Thursday, September 4, 2008

VMA Video of the Year Rundown: 1984

My new series in which I go through the nominees for the MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year in each and every year. Enjoy and let me know what you think in the comments!

Generally, with the first year of any awards show, the nominators try to pick nominees that will make a statement and pave the way for future ceremonies. From the five nominees here, you can see the VMA going for the types it will love the most in future years: the innovator ("Rockit"), the epic ("Thriller"), the comic relief ("You Might Think"), the deadly serious ("Every Breath You Take") and the bouncy breakthrough ("Girls Just Want to Have Fun"). My only source of puzzlement is the choice of winner; "You Might Think" is decent enough and would be an acceptable winner in most other years, but not in a year with both "Rockit" and "Thriller." If you need an Oscar equivalent, the win for The Cars would be the same as if the slightly above-average Dark Victory had beaten both Gone With the Wind and Stagecoach in 1939.

The Best of the Nominees:
Herbie Hancock "Rockit" # # # # #
Directed by Godley & Creme
One of the many great things about the early days of MTV is that, through interesting and innovative music videos that they chose to show, they brought attention to songs that their teenage audience never would have sought on their own and actually made them cool. Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" is one of those videos and, somewhat surprisingly, its still an exciting and visionary video that shames many modern videos' lack of originality. "Rockit" is disturbing and scary in the same way that
Metropolis' way too ahead of its time vision of a futuristic utopia gone wrong creeps me out but it also manages to effectively combine the surrealism and commercialis of the early scenes of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The success of this video and its nomination here was visual proof that in such a short time, the music video was starting to bloom into something more mature than ever thought possible.
(Watch here)

The Rest (in order):
Michael Jackson "Thriller" # # # # #
Directed by John Landis
Is "Thriller" the greatest music video ever made? Three years ago, I probably would have enthusiastically said yes; now, I'm not so sure. I will give it that, along with "Rockit," "Thriller" pushed the music video forward ten years and made it acceptable as an artform (much like
The Birth of a Nation proved that movies could be more than Keystone Cops shorts). But what do you say about the music video in which the music comes in second to the story? There has to be some kind of balance, otherwise we're just watching an above average short film with a couple of musical breaks. I would argue that "Billie Jean," although smaller in scale, is the better video since it is both iconic (the dancing, the light up squares) and music-focused. Still, these are minor squibbles for such an innovative and technically superior video as "Thriller" was compared to most of its competition of the time- and that dance sequence looks just as fresh 24 years later as it did back then (even after the countless imitations we've been subjected to over the years).
(Watch here)

Cyndi Lauper "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" # # # # #
Directed by Edd Griles
I've gone back and forth on this video so many times that I'm not even sure what I think anymore. Technically, the video is nothing special and I suspect that even by 1984 standards people had seen this type of video more than once. What "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" has on its side is the one-woman show that is Cyndi Lauper and an infinite amount of personality. The early shot of Cyndi she-bopping along the street with her crazy red hair and bouncy dress is almost like a battle cry for Girl Power. Combined with Madonna's own emergence in the very same year, Lauper's achievement with both this video and the eventual nomination proved that the women of the MTV generation were ready to be heard. Interestingly enough, this was the only female Video of the Year nominee until Madonna's "Like a Prayer" in 1989 (and there wouldn't be a winner until a year after that with Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U").

(Watch here)

The Police "Every Breath You Take" # # # # #
Directed by Godley & Creme
I love the choice to shoot this music video in black and white and parts of the video-- most notably, the shot where Sting looks directly into the camera-- play really well into the creepy stalker aspects of the song (which most people probably didn't realize until they saw this video). Looking at it now, however, I just wish there was more to excited about. The clip is deceptively simple; the directors, Godley & Creme, are magicians at using the black and white cinematography to cover up the fact that absolutely nothing happens in this video. The most movement we get is the aforementioned turn towards the camera by Sting, which is actually kind of annoying since the switch between lights is a touch too obvious. "Every Breath You Take" is on its way to becoming a great video; it just needed a tad bit more thought about its intentions.

(Watch here)

The Cars "You Might Think" # # # # #
Directed by Alex Weil
It would be easy to make fun of the special effects in this video since, by 2008's standard, they are pretty laughable and too cartoonish to be taken seriously. I wasn't so much negatively affected by that (it was 1984 for Christ's sake- the computer as we know it was just starting to take form) as I was by the fact that, overall, the video is just kinda lame. The same one joke keeps getting repeated over and over again (Oh, look, Ric Ocasek just popped up in her tube of lipstick! Now, he's in her prom photo! That's hilarious!) and each time we're supposed to pretend like it's a whole new gag. And tell me I wasn't the only one who wanted to slap the girl in this video. I realize that the video is hokey by nature, but her reactions (or, should I say, overreactions) were mindless and completely took me out of the song and video. With a chance to honor two of the most important videos of the early 80's, it's
so MTV to go with the one that probably felt outdated just a couple of years later.
(Watch here)


par3182 said...

i've never paid much attention to the vmas but it's interesting to note they were getting it wrong right from the very beginning

and i'm with you on 'billie jean' - it showcases michael jackson better than 'thriller' does

FDot said...

I'm going to guess you were born after 1984. I was only 11 when 'You Might Think' came out. Even though in hindsight, your assessment is spot on; back then, most everyone I knew was amazed by the video, as the effects were cutting edge for the time. I can remember watching it over and over again to catch each piece. Couple that with a catchy song and no other video stood a chance that year, even if they were better.

Dame James Henry said...

fdot: Yes, I was born after 1988 so I have no idea what people thought about "You Might Think" in it's original run on MTV. Like I said, the special effects look awful now, but it was 1984 and they had to have been amazing for that time. I can see why "You Might Think" beat "Rockit" because, lets face it, the song probably wasn't cool enough to make up for the video. But how did it beat "Thriller," which was the biggest video made up to that time (and probably wouldn't be topped for extravagance until Michael and Janet's "Scream" a decade later) and it came from the biggest album of that year (and all time)?

FDot said...

Dame James: "Thriller" did win the viewer's choice award at the VMA's that year, but if I had to guess.....As the awards are voted on by MTV insiders, and videos were still in their infancy, the voters were looking for something that would advance the art form. "Thriller" is an amazing video, but was probably looked at as an amazing dance video whereas the graphics of "You Might Think" pushed forward what videos were capable of. You'll see the same issue in a few posts when you get to "Money For Nothing", a hoot now, but stunning back then.

To equate it to movies, think of all the films that have won an Oscar, not because they actually are the best in the catagory, but because the spectacle of the film or the performance is the most memorable.

Glenn said...

I don't remember Cyndi Lauper masturbating in the "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" clip.

("she-bop" is about masturbation, see)

Dame James Henry said...

Glenn: Haha, I realize that "she-bop" meant to masturbate but I was just trying to be clever. I was just going to write "bopping" but then I thought "Maybe I should name drop another of her songs to show how pop culture savvy I am."