In the spirit of our recent look at the fact that some of the ’90s TV shows we remember so fondly weren’t actually all that great, we also got to thinking about similarly overrated music videos. These are the videos that seem to enjoy continuing goodwill from the public and music critics alike, despite the fact that when you look at them on their own merits, they’re actually, y’know, not very good. At all. The ’80s were full of these, but there’s been a reasonable amount from recent years, too. We’ve pulled together a list of 10 — what did we miss?
Pearl Jam — “Jeremy”
It’s hard to separate this video from the mythology that’s grown up around it — the controversies, the Judas Priest-style accusations of encouraging copycat suicides, and the fact that Pearl Jam famously abandoned music videos for years after the shitstorm this one catalyzed. So 20 years later, it’s strange to look back and find that this video just wasn’t really all that good. If anything, the video lessens “Jeremy”‘s impact; while the song itself is lyrically ambiguous, leaving it open to question what actually happened when Jeremy “spoke in class,” the video’s onslaught of symbolism and imagery, along with the director’s decision to include a video Jeremy acting out the song’s narrative, has all the subtlety of a brick to the head. It comes across as more melodramatic than anything else — the only genuinely creepy thing about the video is Eddie Vedder’s weird fixed grin.
Fatboy Slim — “Praise You”
Yes, OK, great. This video was shot without permission in a shopping mall, it only cost $800 to make, and it’s, y’know, hilarious when the unfortunate security guard who happens to be on duty when Spike Jonze arrived with his comedy dance troupe comes over and tries to turn off the stereo. Fine. But once the initial impact, such as it is, wears off, you’re left with a video that cost $800 and features a bunch of people doing a silly dance. In a shopping mall. Woo hoo.
Michael and Janet Jackson — “Scream”
A cursory look at the roll call of summer blockbusters is usually enough to demonstrate that a big budget doesn’t necessarily equate to quality viewing. So it is also with music videos, and never more so than with the Most Expensive Music Video Ever Made™. “Scream’s” retro sci-fi vibe is kind of cool, sure, but these days it mostly looks like an embodiment of how cashed up the music industry used to be before the internet ruined everything, and how ready major labels were to shovel huge amounts of money into promotional endeavors of questionable artistic worth. This video’s sole raison d’etre seems to have been to spend as much as possible, and the result doesn’t get anywhere near justifying the expenditure.
Queen — “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Another video beholden to its own mythology — it’s impossible for this to come on the TV without someone taking upon themselves to pronounce authoritatively, “This was the first music video, y’know!,” resulting in a long and tedious argument when you’re no longer able to control the urge to howl something to the effect of, “Nooooooooooo it fucking wasn’t!!!!!” Either way, the “promo clip” for “Bohemian Rhapsody” is an interesting experiment in musical cinematography that deserves to be appreciated for its historical significance, but it’s also nothing more than that — apart from the montage of the band’s faces that crops up as a visual motif throughout, and the proto-special effects during the “Skaramoush! Skaramoush!” middle section, it’s essentially a live performance film. A live performance film that features Freddie Mercury in a skin-tight white jumpsuit, we might add.
Duran Duran — “Hungry Like the Wolf”
In which Duran Duran go to Sri Lanka and generally make arses out of themselves, all the while cheerily perpetuating various subcontinental stereotypes (tigers, snake charmers, scantily-clad exotic women, etc). We can’t help wondering how much all the extras got paid — we’ve got a feeling that this whole affair did much more for Colombia’s economy than it did for Sri Lanka’s.
Beyoncé — “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”
It’s rare that we find ourselves sympathizing with Taylor Swift, but there’s no absolutely way in the world that Beyoncé and two dancers gyrating in front of a backdrop constitutes “one of the best videos of all time!” Sorry, Kanye.
David Bowie — “Ashes to Ashes”
It breaks our heart to include “Ashes to Ashes” here, because we remember seeing this video at the age of about four and thinking that it was the most outlandish, amazing thing ever. But sadly, time has not been kind to it. In 2011, the special effects look like they’re straight from an old Doctor Who episode, and the bulldozer — which somehow seemed both ominous and frightening — looks particularly absurd. Growing up is awfully depressing sometimes.
George Michael — “Freedom”
Note to video directors: using lots of supermodels does not automatically make for a good video. (See also: Robert Palmer.)
Guns N’ Roses — “November Rain”
OK, so this one could go either way — it’s so ridiculously overblown that it’s kind of endearing. But then, that’s exactly the argument that people have been making for years — that it’s not meant to be taken seriously, that it’s all meant to be ludicrously extravagant, etc. This is probably just as well, considering that it’s unclear exactly how Axl’s love interest dies, and you can’t help but remember that the grieving groom is also the man who once casually sang the lines, “I used to love her/ But I had to kill her.”
Madonna — “Justify My Love”
Yes, Madonna, we know you like to have sex. Good for you. As Future of the Left once sang, “Lapsed Catholics are the worst.”