In the early ‘90s, music videos had come into their own, and were big-budget marketing tools to solidify a band’s image and to help sell albums. Jodeci have always been a mystery to me. I’ve never been a big fan, but one night when watching all of their videos in a row, I realized that there’s a lot going on in ‘90s R&B other than the Boyz II Men syruppy slop.
Jodeci were of the late-new jack swing era, which meant that they were producing more hard R&B songs as well as the sappy and slow softies. The videos that are representative of these two types of songs are the super-sensitive sounds of “Forever My Lady” and the weirdo, tougher but still sensitive sounds of “Feenin’”. This write-up is less to figure out what was going on with Jodeci at the time, or to figure out something about ‘90s culture, and is instead just to draw attention to the art of the ‘90s R&B video.
“Forever My Lady” begins with soft lighting and contains the two main settings for the video: the sea side and some sort of cathedral or bath house. It’s a great mix and what makes things even better are the costumes. It happens a lot with videos from past decades, when you wonder about the appeal of the fashion. In this first part of the video, the Jodeci boys are all wearing: white hats, white button-up sports jackets, white shorts, and black combat boots with white socks poking out above them. There’s nary a shirt to be seen.
The song focuses around typical sensitive ‘90s R&B themes of love, family and total devotion. Serious stand-outs for the video involve K-Ci skipping a rock into the ocean, K-Ci’s hand movements that mime the lyrics he’s singing, and Devante’s (I think that’s Devante) air-keytar solo at the end. He continues the keytar solo from ocean to cathedral, and back.
“Feenin” is way different and though it also hits with some muscular R&B, there are darker elements. The song focuses around how love can be so strong and addictive that you essentially become a drug fiend. The drug fiend depicted in the video though is more like someone with serious mental problems that has been committed, and now lives in a padded room - there’s even a shot of one of the members, or an extra, wearing a diaper.
This video makes the mistake of trying to become some sort of narrative video, as shown during the star-studded poker game which attempts to explain the concept of “Feenin”. Snoop Dog provides some very unnecessary advice (though Snoop is just making a cameo, Jodeci had other star affiliations with Missy Elliott and Timbaland both involved with the group before the song kicks into a heavy rock intro.
The song then gets into its proper form, strong drums with a really amazing sounding snare, and K-Ci’s singing providing a narrative while the video switches between scenes of him in what is possibly hell (or blacksmith forge), and in an insane asylum.
The video is half-horror movie and half-mistaken ideas about what an insane asylum might be.
Some real highlights are Suge Knight as an orderly bringing in food, the aforementioned man in a diaper, the group sing-along around the piano in the padded music room, and the topless escape scene at the end where they rip all of the padding from the walls.
Overall, I’m not really sure what these videos say about anything, or whether they do say anything, they more show the music video at one of its most confused and weird times. The budget was there to make a big video, but people didn’t quite seem know how to do it. A big budget just meant a couple of more costume changes and renting expensive sets. Jodeci really took it to a weird level, and these two videos are entertaining examples. Though for the most part it’s a good thing that the big-business music industry is failing, the one thing I’ll miss most is absurd and large scale music videos. Animal Collective and Chairlift have shown how you can make amazing videos with a small budget, but the excessive nature of major label music videos in the ‘90s was something special.