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.

The brilliance of RUNNING UP THAT HILL by Meg Myers

Yes, this is a cover, so the original credit goes to Kate Bush–yet the Meg Myers version is hotter than a supernova. Take a listen.

And here’s the Kate Bush OG version, then we’ll talk.

The videos

Kate Bush took a risk here with the dancing, a risk that didn’t quite pay off, though anything is superior to the standard, “Watch the lead singer emote into the microphone for three minutes.” Only a few people can really pull that off, like Sinead O’Connor’s cover of NOTHING COMPARES 2U.

The video for Meg Myers is different and brilliant. Motion capture plus kids coloring each page? YES.

The music

Since the lyrics are identical, what matters for a cover is execution.

And this is where Meg Myers and her producer rock us like a hurricane. I heard the Meg version on the radio, fired up the Series of Tubes and went after “running up that hill.” Up popped the Kate Bush version, which sounded like the right song, and made me wonder if fumes in my car, my mood, or mind-control beams from Elon Musk satellites had made me simply enjoy that scratchy car-radio version more than a pristine cut on good headphones.

Which made me have a sad. Because my memory of the song on the radio was crazy good.

Then I stumbled on the Meg Myers version, and no longer believed the whole Elon Musk mind control theory AT ALL, and played her cover approximately 5,923 times in a row.

Her cover is that good.

The deeper meaning

Bad pop songs are like bad dialogue in a movie or novel: they’re on the nose, with no room for ambiguity, no hints at something more. 

The lyrics here are interesting and deep. Here they are:

It doesn’t hurt me
Do you want to feel how it feels?
Do you want to know, know that it doesn’t hurt me?
Do you want to hear about the deal that I’m making?
You, it’s you and me
 
And if I only could
I’d make a deal with God
And I’d get him to swap our places
Be running up that road
Be running up that hill
Be running up that building
See if I only could, oh
 
You don’t want to hurt me
But see how deep the bullet lies
Unaware I’m tearing you asunder
Ooh, there is thunder in our hearts
 
Is there so much hate for the ones we love?
Tell me, we both matter, don’t we?
You, it’s you and me
It’s you and me, won’t be unhappy
 
And if I only could
I’d make a deal with God
And I’d get him to swap our places
Be running up that road
Be running up that hill
Be running up that building
Say, if I only could, oh
 
You
It’s you and me
It’s you and me, won’t be unhappy
 
Oh come on, baby
Oh come on, darling
Let me steal this moment from you now
Oh come on, angel
Come on, come on, darling
Let’s exchange the experience, oh
 
And if I only could
I’d make a deal with God
And I’d get him to swap our places
I’d be running up that road
Be running up that hill
With no problems
 
Say, if I only could
I’d make a deal with God
And I’d get him to swap our places
I’d be running up that road
Be running up that hill
With no problems
 
So if I only could
I’d make a deal with God
And I’d get him to swap our places
I’d be running up that road
Be running up that hill
With no problems
 
Say, if I only could
I’d be running up that hill
With no problems
 
I believe the lyrics hit a sweet spot between “completely on the nose” and “so obscure and esoteric that seven different MFA students have written papers about it, and they all disagree.”
 
Meg Myers explains this a little during her Tiny Desk Concert with NPR, which is worth a listen for an acoustic version of the song, and for what she says about her motivation for doing the cover.
 

Verdict

Thanks for the original, Kate Bush.

And give us more like this, Meg Myers–swing for the fences, knowing you won’t hit a home run every time. Just keeps swinging. Because this cover was amazing.

Bonus content: here’s how they made the video. Impressive.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Medieval Music Video Deathmatch–CIRCLES by Post Malone vs HOLY DIVER by Dio

Post Malone is insanely popular and famous now, and he does make (a) great music and (b) music videos that look like Hollywood movies.

His latest music video, CIRCLES, has been watched 5.92 trillion times and is all over the radios. Here, take a look, then we’ll compare it to a heavy metal video from the ’80s with a similar medieval theme.

Weird, right? Here’s why I think this video vexes us.

The song is catchy, and the video is interesting and slick–but they don’t match up. The two don’t mesh to make something new that’s greater than the sum of its parts, like peanut butter and jelly or Kirk and Spock.

The tune is pure, upbeat pop. Professional music critic types have thrown down by calling it the best Katy Perry song of the summer. The video, though, is trying to be dark and tough, bloody and gritty. It’s like peanut butter and broccoli. Do not want.

Put a different video with this song and it would work just fine. Throw a different, darker track on this video and it would fly.

This just doesn’t.

You can see a great example of a beautiful match between song and video by this obscure new artist called Post Malone, who chose his stage name via a rap generator and recorded did this little track called SUNFLOWER for some cartoon superhero movie that nobody watched.

Perfect, right?

Nailed it. Cannot be improved.

Now comes our contender from the ’80s, a totally different take on medieval music video goodness, with Dio making the video for HOLY DIVER on what looks like a budget of $39.84 and a case of Bud Light after binge-watching Conan the Barbarian and Highlander movies.

Here, take a look and listen to grainy archival footage of long ago, when MTV actually played music videos instead of reality shows:

We’ve got the opposite problems here compared to Post Malone, especially when it comes to production values, sets, costumes and all the trimmings. 

HOWEVER: The tone of the song matches the tone of the video. That’s huge. Kind of the first job of any music video: match the song.

There’s one storytelling edit I’d make, and that’s moving the sword fight with the bad guy to the end, so they’re circling each other until the climax. I’d make the same kind of storytelling fix to the Post Malone video and change the end, because the Rapunzel angle didn’t work at all.

VERDICT: I have to give it to Dio here. All the money and talent in the world can’t fix a bad marriage between song and music video.

 

Why BAD GUY by Billie Eilish is so damned good

BAD GUY by Billie Eilish pulls off some neat tricks, doesn’t it?

Here’s my take on why this works so well.

SUBVERSIVE PUNK-POP

Don’t know what category that folks with doctorates in music would put this in. I’m gonna call it punk-pop, because it’s not as dark and industrial as NIN, or as grungy as Nirvana, but it’s got a subversive edge in the images and lyrics.

Yet the melody and beat is radio-friendly pop. And I think that’s brilliant.

UNAFRAID

With most artists, image is everything. Pop divas work hard to look perfect at all times. Rock stars and rappers work hard to look tough. Billie isn’t trying to look tough here.

Billie’s unafraid of coming off as weird and goofy. No pop star would dance like this, or let her eyebrows go off in their own fashion directions. 

She’s not going full on theater-of-the-grotesque like Marilyn Manson, but she’s letting people see her as human, which makes her far more relatable than the stars who try to maintain a perfect, photoshopped image. It’s gritty and real.

LYRICS

The lyrics are clever, interesting and fun.

Most pop songs have terrible boring lyrics.

I mean, I’m not a giant fan of country or rap, but by God, country lyrics tell a story every time and rappers are absolute poets with lyrics you can do dissertations on.

For a popular song all over radio and YouTube, these lyrics are a win.

IMAGERY

It’s perfect. There’s a great intro, with Billie immediately showing she’s a real human by busting through the yellow paper wall, taking out her Invisalign and dancing in a way no boy band or diva would ever be caught dead doing.

Unlike 90 percent of music videos, the only repetition is there for a purpose. You get an echo of the beginning in the end, with reversed footage of her coming through the yellow paper wall. And in between the intro and the end, there’s a nice mix of images that fit the lyrics. It all works.

STINGER ENDING

Marvel movies became famous for putting stingers after the credits. This is the first stinger ending to a music video that I can remember, and it rocks.

You’re not sure how she’s levitating at first, then the words match the video in a nice revelation. Yes! 

VERDICT

Well done, Billie the Eilish, well done. Give us more like this!

William Shatner sings RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, and yes, it is insane

OK, I have plenty of affection for the Shatner, who embraces his inner cheesiness with glee. Never takes himself too seriously.

So is this new Christmas song from Captain Kirk–who actually puts out entire Xmas albums–weirdly good or just good and weird?

Take a look.

I’m gonna say good and weird instead of weirdly good.

Here’s the deal: You can play it straight, and make a song for kids with kids in the video, or you can go cray-cray with creepy adults pretending to be child-sized elves mixed in with actual pookies.

This is a lot like the uncanny valley. We accept cartoonish images of people and super-realistic CGI, but the in-between business doesn’t work. Freaks us out.

Shatner’s video and song freaks me out, and not in a good way. I get that he’s trying to do a twist on a song that’s been done a zillion times. But you gotta decide, and he’s trying to have it both ways: a song for kids but also for adults. Which means you’ve got the sweet and light elements mixed with pierced elves and pseudo-heavy metal. The ingredients just don’t work together.

If you want to make chocolate chip cookies, you get busy and make ’em. If you want to bake a cheesecake, you make that. Where this video gets into trouble is trying to split the difference, meaning it doesn’t really appeal to kids or adults.

VERDICT

Points for trying something bold and risky. Demerits for not executing. But love ya anyway, Shatner–keep on singing.

BONUS VIDEO: Shatner sings ROCKET MAN

How could I not know the insane YOU DON’T KNOW by 702?

I’m an original viewer of OG MTV–which actually played music videos all the time instead of JERSEY SHORE SEASON 11: LET’S PRETEND SNOOKI AND THE SITUATION AREN’T BOTH 37 AND MARRIED, OK?.

So I take pride in knowing my weird and wonderful music videos, from the Hair Bands of the ’80s to Adam Ant and poofy shirts to Drake making roller-skating look cool again.

How could something like YOU DON’T KNOW by 702 slip past me?

It’s got everything a weird music video needs. Take a look and we’ll chat.

Taking it apart

Since I know nothing about the band 702, here’s my take:

This is one of those things that FEELS like a good idea, when you talk about it, then doesn’t work on film. 

The production values are high. The space apocalypse costumes look good, like they stole them from a movie set. The music and singing is fine, and the band looks great. 

Where does it get weird but go wrong?

First thing: The robotic dancing.

You can dance like a droid without looking like a dweeb. It is possible. Breakdancers have an entire branch where that’s their schtick, and there are amazing dancers out there.

The singers aren’t any good at it. They should have stuck to singing and leave the dancing to professional dancers.

Second thing: I kept getting the feeling a studio exec built this band from the ground up, trying to copy TLC, down to the haircuts. Could be completely wrong. Maybe TLC copied 702, for all I know, back in the paleolithic era. This is just the feeling I get without using any googling powers to divine the truth and it kept distracting me the whole time. Is this one trying to be Left Eye or Chili?

Third bit: This video keeps switching from robot space apocalypse to modern dresses and sets, which is confusing. Stick to one or the other. 

Lastly, the storyline, whatever it is, didn’t catch my interest or make any sense.

Were the singing, dancing robot people from the space apocalypse really in any danger? Why were they being chased? The song and visuals never made me care or understand.

Verdict

Weird, but not wonderfully so. Would not watch again.

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.

The Red Pen of Doom shoots up Train’s DRIVE BY

Here is an interesting song, and I mean “interesting” in a tragic, train-wreck sort of way.

Because it’s a decent melody by a good band with some of the WORST LYRICS EVER.

And the music video itself isn’t horrible at all. It’s fine. The words, though, they hurt me.

And I say this as a fan of Train, a man who has some of their songs and believes MEET VIRGINIA has creative lyrics for a pop song.

First up: the video, which I hope the evil known as VEVO lets you watch.

See? The song isn’t bad. The video is fine.

It’s the stupid lyrics.

Let the red ink flow.

DRIVE BY by Train

On the other side of a street I knew
Stood a girl that looked like you
I guess thats deja vu
But I thought this can’t be true
Cause you moved to west L.A or New York or Santa Fe
Or where or ever to get away from me

(OK, so far, this is alright. Nothing great, nothing horrible. The horribleness is hiding and saving its strength for an ambush.)

Oh but that one night
Was more than just right
I didn’t leave you cause I was all through
Oh I was overwhelmed and frankly scared as hell
Because I really fell for you

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(I believe the singer — or whoever wrote these lyrics — is trying to say, “This isn’t infatuation, or a one-night stand, but something longer lasting and meaningful, possibly leading up to a white dress, a white picket fence and three years of white Pampers.” This phrase means, “A gang murders that utilizes one driver and one or more shooters, who send a wall of lethal lead at the homicide victim while making a rolling getaway from the crime.” So the message is kinda-sorta mixed. People hear this and don’t think of happy love. They think of Glocks and funerals.)

Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love

(Because the only thing more romantic than a drive-by shooting is the leading national brand of garbage bags.)

When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me

(The bad pop trifecta: a word from the ’60s that needs to be retired, a reference to litigation and a crude reference to sex.)

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
On the upside of a downward spiral

(If he were definitely referring to NINE INCH NAILS, he’d get bonus points, but he’s not, so he doesn’t.)

My love for you went viral

(A tiny bonus point for not completing the cliche by name-dropping Facebook or Twitter.)

And I loved you every mile you drove away
But now here you are again
So let’s skip the “how you been”And 
get down to the “more than friends” at last

(“You didn’t really like me before, and you drove far, far, away, but now that you’re back, please pay attention to me as a boyfriend instead of some man you don’t really care about.” I believe that sums it up.)

Oh but that one night
Is still the highlight
I didn’t need you until I came to
and I was overwhelmed and frankly scared as hell
Because I really fell for you

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love
When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me
Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(The songwriter got ALL the bad cliches and phrases of this song into one tidy package right there. Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam! Kind of like a emptying the clip during a drive by shooting. No. Just no.)

Please believe that when I leave
There’s nothing up my sleeve but love for you
And a little time to get my head together too

(To woo somebody, it’s not overly bright to hint that you’re not quite right in the head.) 

On the other side of a street I knew
Stood a girl that looked like you
I guess thats deja vu
But I thought this can’t be true
Cause

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love
When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me
Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(A repeat and recap of all the bad lines from before, in case we hadn’t heard them the first, second or third time.)

Bottom line

A successful band like Train probably hires songwriters for some — or a lot — of their stuff. Which is fine. You need to focus on touring, performing and shooting music videos. None of those are bad things.

The words, though, actually matter. They matter as much as the bass line, the lighting on the set and the type of leather jacket worn by the lead singer.

Spend a little more time and money on the words, because I used to hear “Train” and think of two good songs. Now, the first two things that pop into my head will be “drive-by shootings” and “Hefty bags.” Which is too bad.

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?

Violins and cellos gone wild

Classical music can be a wonderful sleep aid, which is unfortunate because NPR switches from news (interesting!) to classical music right at 9 a.m., when I want to stay awake all day. Not helpful, NPR, not helpful at all.

However: These musicians prove you don’t need a guitar loud enough to shatter boulders to make good music. No. All you need is a violin–or a cello, which I’m told is a violin on steroids, but they could be lying to me–plus a whole bunch of talent.

First up is an Alaskan wunderkind, Bryson Andres, who has some kind of magical electric violin.

Second: Lindsey Stirling in an ice castle wearing an outfit that remind you of Peter Pan or an elfin extra from LORD OF THE RINGS, but maybe in a good way.

And finally, our clean-up hitter: Four British women with three electric violins and one super-powered cello, covering Led Zepellin.