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Best Music Videos of 2001



M

y dedication to music videos as an aesthetic and political form remains intact. This despite a year in which MTV played too many Kid Rock-so-loves-himself-staged-concert-fests, Fred Durst directed a few too many vids, Lil Bow Wow and Lil Romeo competed for lil girl booty, and Buffy played scary sad girl in Scott Wieland’s teletubbish stuffed-animalscape nightmare. Still, there were bright spots: interspersed among the many too-calculated, too-tired instances of big pimpin and synchronized dancing (O-Town! please stop!) are remarkable video moments, with arresting power and insight. Below, the most memorable, in alphabetical order:


“Blow Ya Mind”
Eve, featuring Gwen Stefani

Director: Philip Atwell
Scorpion (Interscope)
Great Dre production, of course, and clever direction by Atwell (who has made more than his share of brilliant Dre videos). So what if the story is a little corny—rebel girls crash the rich folks’ bash and convince the crusties to indulge in the funk? The girls are so charming, you can go with it anyway.


“Bouncing Back (Bumpin Me Against the Wall)”
Mystikal

Director: Chris Robinson/Jessy Terrero
Tarantula (Jive)
Who knew that this ex-No Limit Soldier would come up with such a perceptively jazzed-up joint? The artist’s trademark New Orleans stylings surely help catapult the video into some other stratosphere, along with the lively funeral parade. The padded room and straitjacket business is hardly original, but let’s grant that Mystikal has his own performative claim to it. More interestingly, the video hauls hiphop into the world outside bling-bling, with references to the new media blitz (anthrax, the war on terror at every newsstand and on every tv). Bouncing back is suddenly a “universal” theme.



“Clint Eastwood”
Gorillaz

Director: Jamie Hewlitt
Gorillaz (Parlophone/Virgin)
An band made up of animated characters clearly needs an exceptional video to get it off the ground. This is that video, full of images and ideas that actually give pause: gorillas sprouting from the barren earth, grave markers looming, and our heroes battling a future that’s already upon us.



“Didn’t Cha Know”
Erykah Badu

Director: Erykah Badu
Mama’s Gun (Motown)
Brainy, strange, and entrancing. The basic concept has Badu running across a desert, her tall figure and (then) tall headwrap stretching even further toward the sky, when in an elongated frame. She might look alien or futuristic at first, dressed in mad-maxish beige skins and boots, but within seconds, you see her for the very present-tense gift she is.


“Evolution Revolution Love”
Tricky, featuring Ed Kowalczyk and Hawkman

Director: Jake Scott
Blowback (Hollywood)
The most perverse, superb collabo of the year. Each of the three performers strips off the other’s face, one by one, leaving skin and goo, so they’re all sort of the same alien creature, but not really. These pained expressions are intercut with Tricky’s tense figure and musclebird arms, in near-silhouette, on a sepia-twilit urban street. It’s not exactly clear how (or when) the revolution transpires, but the video does its own mysterious work.



“Girls Girls Girls”
Jay Z

Director: Marc Klasfeld
The Blueprint (Roc-a-fella)
Hova and his ladies: got it. But if you’re going to list your playa conquests, it’s good to make an issue of the commercial process and make a little fun of yourself, too.


“Golden Boys”
Res

Director: Nzingha Stuart
How I Do (MCA)
A video as fresh and smart as the track it illustrates, combining casual-seeming images and beautifully precise editing. The layered images and lush sound make for a seductive combination.


“Get Ur Freak On”
Missy Elliot

Director: Dave Meyers
So Addictive (Wea/Elektra Entertainment)
Missy is always about distorting bodies and messing with body images. Here you’ve got limbs without joints, a snaky neck, and a spit globule to make you wretch, all moving to Timbaland’s crazy double beats. And check the break at the end, with Missy and her girls en route—“I know you feel me, though.” Yes, you do.


“Ms. Jackson”
OutKast

Director: F. Gary Gray
Stankonia
Among the most innovative and entertaining videos of the decade, the narrative, images, and beats are exactly in sync. When you get an owl bobbing its head on beat, you hardly need do anything more. But still, this video brings it, all of it: clever narrative, gorgeous big-screeny visuals from F. Gary Gray (Set It Off), and a wholly enjoyable sense of irony.



“The Long Walk”
Jill Scott

Director: Jessy Terrero
Who Is Jill Scott?
Jill Scott—in black and white or full-on color—is a joyous, generous performer. This video tracks her on a journey that goes far beyond the neighborhood she traverses.


“New York, “New York”
Ryan Adams

Director: James Minchin
Gold (Lost Highway)
So, okay, the timing is uncanny. Shot just before 9-11 and released just after, the video functions as an instant memorial to the Twin Towers, hovering in the background of several “artist” shots. The song is what it is, but the video makes a strong case against those early inclinations (Zoolander, anyone?) to remove WTC images from movies and tv, by digital or other means.


“Pop”
‘NSync

Director: Wayne Isham
Celebrity (Jive)
The best Michael Jackson video he never made.



“Sexual Revolution”
Macy Gray

Directors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
The Id (Epic)
Beyonce, Kelly and Michelle brought on adorable mini-me’s for the “Bootylicious” remix, but Macy Gray made the looking back-growing up theme her own in “Sweet Baby,” with that incredible little girl lip-syncing Gray’s big bountiful vocals on the beach. But even this wonderful video was eclipsed by the one that followed—and that did not get near enough airplay, running only after hours and only occasionally—the outrageous, playful, and kinky “Sexual Revolution.” With “personal info” running under their video-dating self-advertisements, the figures here come from everywhere, and underline (in case they need underlining) Gray’s huge heart and progressive sex politics.


“Son of a Gun” (P. Diddy Remix)
Janet Jackson, featuring Missy Elliot and P. Diddy

Director: Francis Lawrence
All For You (Virgin)
Brutal. That alarming girl coming up out the toilet is enough to give me nightmares, but the video compounds such slithery revenge with Janet’s boots, Missy’s riff, and Puffy’s ... hmmm ... what is he doing in this video?


“Stan”
Eminem

Directors: Dr. Dre and Philip Atwell
The Marshall Mathers LP (Aftermath
Entertainment/Interscope)
Where would Dido be without “Stan”? Making a brave (and not a little creepy) appearance in the video as Stan’s horrified and doomed wife, she holds her own. And that’s saying a lot, considering the sheer cleverness of this little movie—scary bleach-jobs, great intercutting, gorgeous camerawork from basement to the upstairs and back down, fearsome thunderstorms, and icy Em. It’s a provocative, evocative piece of work.


“Superwoman”
Lil Mo, featuring Fabolous

Director: Chris Robinson
Based on a True Story (EastWest/EEG) Lil Mo jumpstarted her career as one of Ja Rule’s ubiquitous duet-girls, and quickly made good with her own solo album. This video is just fun up and down, with examples of Lil Mo’s super-strength (opening the pickle jar), super-speed (thwarting a purse-snatching), and super-appeal (scoring at, of all places, the bowling alley). And what’s not to love about Fabolous’s “D-d-d-duh, d-d-d-duh, d-d-d-d-duh, damn!”?



“Survivor”
Destiny’s Child

Director: Darren Grant
Survivor (Columbia)
The girls had fine videos all year round—even the remix of “Bootylicious” was madly, deliciously campy, when it seemed impossible to outcamp the first version. And even though Francis Lawrence’s split screen for “Emotions” isn’t new (see Cibo Mato’s “Sugar Water,” for one instance), the video tells a poignant story and Beyonce (soon to be seen in Austin Powers: Goldmember) gets to strut her acting chops during her angry march to the bathroom. But nothing can touch “Survivor.” As Raquel Welchy vamps marooned on the desert island—with costume changes!—Beyonce, Michelle, and Kelly declare their resilience: they’re not gonna dis you on the internet.


“We Need a Resolution”
Aaliyah

Director: Paul Hunter
Aaliyah (Virgin)
Following her death last August, music channels played all of Aaliyah’s videos, repeatedly. By the end of the year, the video that was still in constant rotation was the one released posthumously, “Rock the Boat.” But while it comes with obvious sentimental value, the great Aaliyah video of 2001 is “We Need a Resolution,” complete with sinuous snakes, cakey dirt, Timbaland (he can’t help himself), and skritchy tv monitors, all showcasing Aaliyah’s special, quiet charisma.


“Who We Be”
DMX

Director: Joseph Kahn
The Great Depression (Def Jam)
A fully intellectual, fully politicized video, seething with passion and fury. Simultaneously fragmented and continuous, polished and raw, thrilling and illuminating, “Who We Be” invites identification and self-recognition. A wake-up call for all who imagine themselves part of a “we” or a “they.”



“Yellow” and “Trouble”
Coldplay

Parachutes (Nettwerk)
Coldplay’s jump across the Atlantic was helped along considerably by the amazing video for “Yellow,” in which newly shorn frontman Chris Martin makes his way along a shoreline as the sun comes up is simple and straight-up lovely. “Trouble” was then declared a “breakthrough” video by MTV and played to death, and yet, you never tire of watching it. The storybook visuals, Oz-ish twister, and little conceptual boxes keeping every character alone and looking paper-thin—everything in it is somehow touching.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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