Oh, you don't know The Man? Well, he's everywhere. In the White House, down the hall. Miss Mullins, she's The Man. And The Man ruined the ozone, and he's burning down the Amazon, and he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank.
There used to be a way to stick it to The Man. It was called rock 'n' roll. But guess what. Oh, no. The Man ruined that too with a little thing called MTV!
How right he was. I was born before MTV and I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with how music gets to us these days. Before MTV, the music was everything. We didn't care whether or not Joni Mitchell had a hair stylist, or whether or not Crosby, Stills, Nash, or Young had serious blingage. All we cared about was the music as it came out unadorned, unencumbered, unmade-up, and uncoiffed from our radios. Whenever we did get to see them live, it was an event, even if it was just on TV. RPN used to have a show called In Concert where the top rock bands of the day played live on TV. They showed the same shows over and over way into the 80’s (the concerts were recorded in the mid-to-late 70’s) and sometimes even used them as filler whenever a glitch prevented a scheduled program to air on time. Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Chicago, CSN&Y, James Taylor, T. Rex, The Who… they didn't pose or preen for the camera. There were no slick quick cuts or special effects. The announcer calmly and coolly called out their name—“Ladies and gentlemen, the J. Geils Band”--, they came out, and they played. Music videos changed all that. MTV came out in the 80’s and changed everything. Now it’s all about flash. It’s all about slick corporate packaging. It’s an entirely different medium where image is king, talent optional. J-Lo and Gwen Stefani should be kissing the feet of the person who invented music videos.
Today’s music videos have congealed into such a homogenous mass that it’s difficult to tell one from the other. Music videos use their own visual language and as languages go, most music videos have been reduced to repeating hackneyed clichés. Because of this, a new video would be hard-pressed to stand out. Sometimes, to stand out, a video opts for minimalism. That’s what James Blunt’s video “You’re Beautiful” did. The song is about this guy who saw a beautiful woman and fell for her but she’s with another man. But he isn’t worried. He’s got a plan, the lyrics said, even while acknowledging that he’ll never be with her. So in the video, he sings in the rain, takes his shirt off, takes his shoes off, takes out stuff from his pocket, and arranges them in a neat line in front of him with his wet pair of shoes in the middle. I recognize what looks like a wallet and a guitar pick and other things that probably mean something. He sings “I’ll never be with you” one last time, then jumps into the sea from a great height. Perhaps it isn’t something one is supposed to get; it just aims to haunt and perplex with Blunt’s falsetto-laced vocals. Right. Verdict: I don't get it.
The other video is INXS’s Pretty Vegas. It doesn’t do anything to stand out. Like most videos, it’s chock full of clichés: quick editing, rapid changes of scenery and camera angles, the lead singer preening in front of the camera. I would’ve killed it with the remote except that the friggin’ song rocked! The song came out of the Rockstar:INXS TV show, and wasn't written by resident INXS songwriter Andrew Farriss but by former Elvis impersonator J.D. Fortune, who won the competition to replace Michael Hutchence as the band’s lead singer earlier this year. (Hutchence killed himself in his London apartment in November 1997, just a few blocks away from where I was staying at the time.) If the competition for the final three performers was close (Pinoy West End veteran Migs Ayesa, and rocker Marty Casey were the other finalists), it was this song that probably clinched it for Fortune. Migs Ayesa proved weakest in the song-writing department, opting to write sappy pop tunes, and was promptly axed out of the final three. Pretty Vegas sounds like an INXS song, and Fortune, I swear, is possessed by Michael Hutchence in parts of it. He certainly captures the spirit of the band’s early years with his performance. Verdict: the video is nothing special but the song saves it.