SOBER UP by AJR is a true beauty, except for this itty bitty fatal flaw

So, what did you notice?

I loved this song, and the video–especially the strings. A nice touch, and so well done.

Then it goes completely sideways at the one minute, 54-second mark, when we get the clunkiest lyrics since Train sang, “Just a shy guy looking for a two ply / Hefty bag to hold my love.”

Here’s the damage: “My favorite color is you / You’re vibrating out my frequency.”

And that’s when I run screaming from the room.

Because that line put the A in Awkward.

It killed the song for me, especially when that same terrible line came up again and again.

This answers the question: Can one bad lyrical choice kill an otherwise beautiful song?

And now we know: Yes, yes it can.

One bad line can be a nasty shotgun blast to the heart of a sweet, sweet song.

VERDICT: Man in a furry hat and friends with stringed instruments, please consider recutting this song after changing that terrible line in the chorus. I would send you monies.

Don’t try to understand PSYCHO by Post Malone—just enjoy the trip

Listen: Everyone should check out PSYCHO by Post Malone, which if you come at tabula rosa seems like a warning that we’ll need tanks and flamethrowers to survive the dystopian hell after the reign the last president of the United States, former NBA all-star Karl Malone.

Have a listen and a look:

There’s a weird thing about music videos of all genres, whether it’s country, rap, pop, rock or Pop Rocks, and that one weird thing is this: Just be different.

If you spend 2.1 bazillion dollars and hire a Hollywood director to make a high-production video that’s JUST LIKE ALL THE OTHERS, then congratulations, you’ve wasted 2.1 bazillion dollars.

Because nobody aside from your hardcore fans will love it, or even see the thing. Risk nothing, gain nothing.

You can see this mistake happen again and again by big-name stars who forget how they got there by being scrappy, edgy and different, with songs that actually tell stories and/or try to say something. They start making songs, music videos and entire albums about the most interesting subject in the world: themselves. (See West, Kanye and Swift, Taylor.)

Which brings us to Post Malone and PSYCHO, which isn’t perfect—but at least it’s different.

Though I’m a huge fan of Mad Max movies, zombie movies and dystopian fun in general, there’s no real connection between the lyrics of the song and this imagery. And those lyrics are fine. They’re not hard to decipher, or worth interpreting and dissecting like the only good song Vanilla Ice ever did (ICE, ICE, BABY) or the first music video I can remember, back when MTV actually played music videos (ELECTRIC AVENUE by Eddie Grant). This is simply a good song.

ICE, ICE BABY as interpreted by the Red Pen of Doom

ELECTRIC AVENUE by Eddie Grant

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 1—You’re Doing It Wrong

As for the video, I have no idea who the little girl is, why Post Malone is looking for her or why the animatronic wolves are just hanging around instead of munching on every human they see. Maybe they spent the budget renting tanks and didn’t have enough left to get the mutant wolves to move around.

Saying this video looks good but doesn’t make a lot of sense, sound on or off, is a valid critique.

HOWEVER: None of that matters.

Not one bit.

First, because the song is so freaking good. Seriously. Post Malone is always a good listen, on this track and his other work. Just solid.

Second, the fact that the imagery doesn’t fit the lyrics doesn’t affect your enjoyment. Sure, this thing isn’t It’s not meaningful, deep or transcendent. This video won’t become a cult classic. And you don’t care, because PSYCHO is interesting and well-shot. It’s the music video equivalent of a summer B movie: not gonna win any awards, but you’ve got a bag of $11 popcorn, the bass is loud and you’re gonna have a good time.

VERDICT: Post Malone is clearly talented, and he used a good director and film crew to make this. I’d love to see what he could do if he put all the pieces together and told a real story that matched his words.

And now for something completely different — THIS IS AMERICA by Childish Gambino

Listen: I grew up watching music videos, back when we had this thing called MTV, which played music videos 25 hours a day, eight days a week.

So there isn’t much that shocks or impresses me, seeing how 99 percent of music videos fall into these categories:

(1) Solo divas belting away while backup dancers go crazy

(2) Boy bands lip-syncing while dancing like crazy

(3) Metal bands in black-and-white videos, trying to look tough, no smiling allowed

(4) Concert videos with screaming, adoring fans

(5) Artistic mini-movies that only prove singers should sing and actors should act

This video is something truly different. Donald Glover can act, sing and dance–and while he’s making a number of political statements in this video, none of them are on-the-nose. You have to rewatch this video three or four times to catch them all, including imagery from GET OUT.

Here, take a look and a listen:

Glover debuted this song live when he hosted SNL, and did a nice job there, too.

VERDICT: I’m shocked and impressed. A tricky thing, trying to send a powerful message through a song and music video without bonking your audience over the head with that message. Pretty easy to be far too heavy or way too subtle. Glover threads the needle with skill and care. I want to see more of his work now, and it’s easy to see why this video has gone beyond viral.

This one chart cuts through the heart of EVERY MUSICAL GENRE

So on Mondays, when the mood is right and the coffee is hot, I dissect music videos on this silly blog–half because it’s fun and half because you can learn a lot from taking apart a 3-minute video.

This chart does a beautiful job of taking a scalpel and slicing right through the heart every major musical genre. It is merciless, it is brutal and there is no escape. Even better: there’s a lot of truth in here. Because the secret of humor is revealing painful truths.

every music genre

Great job, John the Atkinson of Wrong Hands–please give us more charts like this.

As a bonus, here’s a music video that we’re looping endlessly: NO ROOTS by Alice Martin, a great song in part because it’s completely different. I can’t shoe-horn her song into pop, blues or punk. And that’s a good thing.

Kygo and Selena Gomez bring it with IT AIN’T ME

As I drive MANY MILES each day, and listen to this thing they used to call the radios, it’s like a blind taste-test for music. You usually don’t know the name of the singer or band, so your reactions are honest.

My reaction to this song on the radio was “play that again.” Put a gun to my head and I would’ve sworn this was some kind of European electro-dance thing, and the singer was maybe somebody like Ellie Goulding.

So it was a shock to learn Selena Gomez sings it. It’s a cut off the new album by Kygo, a Norwegian musical genius.

Let’s take apart why the video works so well with the song.

You care, right away

The trouble with most of music videos is there’s no attempt at making us feel, because the musicians are too busy trying to look cool, tough, rich and/or glamorous while singing about themselves. Nothing is really at stake and there’s no story told, so there’s no reason for the audience to care. It’s just a song, no matter how much gets spent on directors, dancers and the set.

This video has two characters you can relate two, right off, and an actual story with real stakes. You feel bad for this young man in a coma after the motorcycle crash, and you sympathize with the young woman sticking by his side at the hospital. You want him to be OK and for them to be together again.

The inner POV is trippy and beautiful

Loved it when the video switches to the point of view of the man in a coma.

They got truly creative with what it might be like to be trapped in your own body, aware but not awake. The lighting and effects are creative and well done. Impressive.

Genuine setups and payoffs leading to a beautiful ending

There’s a real sense of joy when she starts dancing and puts the headphones on her boyfriend. There’s a contagious sense of joy when she dances in spite of the situation. You can see in his inner POV that he hears the music, that he’s dancing, too, giving you hope that maybe he’ll make it and wake up.

It’s a great bit if storytelling with song that builds up to a classic closing image of him opening his eyes.

 

One final note about the costumes: this is the opposite of most videos, where singers try to show off insane outfits or as much skin as possible. They use crazy costumes for the inner POV sequences, which fits, then everyday outfits for the real life scenes. I was far more impressed with the simple joy of a singer rocking out in T-shirt and jeans, in this video, than all fancy choreography, skimpy costumes and backup dancers you find in other videos. Well done.

Verdict:

A creative music video with a great song and an actual story with a beginning, middle and end. The dream sequences are a special bonus.

TL;DR: I have seen many, many music videos, and this one is special. 10/10 would watch again.

 

 

SALUT SALON gives us a musical clinic and a giant dose of joy

Who says classic music is boring?

These four women prove that technical talent can combine with humor. They could’ve played this normally, and nobody but music professors would care about the difference in the quality of the music. This way is just far, far more entertaining for the audience. And for the musicians, too.

I’d bet my house those smiles aren’t fake. Not a bit. These four musicians are clearly having a blast goofing off like this. Their joy is contagious.

Good on you, Salut Salon–thanks for being this creative and having the guts to be silly in a serious business.

Taking apart the expensive disaster of LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO by Taylor Swift

I come here to praise Taylor Swift, not to bury her CGI zombie corpse.

Though I’m neither superfan nor hater, I have to say she did some great music videos early in her career. YOU BELONG TO ME is excellent. BACK TO DECEMBER is pretty good.

This music video is a step backward, an expensive mess that shows T-Swift has fully evolved from a Scrappy Young Talent Who Just Hit It Big all the way to a Establishment Megastar With More Mansions Than She Can Remember.

Yes, the production values are great. Fans will watch the heck out of this just for the spectacle.

HOWEVER: It doesn’t make you feel anything.

At all.

And that’s the acid test for a music video.

Do you laugh?

Do you feel joy, or anger?

Do you cry?

That’s because whether you intend to or not, every song tells a story. A music video is supposed to help tell that story.

Songs don’t give you a lot of words to do the job. It takes discipline and talent to do it right. 

The Dixie Chicks can spend 200 words to tell a full story that makes you full of sorrow (TRAVELING SOLDIER) or righteously angry (GOODBYE, EARL).

Taylor can do this, too. She has the talent to tell a story and make you feel. One of her first big hits did this perfectly. It’s even in the title.

Here’s where this new video goes wrong, despite all the money spent–reportedly, $12 million in diamonds was used for that bath scene.

What story is she telling, and how does it make us feel?

In her best songs and videos, Taylor’s telling a story about somebody else, somebody we can all relate to, and that makes us feel for the protag. YOU BELONG TO ME is about a high school girl, something of a loser, with a crush on a neighbor boy. People get that. Whether you’re male or female, we’ve all been through awkward years in junior high or high school. It’s easy to feel for the girl she’s singing about, and to root for that underdog. You want her to get the boy and it’s a great moment when they both show up to the dance together.

In this video, Taylor’s clearly talking about herself, and the point of the song is to strike back at perceived rivals.

It’s hard for non-billionaires to feel sympathy for celebrities with hurt feelings. No matter how good the song is (and it’s not that good compared to her best) and how much they spent making this video, you can’t force people to feel sorry for a young, pretty woman who makes more money in a week than most people will make in their lifetime.

What are the stakes?

 

Just like books and movies, songs can have low stakes or high stakes, personal stakes and public stakes.

They can be about whether love rules the day or love forever lost. War or peace, injustice or redemption.

The stakes here are extremely low. Oh, Taylor is so upset (at Katy Perry or whoever, I honestly don’t care and neither should you) that she crashed a car that costs more than your house while a a cheetah served as her copilot. With her car trashed, will she be unable to get to work in the morning and lose her job? Does it matter in the slightest? No. She may have to tell her staff to gas up the Ferrari, or the Bentley, or one of however many dozen cars she owns. People will clean up the mess while she goes off and trashes one of her jets and rounds up an army of cloned robots or whatever to assault the compound of P-Diddy or whoever she’s mad at this week.

Basically, I can’t make myself care, and yes, I tried. Really hard.

What’s the impact of the song and video?

The best songs and music videos stick with you. AMERICAN PIE was about an entire era, and half the fun was trying to decipher the lyrics. Even if you didn’t get every line, you got the message about how America was changing. It sticks with you.

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE is about love turning into obsession, and the video is stark black-and-white. I wouldn’t change a thing.

When I first heard LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO on the radio, I swore it was Britney Spears.

Not kidding. Feels like mid-stage Britney, after she’d made it big, and started doing over-the-top stuff like this:

Verdict: Sure, the production values and budget is sky high, but the entertainment value is meh and the feels generated are zero. 10/10 would not watch again.

If the old Taylor Swift is dead, and the new T-Swift is busy being obsessed with her hurt feelings and celebrity beefs, let’s resurrect the old Taylor Swift–the one focused on songs that aren’t about her. I’d happily listen and watch that singer.

Carly Rae Jepsen + NIN = WIN

This is brilliant. Watch, then let’s chat about it.

So, I’ve grown up with music videos, with this thing in the ’80s and ’90s we called MTV playing them 24/7 before demented studio execs decided a channel devoted to music videos by the most talented singers and bands in the world made far, far too much sense.

Why not should switch gears and move away from that so-called entertainment? What does U2, Bruce Springsteen or Lady Gaga know about showing people a good time? Devote your airtime to human train wrecks with shows like Jersey Shore, where a grown man actually ordered pizza on the phone and, when asked for his name, told the pizza place it was “Situation.”

My favorite bit is the pizza man, Who Is Not Having It, giving post-post-modern MTV its first and last flirtation with what I like to call “the real world,” except not in capital letters because it isn’t a fake show with fake people in fake situations.

Therefore: hat tip to my sister for finding this, and kudos to the creative soul who took the time to stitch together this mashup of Carly Rae and NIN–this is an expertly timed masterpiece.

Well done. You have talent and a great ear for mixing two very different songs. Give us more, por favor.

RICO SUAVE by Gerardo shows the power of silly fun

A classic one-hit wonder, RICO SUAVE shows off the massive music-video firepower of being completely fun.

We’re not talking lyrics as literature here, and this music video isn’t amazing in any single area. Gerardo isn’t exactly Bruno Mars in terms of world-class singing, acting and dancing talent.

However: None of that matters, because the whole video is flat-out fun. He’s plenty good at dancing and truly talented when it comes to transmitting the emotion that, “I’m having a good time, and so should you.”

That’s a valuable skill when most rock, pop and rap stars are busy trying to look brooding, emo and/or tough.

Fun works. That’s what people want.

So here’s to you, Gerardo, who I see became and A & R exec at a record company. I still remember this video because it’s a classic four minutes and fifteen seconds of unfiltered joy.

The Avalanches get weird with FRONTIER PSYCHIATRIST

OK, I have seen music videos from around the world.

Mediocre videos of singers dancing around.

Miniature movies, with actual acting and production values.

And then there are videos like these that are just flat-out weird.

It’s interesting, but only in a “Let’s drink coffee at Denny’s until five in the morning with my friend who’s an art teacher and his girlfriend, the philosophy professor, as we try to divine the deeper meanings of this thing.”

I’m not sure there really is a deeper meaning to this video and song. But yeah, this one is different enough to be special.