Monsters in Music Videos
- the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.
Here’s a list of some of notable music videos that feature a characters that are out of this world.
DJ Snake, AlunaGeorge – You Know You Like It, Released Dec 30 2014, Directed by Dori Oskowitz whose other works includes Nickelback, Ke$ha, and Steve Aoki MV’s – This is my current favorite music video, bumping Sia and Daniel Askill’s Chandelier music video out of the top spot. Many don’t seem to share my love for this bizarre tale of a drug selling monkey man (I think he looks more like a sloth) who’s either A: pining for his lost love or B: cyber stalking some chick he doesn’t have the nerve to talk to… and making all the wrong decisions. Maybe what’s most compelling is the actor’s ability to convey so much complex emotion within his strict limitations. As someone who’s fascinated by body language, I was incredibly impressed by how natural his movements and expressions were, providing the character with all the necessary realism to create empathy. The editing really brought this video to life, using quick abstract shots and close ups that give it a textured, indie film feel. My favorite shot is his reflection in the laundry machine. When you see a bizarre character doing through the ordinary motions of every day life, and being treated normally by other characters, the contrast is reassuring. It’s as if to say, no matter how much of a freak you think you are, everybody’s going through the same thing.
Daft Punk – Da Funk, Released in 1995, Directed by Spike Jonze – This music video was originally entitled Big City Nights and focuses on Charles, an anthropomorphic dog who just moved to NYC. Even though it’s the music that pushes the story forward (because Charles’ boombox won’t shut off), it’s more like a prop or a character itself than the main event, resulting in a music video that reads more like a short film. I remember watching this on MTV and VH1 as a kid and it, like Jonze’s other music videos of the time, left a big impression on me for its utterly bizarre subject matter, yet matter-of-fact presentation. There’s also a sequel, though it’s directed by Daft Punk as a tribute to fans who wanted a happier ending:
Jonze makes a fitting cameo as film director in this version. The video has a contemporary feel, with its ambitious one-take format. One should keep in mind that technology in the 90’s wasn’t as versatile as today’s, so getting this shot was much trickier back then than running around with a lightweight mirrorless DSLR and a movi!
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Heads Will Roll, 2009, Directed by Richard Ayoade who has done a lot of Vampire Weekend MV’s too – Things take a bizarre and bloodthirsty turn for the worst after a breakdancing, Michael jackson impersonating werewolf takes the stage. But don’t worry, all the vulgarities are covered with confetti.
Galantis – Runaway (U & I) (Official Video), Released Jan 2015, Directed by Dano Cerny who has directed Galantis’ other MV’s – This video is a sweet contemporary serenade with dramatic, colorful visuals. The story opens as a documentary, and the handheld camera movements sell the realism of the CG elements, and the glimmer of city lights compliments the accents of light and color in the costumes.
Zara Larsson, MNEK – Never Forget You,Released Sep 17, 2015, Directed by Richard Paris Wilson who seems new to the music video scene, but already has this and an Edward and the Magnetic Zeros MV under his belt – Reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are and to some extent, Monsters Inc, this MV is the strange and oddly charming tale of a girl and her imaginary friend.The lyrics of the song would normally invoke ideas about romantic relationships, but this interpretation was much more thought provoking. Unlike the others in this list, this MV focuses on the girl’s character instead of the Creature’s. The Creature’s design is slightly grotesque, like something out of a Miyazaki animation. What’s more compelling than the sight of it, is seeing that the Girl is unafraid of it. We see glimpses into both the Girl’s world and the Creature’s world that tells a story of escapism, love, and longevity.
This was definitely on the outskirts of my list. It doesn’t use any fancy effects, or even sophisticated costume modeling. This is the kind of nightmare fuel that can usually be found in the flickering lights of a good jump scare horror film, or around the corner of a haunted house. But maybe that’s exactly what makes this a perfect match for this theme of monsters in plain sight.
The lyrics are simple, and the video seems perfectly aligned with each word. Pretty straightforward – guy takes drugs, deals with consequences. It’s an other worldly and isolating experience, demonstrated by the artist’s head growing into a massive paper mache bobble-head with bug eyes and a contorted, Joker-esque smile. He looks in the mirror and laughs it off, but it’s a state of mind he can’t really shake throughout the rest of the video, and even when his body goes back to normal, the memory of it remains in the mirror’s reflection.
This gets back to the idea presented in the DJ Snake video, about how your perception of yourself can be wildly different than the reality, and that the actions you take while under the influence of that vision will shape the way that others treat you. The music video also includes shots of normal situations, just like the other examples in this list — the giant bobble-headed Posner gets a drink at the bar, has sex with someone in a bathroom stall, helps a sick partygoer, breaks up a fight, and performs on stage (although he appears to freeze up– it made me wonder how much of this was an autobiography? Did this really happen, and Posner is expressing it now?). Everything is ordinary and yet surreal, just like Spike Jonze’s work, just like DJ Snake.
The ONLY thing that bothered me about this video was the unintentional knock of the mask by a dancer at about 3:25. That was the only moment that took me out of the world, when I’d really rather that the 4th wall not be broken since the video is already walking along the edge. It’s easy for these types of videos to lose their more somber, introspective nature and just become absurd. Mat Whitecross’ video for Coldplay’s Paradise is a good example.
Even though it could have turned out similar to the previous examples because the premise would have worked with that style, Paradise’ photography, settings, acting, color grading, and the costume design, shift focus more to the spectacle rather than the underlying messages of identity, animal rights, and homelessness. The overall tone is more humorous and lighthearted, it has the aesthetic of a viral prank video or a feel good video about giving free hugs. And that’s fine, not all work needs to be a serious social justice project, but it’s interesting to see someone taking a different directoral approach with essentially the same material as we’ve seen in the previous examples.
I’ll probably update this post in the future as I encounter more interesting domestic monster videos.
Til then, enjoy these vids and check out the directors’ other works to see more of their worlds.