MOTIVATION by Normani is the tip of her talent iceberg

I first saw and heard Normani in LOVE LIES, which is one of the greatest music videos ever. Seriously. I’ve played it 6.2 gazillion times and am still not sick of it. Khalid and Normani nail this thing. If you haven’t seen it, check this thing out. Such a slow burn.

Then I kept hearing her on other tracks, like DANCING WITH A STRANGER with Sam Smith–just perfect.

Here’s the first song I’ve seen from her that’s completely hers. Check it out.

Impressive, right?

Most people are lucky to have nurtured one talent to a world-class level. Singing or dancing. Not both.

I think she’s got heaps of talent in singing and dancing. She reminds me a lot of Ariane Grande years ago, before she went supernova, and people knew her mostly for spot-on impressions of Celine Dion, Britney Spears, Shakira or whoever. Wait for the middle of this video where she does Christina Aguilera singing THE WHEELS ON THE BUS, which is crazysauce. I would totally buy an album of her doing covers like this.

VERDICT

I believe, deep in my soul, that Normani is going to take over and dominate the airwaves. Give us moar moar MOAR.

Why PHYSICAL by Dua Lipa is such good fun

Dua Lipa is one of the rare singers who continually tries new things in music videos, and songs. Those risks tend to pay off. I can’t remember the last song or video where I skipped it.

I only heard PHYSICAL on the radio and found the video because a dancer did a tribute that I swore was the actual official video.

And this song itself is a tribune to the original 1980s LET’S GET PHYSICAL by Olivia Newton John.

First, let’s check out Dua Lipa’s video before we talk smack.

Good, right? It’s paying homage without being a direct ripoff of Oliva Newton John.

What I like is Dua Lipa clearly cares about dance. They aren’t part of the background, making her look good — she’s dancing right with them, in this one and every video I’ve seen her do. Impressive.

The pioneer of legwarmer videos

Now here’s the original, which is still funny, but hasn’t aged that well.

This was a big deal when it came out. Huge.

Now it looks pretty cheesy, like those Crystal Light National Aerobics Championships, which is amazing and worth being studied in Contemporary History 376: What Were They Smoking in the 1980s?

VERDICT

The more I see and hear of Dua Lipa, the more I like her stuff.

Great job–please keep taking risks and trying new things with these videos. Give us moar moar MOAR.

IF THE WORLD WAS ENDING is the right kind of song for 2020

Wait five minutes and 2020 will deliver unto you new craziness, like today’s massive hacking attack.

So this song by two people I’d never heard of, J.P. Saxe and Julia Michaels, totally fits the mood of this year of apocalyptic nuttiness, with all of us just waiting for what’s next.

Giant meteor? Fine. Alien invasion? BRING IT, INTERGALACTIC MAGGOTS–WE ARE EMOTIONALLY NUMB AND UNAFRAID TO DIE.

Here’s the video:

Simple, right?

They didn’t hire a Hollywood action blockbuster director and spend $8 million on sets, explosions, and backup dancers.

Two characters singing separately on split screens. Then together.

Simple, cheap, and beautiful.

VERDICT: Love it. Give us moar moar moar.

GOOD THING by Zedd and Kehlani is just about perfect

Listen: I’ve grown up watching music videos, and have seen them evolve and branch out.

There are dance videos, art-house cray cray, stadium rockers, short films, low-rent masterpieces and high-budget flops.

This video is nearly flawless.

There’s a real story in here, character arcs, a theme of the working class versus the decadent rich–and great dancing at the end.

Most music videos will shoot for maybe one of those things and roll with it from start to finish. All story, all theme, all dancing.

I really like how the director put all the ingredients together without overdoing any one thing.

VERDICT

The acid test for a music video, book, or movie is simple: Do you want more?

I’ve replayed this a dozen times in the last week and it hasn’t gotten old once.

Love it. Give us moar moar MOAR.

 

 

DATA AND PICARD is the weirdest music video in the quandrant

Listen: there are three types of music videos.

  • Expensive Monsters, made by pop stars and rappers, and these videos have budgets bigger than the gross national product of Paraguay.
  • Shoestring Specials, shot on your buddies iPhone and edited by Carl, who dropped out of UCLA film school but still has his subscription to the Adobe Creative Suite, so you pay him in beer.
  • Obscure Weirdness, where all the wild things live.

It’s the obscure stuff that’s the most fun, because you never know what you’ll find. Sometimes it will be gross, or lame, or shocking. But other times, it’s like finding buried treasure without a pirate map.

Here’s what I just saw. Take a look and a listen.

It’s silly and stupid, right? But also brilliant. So maybe stupidly brilliant.

The sets and costumes are COMPLETELY SPOT-ON, like they bribed the night shift guy at Paramount–maybe he’s a cousin of Carl’s.

I’m loving the actor’s facial expressions, which are perfect, especially when he’s playing Data.

So: I’m required by law to like this. It’s creative, and a lot more fun than watching your average music video from a Far Too Serious Pop Star.

VERDICT: Give us more of these.

Ed Sheeran and Khalid absolutely nail it with BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

As a huge fan of Khalid, and a medium-sized fan of Ed Sheeran, I was happy to find out the song I’ve been rocking out to in the car is by these two.

The lyrics are what really made me pay attention–they’re quite different. Gloriously, the music video snags those lyrics like a wobbly pass from Tom Brady (P.S. I hate you, kthxbai) and runs them 98 yards back for a thunderous touchdown.

Here, take a look and a listen.

Different, right? I love it. 

There’s no shortage of pop and rap videos where the singer shows off, rolling around in piles of money or giving us long looks at their mansion, Lambo and swimming pool filled with supermodels.

Good on Ed Sheeran and Khalid for giving us a different take. 

The sweetness of WHEN I TASTE TEQUILA by Dan + Shay

Most music videos are meh, and I say that as a huge fan of music and music videos who grew up watching this thing we called MTV, back when it played music videos instead of insipid reality shows.

It’s hard to find videos that truly stand out, ones that I remember and want to watch again. Even if I love the song itself.

It’s doubly tough for a country music video to hit me, for I do not speak twang. 

So when I heard this song on the radio, it was a nice surprise. Then I saw the video, which is really a short film. Oh my.

Take a peek.

Haunting, isn’t it?

What stands out are the shots. Just beautiful cinematography, scenes I want to linger over. The acting is spot-on and the musicians make the smart choice of staying in the background.

What makes it truly work is telling an actual story with a beginning, middle and end. 

There are all kinds of music videos that look impressive, paired with good songs. 30 Seconds to Mars is the king of these videos, with Jared Leto having the massive advantage of being a star actor who knows how to stage and shoot film. But you don’t see complete stories very often. You see themes and ideas, but not stories where people are in conflict and make decisions.

This music videos is full of conflict and choices. It’s a sweet love story, and it fills in missing pieces you don’t see in the lyrics (below).

Great job, Dan + Shay–I’m happy to have stumbled onto this.

WHEN I TASTE TEQUILA

I can still shut down a party
I can hang with anybody
I can drink whiskey and red wine
Champagne all night
Little Scotch on the rocks and I’m fine, I’m fine
 
But when I taste tequila, baby I still see ya
Cutting up the floor in a sorority t-shirt
The same one you wore when we were
Sky high in Colorado, your lips pressed against the bottle
Swearing on a bible, baby, I’d never leave ya
I remember how bad I need ya, when I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila
 
I can kiss somebody brand new 
And not even think about you
I can show up to the same bar
Hear the same songs in my car
Baby, your memory, it only hits me this hard
 
When I taste Tequila, baby I still see ya
Cutting up the floor in a sorority t-shirt
The same one you wore when we were
Sky high in Colorado, your lips pressed against the bottle
Swearing on a bible, baby, I’d never leave ya
I remember how bad I need ya, when I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila
 
I ain’t even drunk, I ain’t even drunk
And I’m thinking
How I need your love, how I need your love
Yeah, it sinks in
 
When I taste Tequila, baby I still see ya
Sorority t-shirt, the same one you wore when we were
Sky high in Colorado, your lips pressed against the bottle
Swearing on a bible, baby, I’d never leave ya
I remember how bad I need ya, when I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila

The Red Pen of Doom analyzes I WANT YOU TO WANT ME by Cheap Trick

As part of my ongoing mission to explore all music, and go where MTV no longer goes anymore, here’s another video: I WANT YOU TO WANT ME by Cheap Trick.

Why show this old thing from 1879 or whatever, when they had to plug their guitars into steam engines?

Three reasons why:

IT.

IS.

AWESOME.

This is a case where simple and repetitive works, because there’s a nice little pattern here with the words: “I want you to want me. I need you to need me.” And so forth. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. But it is inspired, and it’s the kind of song a moderately talented punk band could learn to play, you know, the kind of band that knows four chords and forgets two of them in the middle of the show after they finish off two bottles of cheap vodka.

So in that way, this thing is genius. You don’t need a degree in music to play it. You don’t need a great voice to sing it. It’s the perfect cover song, which is why so many other bands have covered it.

Also, it’s one of the few songs that sounds good live versus all auto-tuned and cleaned up in the studio. A gritty garage band can play it and fudge notes without ruining the thing.

You — yes, you — could probably do a decent job singing this thing at a karaoke bar, even if you are TOO DRUNK TO SPELL KARAOKE.

Bottom line: a simple, study, lovable song. A punk-rock deal with interesting twists in the lyrics.

I like it, I love it, I want some more of it.

;

Special bonus: my favorite cover of I WANT YOU TO WANT ME by Letters to Cleo. (This cover doesn’t have a music video. Somebody made one with scenes from the show CHUCK, and they did alright. Here you go.)

 

The lyrics are way, way below, just for fun. Straight-forward stuff – no need to dissect or improve these. They’re perfect. 

I WANT YOU TO WANT ME

Written by Rick Nielsen
Performed by Cheap Trick

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.
I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.

I’ll shine up my old brown shoes.
I’ll put on a brand new shirt
I’ll get home early from work
if you say that you love me.

Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’).
Oh, Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’)
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.
I’ll shine up my old brown shoes.
I’ll put on a brand new shirt
I’ll get home early from work
if you say that you love me.

Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’).
Oh, Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’)
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.

A Tour De Force of ’80s Videos

If you were breathing during the ’80s, you will remember these songs and videos. If you weren’t alive, use this chance to learn about the songs coming to Classic Rock stations after they get done with their rotation of ’60s folk and ’70s disco-funk.

You may recognize some tunes from this thing they used to call the radio, which plays random songs and ads you don’t control, no matter how many buttons you push, though you could use these things called telephones to call the DJ to request a song, win prizes or try to get on live air to say something horrible, clever or horribly clever.

This era is actually important, in a musical sense, because ’80s rock and pop stars were the first to deal with music videos and MTV, so they broke a lot of ground in terms of visuals. It’s hard to go from “here’s some live footage of a concert” to “which Hollywood director should we hire for our $3 million shebang that *might* hold a candle to Thriller?”

Check it out:

The clip from Top Gun still cracks me up. How did we ever think that movie was cool?

Writing insights revealed by country twang

country music

Usually, I take a music video and dissect the lyrics to look for writing insights, which is interesting and fun.

Click with your mousity mouse to see what I did to the music video and lyrics for ELECTRIC AVENUE, because it is not only fun, but educational.

Then go see what I did with Vanilla Ice and ICE, ICE BABY.

OK. Now we get all serious. Because I am using the lyrics to a country song, and I’m not making fun of it, despite my severe twang allergy.

Good music — and good writing — have the same patterns. Songs start slow, build up, bridge to  the chorus, return to the melody and build to a crescendo. They bring the audience on a journey.

The greatest guitarist in the world would bore you into a coma if he repeated the same riffs.

Variety is good.

Repetition can be powerfully boring, or powerfully good, depending on how you use it. If you do use repetition, it must have a purpose.

Country songs like this are great study for writers. Why? Not because they’re all sad songs where your pickup truck died, your wife left you for your best friend and your dog hates you. They’re useful because country songs tell a story in about 200 words, a story you can understand and dissect. I can point out the setups and payoffs. You can see the heroes and villains, the reversals and the climax.

By contrast, most pop songs feature lyrics that don’t have any real structure or story. 

Also, you can hear and understand country lyrics without a cheat sheet.

Three other good examples of country songs with great lyrics and minimal twang, if you are also allergic like me: LOVE STORY by Taylor Swift, Traveling Soldier by the Dixie Chicks and damn near anything by Lady Antebellum, who are flipping brilliant.

No matter what you write–novels or newspaper stories, screenplays or speeches–it’s worth remembering that writing needs to be like music. You need an interesting intro, a melody, a chorus and a crescendo. You need variety AND repetition.

So: watch this cheesy home-made music video. Listen to the lyrics, and read them on your magical screen that shows you words and moving pictures from anywhere on the planet.

See how Bucky the Covington has clear setups and payoff, and how he cleverly, and beautifully, uses repetition with a purpose.

The words in the chorus change slightly each time, yet the meaning is quite different. And while the writing itself is a tad clunky, my God, the structure, it is glorious. My only wish is that I owned a cowboy hat so I could take it off and salute you, Bucky.

I’LL WALK by Bucky Covington

We were 18, it was prom night.

We had our first big fight.

She said, Pull this car over.

I did and then I told her, I don’t know what you are crying for.

I grabbed her hand, as she reached for the door.

She said …

I’ll walk.

Let go of my hand.

Right now I’m hurt, and you don’t understand.

So just be quiet.

And later we will talk.

Just leave, don’t worry.

I’ll walk.

It was a dark night, a black dress.

Driver never saw her, around the bend.

I never will forget the call,

or driving to the hospital,

when they told me her legs still wouldn’t move.

I cried, when I walked into her room.

She said …

I’ll walk.

Please come and hold my hand.

Right now I’m hurt, and I don’t understand.

Lets just be quiet, and later we can talk.

Please stay, don’t worry.

I’ll walk.

I held her hand through everything.

The weeks and months of therapy.

And I held her hand and asked her to be my bride.

She’s dreamed from a little girl,

to have her daddy bring her down the isle.

So from her wheelchair, she looks up to him and smiles.

And says …

I’ll walk.

Please hold my hand.

I know that this will hurt, I know you understand.

Please daddy don’t cry.

This is already hard.

Let’s go, don’t worry.

I’ll walk.