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!
Overall: You have to give props to the nominating committee for some of their ballsy choices: a country legend's beautiful swan song, a former boybander stalking his ex-girlfriend and a female rapper (I know, this shouldn't be so shocking, but they hadn't even nominated Missy before). The work from these three is so genius that I'm tempted to forgive them for lazily nominating Eminem yet again and Fiddy for a throwaway of a rap video, cliched even by the genre's standards. I'm really surprised that the most critically acclaimed video of the year- Christina Aguilera's haunting "Beautiful"- not only didn't land a nomination here, but also lost out on nominations across the board to the fun, but less interesting, "Dirrty." Too much controversy, maybe? And since MTV was in such a funky, free-loving mood with their nominees, I'm equally surprised that they didn't go with Coldplay's Memento-like "The Scientist," with it's impressive special effects and headscratching narrative that goes in reverse.
The Best of the Nominees:
Missy Elliott "Work It" # # # # #
Directed by Missy Elliott and Dave Meyers
To those of us who enjoy hip hop music but hate most of the nameless, overworked crap that's being released everyday (and, somehow, burning up the Top 40 charts), the return of Missy Elliott every year or two is often considered on par with the resurrection of Jesus. Not only is her music hot, but her music videos are often on the cutting edge and always offer something that we haven't seen before. Atoning for missing not only "Get Ur Freak On," but also "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" and "One Minute Man," MTV handed their Best Video prize to "Work It," her most interesting and out-there video we've seen from her yet. The video begins with the image of hundreds of flies covering Missy and the turntable next to her, possibly suggesting the decay of the old Missy and the start of something new from her (coincidentally, she had just lost a bunch of weight before this video). This is contrasted with a shot of a deserted, decaying playground (the hip hop landscape without Missy, perhaps?) and Missy entering in the only way she can- on her back, gliding across the ground. Bold statements, but she more than proves that she can back these up with this video and her confident, breezy rapping on "Work It." On first glance, the video doesn't seem to be anything particularly noteworthy, but in the context of hip hop videos of today (like, for example, the sordid other nominees in this category) it's a complete breath of fresh air. Like Eminem and Outkast, Missy shows that all hip hop videos don't have to be as "cool" as Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'" or Juvenile's "Back That Thang Up," with their numerous scantily-clad women, Cristal drinking and so much bling the viewer is nearly blinded- they can be silly, jokey and have a good time without resorting to sex. "Work It" doesn't take itself too seriously and that's why it's so brilliant (and one of the best choices MTV has ever made for their top prize).
The Rest (in order):
Johnny Cash "Hurt" # # # # #
Directed by Mark Romanek
It was a nearly impossible task to choose between Missy and Johnny Cash, since both videos suited their respective songs in completely different ways. Missy won out, but Cash's "Hurt" is nothing to be poo-pooed on. In these four short minutes, I feel like I understand Cash better than from the two hours I spent Walk the Line. Combining images of Cash today with random stock footage from Cash's past produces a chilling effect that obviously inspired the brilliant finale to La Vie en Rose. We get the sense of this is what he was and this is what he's become: has he made the right choices and should we be applauding this man? The editing of the video is gorgeous, with the images building up next to the loud pounding of the piano and then slowing down when he goes back into the verse. It's done with such taste and a mastery of technique that it never feels like an overload, just an intricate symphony of images. No matter how you look at it, "Hurt" is a touching swan song for the immortal "Man in Black." The nomination for Cash is a complete surprise, a welcome throwback to the early days of the VMA's when MTV went for Herbie Hancock and Godley & Creme over the sillier teenie bopper and hair metal stuff, and proof that MTV still has a couple of surprises in their hat.
Justin Timberlake "Cry Me a River" # # # # #
Directed by Francis Lawrence
The saying "Revenge is a dish best served cold," opens up both Kill Bill movies, but I think it also applies to Justin Timberlake's solo breakthrough song and video. Obviously aimed at Timberlake's ex at the time, Britney Spears, both the song and the video take potshot after potshot at her, deriding her for her infidelity and claiming that she was never "there" for JT while he was as attentive as could be. No one will ever know what really happened there, but the revenge JT gets in the "Cry Me a River" video is proof enough that something happened that really set him off. The ups and downs JT rides throughout the video is mesmerizing. At first, he seems emotionally detached from the whole situation and wholly intent on making her pay. No emotions show on his face when he throws that stone into the glass doors and enters the house. Later, when he's making out with the random chick on his ex's bed, nothing seems more important than this "fuck you" factor he's going for; he's not even paying attention to the girl, he's staring straight into the camera, right through to his ex. When his ex comes back and JT follows her throughout the house, smelling her hair and reaching out to touch her, he wants to reconnect, remembering how good things used to be, and it's incredibly hard for him to resist this natural impulse. Before he give in though, he leaves with the image of him making out with the random chick on a loop- the final nail in the coffin of their relationship. "Cry Me a River" is so textured and gorgeous that the only reason it's not rated a complete 5 out of 5 is for that awkward middle section between the break-in and the make out; what exactly is the point of the weird, special effects dancing that takes place during this 30 seconds? It screams filler to me and makes me wish that Francis Lawrence had done something a little more imaginative to fill in this time.
Eminem "Lose Yourself" # # # # #
Directed by Phillip Atwell, Paul Rosenburg and Eminem
There's no doubt in my mind concerning the brilliance of "Lose Yourself" the song: along with Missy's "Work It" and Outkast's "Ms. Jackson," it's the most brilliant rap/hip hop song of the decade. But we're talking videos here and the video for "Lose Yourself" is the antithesis of all of Eminem's earlier videos (no matter how dated they look now). This video is sluggish, trite and nearly unwatchable. Basically, "Lose Yourself" is nearly 80% clips from 8 Mile with a couple of awkward shots with Eminem rapping directly into the camera and a strange shot of Eminem returning home to Hailey (I presume that's her anyways) that fits only one line in the song. I will give the video that the clips of Eminem throwing up into the toilet from 8 Mile are appropriately placed in context with the song and, when Eminem raps about Mekhi Pfeiffer, there's a shot of Mekhi Pfeiffer to get the message across. Other than that, there's absolutely nothing innovative about this video that warranted a Best Video nomination (his fourth of five consecutive nominations) other than the fact that the song is amazingly epic (and amazingly important).
50 Cent "In Da Club" # # # # #
Directed by Phillip Atwell
The video for 50 Cent's breakthrough song "In Da Club" thinks it's saying something positive about Fiddy's ascension to fame, by training him, so to speak, for his eminent superstardom, but it actually comes across as quite the opposite. The training sequences suggest to me that any talentless hack can be sent to Eminem's "boot camp" and, in just a few lessons and cardio sessions, become a top rapper. As if this sequence isn't misguided enough, the rest of video is consists of Fiddy, quite literally, in da club doing all of the horrible rap video cliches that I praised Missy Elliott for avoiding in "Work It." I understand MTV's inclination to nominate this newcomer who seemingly came out of nowhere with this massive hit (and it's actually not that bad of a song, just nowhere near as impressive or groundbreaking as we thought in 2003), but that doesn't mean Fiddy deserved to be anywhere this shortlist.