a song or album, and at other times just look and feel appropriate for the song’s overall tone. The best videos are the ones that accomplish both of these, and when they also incorporate a seemingly cliché but actually seldom-used plot device, you get nearly-guaranteed video success. I am talking, of course, about putting metal in space. And there’s no better band to do that than the group that first brought metaphysics into metal, Swedish sextet Scar Symmetry.
When your band’s last album was near the top of pretty much every ‘Best Of’ list in the known universe, you pretty much get to do whatever you want for a follow-up. Apparently, what the fellows of Animal Collective wanted to do with that carte blanche was work alongside director Danny Perez to craft the most psychedelic and frankly frightening music/film hybrid since the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, which, for the record, is goddamn terrifying. In this goal, they succeed mightily with their latest release, the “visual album” Oddsac.
Speaking prior to a midnight screening at New York’s IFC Theatre, the film’s director advised the audience to just sort of let go for the film’s not-quite-an-hour run time. “Don’t try to decipher it too much”, requested Perez. It’s good advice that will contribute greatly to enjoying Oddsac, which alternates between creating psychedelic landscapes of color, motion, and sound, and gleefully context-free vignettes that are by turns meditative and gruesome.
In discussions about the worst pop song of all time, Starship’s “We Built This City” is the go-to turkey. The song’s wrong-headed indignation over ‘80s corporate culture coupled with laughably sub-par musical stylings create a spicy jambalaya of awful for the ages. The video—in which former members of Jefferson Airplane stare creepily into the camera for inordinate lengths of time—doesn’t exactly help matters either.
However, another ‘80s-era gem has been sorely overlooked in such considerations. The Hooters’ video for “And We Danced” is a remarkable gestalt of auditory assault and can’t-look-away-it’s-so-bad imagery, a perfect storm of suck.