"Words Won't Bring Us Down": Best Music Videos of 2002

Cynthia Fuchs

Music videos are an ever-evolving means of self-representation and social commentary. They're here and gone so quickly, it's sometimes difficult to keep track, especially of the ones that MTV doesn't deign to rotate ad nauseam. Still, exceptional vids keep coming.

Music videos in 2002 constitute a mixed bag -- some are memorable, others groundbreaking, most standard issue efforts to push self-as-product. They range from the narcissistic (Diddy's "I Need a Girl" [Parts 1 and 2], J. Lo's "Jenny From the Block," Elton John's "Original Sin") and the hyperperformative (Mariah's "Through the Rain," Britney's "Boys"), to the self-implosive (Whitney's "One of Those Days," the Prodigy's "Baby's Got a Temper"), the self-remodeling (Pink's "Don't Let Me Get Me," Tori Amos' "A Sorta Fairytale"), and the truly scary (Xtina's "Dirrty," Kylie Minogue's "Come Into My World").

Music videos are an ever-evolving means of self-representation and social commentary. They're here and gone so quickly, it's sometimes difficult to keep track, especially of the ones that MTV doesn't deign to rotate ad nauseam. Still, exceptional vids keep coming. Below, the best of 2002 in an assortment of unstable categories, in alphabetical order, by artist's name.

Most Profound Turnaround Between Two Videos:
Christina Aguilera
"Dirrty," Director: David LaChapelle
"Beautiful," Director: Jonas Akerlund
[Stripped (RCA 2002)]

After all the hubbub over the chaps, the muddy wrestling ring, and the Thai-child-porn-posters of "Dirrty," Aguilera got her act together for "Beautiful." The song is incredible (she even hums on key) and the point (everyone is beautiful, from cross-dressers to kinky-haired girls to gay white boys to anorexic girls to Christina her-own-multiply-pierced-self) is more TRL-friendly than "Let's get dirty."

Best History Lesson:
Erykah Badu, featuring Common, "Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)"
Directors: Erykah Badu and Chris Robinson
Brown Sugar Soundtrack (MCA 2002)

Not many artists could walk you through hip-hop's past in under three minutes, but Badu finds a way to do it, without being insulting or simplistic. From breaking to power-saluting to smoking to speed-rapping, she extols hip-hop's beauty, gimmicks, and influence, and looks to its future.

Most Inspired Combination:
DJ Shadow, "Six Days," Director: Wong Kar Wai
The Private Press (MCA 2002)

With no script and no treatment, Wong Kar Wai and DP Christopher Doyle shot the video -- starring Crouching Tiger's Chang Chen and Danielle Graham as lovers in the throes of a break-up -- in a film studio outside Hong Kong, for six days. The result is a gorgeous, sensuous evocation of pain and longing, perfect for Shadow's exhilarating beats.

Funkiest Groove Thing(s):
Missy Elliot
"Work It," Directors: Dave Meyers and Missy Elliot
"Gossip Folks," Director: Dave Meyers
Under Construction (Gold Mind/Elektra/Asylum 2002)

Missy Elliot's heart is bigger than any other in hip-hop. And she's never made a video you can't like. These two, both off her 2002 album, are among the cleverest. "Work It" shows off her new look and pays all kinds of homage to past artists, from b-boys and b-girls to graf artists to MCs to Prince, as well as her ongoing tributes to Aaliyah and Lisa Lopes. "Gossip Folks" reunites her with "One Minute Man" collaborator Luda, who brings it in a slick skin jacket. Plus, Missy in a schoolgirl's uniform in the high school hallway: all good.

Yo Mama Award:
"Without Me," Director: Joseph Kahn
"Cleaning Out My Closet," Director: Philip Atwell
both on The Eminem Show (Interscope 2002)
"Lose Yourself," Directors: Eminem, Paul Rosenberg, Philip Atwell
8 Mile Soundtrack (Interscope 2002)

The new favorite love object for Newsweek-reading moms, Eminem puts it all out there in this year's slate of videos: he plays his mom, buries his mom in and then reincarnates her as Kim Basinger for 8 Mile (with movie scenes inserted into "Lose Yourself"). All beautifully perverse -- with psyche-anxieties that seem too ostentatious to scrutinize -- these mama memories illustrate, underline, and challenge U.S. fascinations with family drama.

Damn Britney Spears Award:
Avril Lavigne, "I'm With You," Director: David LaChapelle
Let Go (Arista 2002)

The sk8ter videos were cute, and this one is a little melodramatic, the way that teen yearning can be. But this song, helped considerably by LaChapelle's sweeping long shots, shows another side of Lavigne -- she uses her big voice so absolutely generously and so knowingly, hat she recalls a young Alanis Morissette, but less angry, more confident. The kids mill and wander at the party, then Lavigne walks off into the night. Seeking the you with whom she'll be. It's a magnificent performance, simply and perfectly framed.

Best MC Showcase:
"One Mic," Director: Chris Robinson
Stillmatic (Columbia/Sony, 2001)
"Made You Look," Director: Benny Boom
God's Son (Columbia/Sony, 2002)

The videos reflect Nas' return to lyrical and performative basics, beyond the Christ-like posturings of his Diddy moment. Each video matches look to beat, with scratching and zapping included in the sound and visual mix. Rich, rousing experiences, the videos do make you look.

Sharpest Bite of the Hand That Feeds You:
Meshell Ndegéocello
"Pocketbook," Director: Liz Friedlander
Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape (Warner Brothers, 2002)

The video offers cagey indictments of the music industrial-promotional system, with Meshell playing DJ to a crowd of bumping, writhing dancers, including girls with short shorts that read: "Buy My Record." Okay.

Best Use of the Tired Old Bloodhound Gang:
"Hot in Herre," Director: Little X
Nellyville (Universal 2002)

The club floor where Nelly rules has everyone stripping and sweating, in pretty blue light. By the time the roof catches fire, no one cares. Let the motherfucker burn.

I'm Your Pusherman Award:
"Lapdance," "Grindin'" (with Clipse), "Boys" (with Britney Spears), "Like I Love You" (with Justin Timberlake), "Provider"
In Search of... (Virgin 2001)

Apparently endlessly inventive, the Neptunes continue to dominate the industry. Each of these videos inserts Pharell as a sign of trendy-coolness (whether slinking with Britney or Justin, he looks equally at-home and out-of-place at once), but "Provider," the video that mostly aired after hours on MTV2, is the most radical: these guys are this year's most pervasive and profitable addiction. And they know it.

Slammingest Soundtrack Video, Ever:
OutKast, featuring Killer Mike and Sleepy Brown
"Land of a Million Drums," Director: Bryan Barber
Scooby-Doo Soundtrack (Atlantic 2002)

Soundtrack videos always suck. Except when Andre and Big Boi get a hold of the concept, and make the haunted house cliché a mere point of departure... for a slew of drums. And lord, the beats kick.

Most Emphatic Self-Reinvention:
"Don't Let Me Get Me" [Missundaztood (LaFace 2001)]
Director: Dave Meyers
"Family Portrait"
Director: Sophie Mueller

After generating all kinds of pop-buzz with the album's first single, all party poses and wide angles, Pink thought again, and took her rock-and-confessional mode to the visual track. Both videos, very differently, introduce new Pinks. The latest features a girl playing Little Pink, lip-syncing the lyrics, an effective rendering of the splits of self and relations that shape so many lives.

Hands Down Hardest Working Director of the Year:
Chris Robinson

A one-man industry. Consider that the following is only a selection of his output for the past 12 months: Boyz II Men's "The Color of Love," Tweet's "Call Me," DMX's "I Miss You," Busta's "Pass the Courvoisier" (Parts 1 and 2), Brandy's "Full Moon," Monica's "All Eyes On Me," Bow Wow's "Basketball," Nas' "One Mic," Slum Village's "Tainted," Faith Evans' "Burnin' Up," Ms. Jade's "Big Head," Musiq's "Don't Change," Xzibit's "Multiply." He works with his musical artists, making each video reflect a particular personality (or, when Busta shows up with his crew, several personalities). His work is always resourceful, usually brilliant.

Most Heartfelt Video:
Kelly Rowland
"Stole," Director: Sanaa Hamri
Simply Deep (Columbia 2002)

For a first solo single (following on her good commercial bet duet with Nelly, "Dilemma"), Kelly Rowland chooses to express concern for kids who are dying, and don't need to. The video is a little overwrought (survivor kids find bodies everywhere and are left grieving, apparently endlessly; and that tree she sits on is odd), but it's nonetheless moving, too. And the song is well arranged, to show off Rowland's full, supple voice.

Most Profound Life Cycles:
Scarface, "On My Block"
Director: Mark Klasfeld (Def Jam 2002)

Using an ingenious tactic to show the circular movements and limits of life in the hood, Klasfeld's camera makes one long take for the duration of the video, panning over on the streets, homes, cars, and people, appearing to cover some 34 years, from 1968-2002. The last, lingering image includes a billboard that quotes the Bible, "What is in the beginning will be in the end." It's a fitting and resonant observation, and makes its point: the hood remains the same, the problems, the aspirations, and the determinations.

Best Use of a Boyfriend:
"Underneath Your Clothes," Director: Herb Ritts
Laundry Service (Epic 2001)

Forget the hips and the wild blond hair and the spike boots. Shakira here adores her boyfriend, entices him as if by sheer willpower into the video/her dream, and then, never shows his face. It's a lovely, romantic, and compelling take on road life and missing someone important. And Herb Ritts will be missed.

Best Twofer:
Snoop Dogg
"From tha Chuuuch to da Palace," Directors: Bucky Chrome, a.k.a. Diane Martel (doll version); Jesse Ignjatovic (house party version)
Paid Tha Cost to be Da Bo$$ (Priority 2002)

Snoop's been busy lately, between promoting his movie Bones, losing the Muppets special appearance, ignoring Bill O'Reilly, giving up weed, starring in MTV's Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, redecorating a fan's home for VH1's Rock The House (Snoop on VH1: the world has changed), calling out Suge, and making his new album. Add to that list the fact that he's made two videos for the first single, "From tha Chuuuch to da Palace," both great in their own ways. In the first, he falls prey to a hoodoo sorta doll, his lanky limbs made to twist and flail by a young boy; in the second, he rocks the house party, hard. Both are fun, self-knowing, and inventive.

Nastiest Vengeance Video:
Justin Timberlake, featuring Timbaland
"Cry Me a River," Director: Francis Lawrence
Justified (Jive 2002)

No matter that JT is the Newer and Whiter MJ or that he's got the Pharell stamp of approval or that he doesn't see how anyone could construe the stalker imagery in "Cry Me a River" as having anything to do with his painful, much publicized break up with Ms. Spears. The girl has Britney's tattoo. The video is gorgeous, Justin slinks better than he moonwalks, and Timbaland's waiting out in the car.

Hottest Ice:
Tweet, featuring Missy Elliott
"Oops (Oh My)," Director: Cameron Casey
Southern Hummingbird (Elektra/Asylum 2002)

Tweet's incredible break out video has her in a hotel room that's made, it appears, entirely of ice. Thinking back on a party she's just left, she drops her skirt, shimmies her hips, and conjures up multiple monitor screens of her girl Missy Elliot, all leading to some of the sexiest, fully clothed imagery of the year.

Best Sophomore Video, Following An Un-Follow-Up-able First:
White Stripes
"Dead leaves and The Dirty Ground," Director: Michel Gondry
White Blood Cells (V2/BMG 2002)

Who would have thought that anyone could live up to the hype and overkill of the lego-jamboree of "Fell In Love With A Girl"? And yet, the second video is more thoughtful and intriguing, a meditation on times past and future, images and bodies dissolving over one another. Evocative, dreamy, and creepy -- the best of all worlds.

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