Why BAD GUY by Billie Eilish is so damned good

BAD GUY by Billie Eilish pulls off some neat tricks, doesn’t it?

Here’s my take on why this works so well.

SUBVERSIVE PUNK-POP

Don’t know what category that folks with doctorates in music would put this in. I’m gonna call it punk-pop, because it’s not as dark and industrial as NIN, or as grungy as Nirvana, but it’s got a subversive edge in the images and lyrics.

Yet the melody and beat is radio-friendly pop. And I think that’s brilliant.

UNAFRAID

With most artists, image is everything. Pop divas work hard to look perfect at all times. Rock stars and rappers work hard to look tough. Billie isn’t trying to look tough here.

Billie’s unafraid of coming off as weird and goofy. No pop star would dance like this, or let her eyebrows go off in their own fashion directions. 

She’s not going full on theater-of-the-grotesque like Marilyn Manson, but she’s letting people see her as human, which makes her far more relatable than the stars who try to maintain a perfect, photoshopped image. It’s gritty and real.

LYRICS

The lyrics are clever, interesting and fun.

Most pop songs have terrible boring lyrics.

I mean, I’m not a giant fan of country or rap, but by God, country lyrics tell a story every time and rappers are absolute poets with lyrics you can do dissertations on.

For a popular song all over radio and YouTube, these lyrics are a win.

IMAGERY

It’s perfect. There’s a great intro, with Billie immediately showing she’s a real human by busting through the yellow paper wall, taking out her Invisalign and dancing in a way no boy band or diva would ever be caught dead doing.

Unlike 90 percent of music videos, the only repetition is there for a purpose. You get an echo of the beginning in the end, with reversed footage of her coming through the yellow paper wall. And in between the intro and the end, there’s a nice mix of images that fit the lyrics. It all works.

STINGER ENDING

Marvel movies became famous for putting stingers after the credits. This is the first stinger ending to a music video that I can remember, and it rocks.

You’re not sure how she’s levitating at first, then the words match the video in a nice revelation. Yes! 

VERDICT

Well done, Billie the Eilish, well done. Give us more like this!

William Shatner sings RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, and yes, it is insane

OK, I have plenty of affection for the Shatner, who embraces his inner cheesiness with glee. Never takes himself too seriously.

So is this new Christmas song from Captain Kirk–who actually puts out entire Xmas albums–weirdly good or just good and weird?

Take a look.

I’m gonna say good and weird instead of weirdly good.

Here’s the deal: You can play it straight, and make a song for kids with kids in the video, or you can go cray-cray with creepy adults pretending to be child-sized elves mixed in with actual pookies.

This is a lot like the uncanny valley. We accept cartoonish images of people and super-realistic CGI, but the in-between business doesn’t work. Freaks us out.

Shatner’s video and song freaks me out, and not in a good way. I get that he’s trying to do a twist on a song that’s been done a zillion times. But you gotta decide, and he’s trying to have it both ways: a song for kids but also for adults. Which means you’ve got the sweet and light elements mixed with pierced elves and pseudo-heavy metal. The ingredients just don’t work together.

If you want to make chocolate chip cookies, you get busy and make ’em. If you want to bake a cheesecake, you make that. Where this video gets into trouble is trying to split the difference, meaning it doesn’t really appeal to kids or adults.

VERDICT

Points for trying something bold and risky. Demerits for not executing. But love ya anyway, Shatner–keep on singing.

BONUS VIDEO: Shatner sings ROCKET MAN

How could I not know the insane YOU DON’T KNOW by 702?

I’m an original viewer of OG MTV–which actually played music videos all the time instead of JERSEY SHORE SEASON 11: LET’S PRETEND SNOOKI AND THE SITUATION AREN’T BOTH 37 AND MARRIED, OK?.

So I take pride in knowing my weird and wonderful music videos, from the Hair Bands of the ’80s to Adam Ant and poofy shirts to Drake making roller-skating look cool again.

How could something like YOU DON’T KNOW by 702 slip past me?

It’s got everything a weird music video needs. Take a look and we’ll chat.

Taking it apart

Since I know nothing about the band 702, here’s my take:

This is one of those things that FEELS like a good idea, when you talk about it, then doesn’t work on film. 

The production values are high. The space apocalypse costumes look good, like they stole them from a movie set. The music and singing is fine, and the band looks great. 

Where does it get weird but go wrong?

First thing: The robotic dancing.

You can dance like a droid without looking like a dweeb. It is possible. Breakdancers have an entire branch where that’s their schtick, and there are amazing dancers out there.

The singers aren’t any good at it. They should have stuck to singing and leave the dancing to professional dancers.

Second thing: I kept getting the feeling a studio exec built this band from the ground up, trying to copy TLC, down to the haircuts. Could be completely wrong. Maybe TLC copied 702, for all I know, back in the paleolithic era. This is just the feeling I get without using any googling powers to divine the truth and it kept distracting me the whole time. Is this one trying to be Left Eye or Chili?

Third bit: This video keeps switching from robot space apocalypse to modern dresses and sets, which is confusing. Stick to one or the other. 

Lastly, the storyline, whatever it is, didn’t catch my interest or make any sense.

Were the singing, dancing robot people from the space apocalypse really in any danger? Why were they being chased? The song and visuals never made me care or understand.

Verdict

Weird, but not wonderfully so. Would not watch again.

The Red Pen of Doom analyzes I WANT YOU TO WANT ME by Cheap Trick

As part of my ongoing mission to explore all music, and go where MTV no longer goes anymore, here’s another video: I WANT YOU TO WANT ME by Cheap Trick.

Why show this old thing from 1879 or whatever, when they had to plug their guitars into steam engines?

Three reasons why:

IT.

IS.

AWESOME.

This is a case where simple and repetitive works, because there’s a nice little pattern here with the words: “I want you to want me. I need you to need me.” And so forth. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. But it is inspired, and it’s the kind of song a moderately talented punk band could learn to play, you know, the kind of band that knows four chords and forgets two of them in the middle of the show after they finish off two bottles of cheap vodka.

So in that way, this thing is genius. You don’t need a degree in music to play it. You don’t need a great voice to sing it. It’s the perfect cover song, which is why so many other bands have covered it.

Also, it’s one of the few songs that sounds good live versus all auto-tuned and cleaned up in the studio. A gritty garage band can play it and fudge notes without ruining the thing.

You — yes, you — could probably do a decent job singing this thing at a karaoke bar, even if you are TOO DRUNK TO SPELL KARAOKE.

Bottom line: a simple, study, lovable song. A punk-rock deal with interesting twists in the lyrics.

I like it, I love it, I want some more of it.

;

Special bonus: my favorite cover of I WANT YOU TO WANT ME by Letters to Cleo. (This cover doesn’t have a music video. Somebody made one with scenes from the show CHUCK, and they did alright. Here you go.)

 

The lyrics are way, way below, just for fun. Straight-forward stuff – no need to dissect or improve these. They’re perfect. 

I WANT YOU TO WANT ME

Written by Rick Nielsen
Performed by Cheap Trick

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.
I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.

I’ll shine up my old brown shoes.
I’ll put on a brand new shirt
I’ll get home early from work
if you say that you love me.

Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’).
Oh, Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’)
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.
I’ll shine up my old brown shoes.
I’ll put on a brand new shirt
I’ll get home early from work
if you say that you love me.

Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’).
Oh, Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’)
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.

The Red Pen of Doom shoots up Train’s DRIVE BY

Here is an interesting song, and I mean “interesting” in a tragic, train-wreck sort of way.

Because it’s a decent melody by a good band with some of the WORST LYRICS EVER.

And the music video itself isn’t horrible at all. It’s fine. The words, though, they hurt me.

And I say this as a fan of Train, a man who has some of their songs and believes MEET VIRGINIA has creative lyrics for a pop song.

First up: the video, which I hope the evil known as VEVO lets you watch.

See? The song isn’t bad. The video is fine.

It’s the stupid lyrics.

Let the red ink flow.

DRIVE BY by Train

On the other side of a street I knew
Stood a girl that looked like you
I guess thats deja vu
But I thought this can’t be true
Cause you moved to west L.A or New York or Santa Fe
Or where or ever to get away from me

(OK, so far, this is alright. Nothing great, nothing horrible. The horribleness is hiding and saving its strength for an ambush.)

Oh but that one night
Was more than just right
I didn’t leave you cause I was all through
Oh I was overwhelmed and frankly scared as hell
Because I really fell for you

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(I believe the singer — or whoever wrote these lyrics — is trying to say, “This isn’t infatuation, or a one-night stand, but something longer lasting and meaningful, possibly leading up to a white dress, a white picket fence and three years of white Pampers.” This phrase means, “A gang murders that utilizes one driver and one or more shooters, who send a wall of lethal lead at the homicide victim while making a rolling getaway from the crime.” So the message is kinda-sorta mixed. People hear this and don’t think of happy love. They think of Glocks and funerals.)

Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love

(Because the only thing more romantic than a drive-by shooting is the leading national brand of garbage bags.)

When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me

(The bad pop trifecta: a word from the ’60s that needs to be retired, a reference to litigation and a crude reference to sex.)

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
On the upside of a downward spiral

(If he were definitely referring to NINE INCH NAILS, he’d get bonus points, but he’s not, so he doesn’t.)

My love for you went viral

(A tiny bonus point for not completing the cliche by name-dropping Facebook or Twitter.)

And I loved you every mile you drove away
But now here you are again
So let’s skip the “how you been”And 
get down to the “more than friends” at last

(“You didn’t really like me before, and you drove far, far, away, but now that you’re back, please pay attention to me as a boyfriend instead of some man you don’t really care about.” I believe that sums it up.)

Oh but that one night
Is still the highlight
I didn’t need you until I came to
and I was overwhelmed and frankly scared as hell
Because I really fell for you

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love
When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me
Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(The songwriter got ALL the bad cliches and phrases of this song into one tidy package right there. Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam! Kind of like a emptying the clip during a drive by shooting. No. Just no.)

Please believe that when I leave
There’s nothing up my sleeve but love for you
And a little time to get my head together too

(To woo somebody, it’s not overly bright to hint that you’re not quite right in the head.) 

On the other side of a street I knew
Stood a girl that looked like you
I guess thats deja vu
But I thought this can’t be true
Cause

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love
When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me
Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(A repeat and recap of all the bad lines from before, in case we hadn’t heard them the first, second or third time.)

Bottom line

A successful band like Train probably hires songwriters for some — or a lot — of their stuff. Which is fine. You need to focus on touring, performing and shooting music videos. None of those are bad things.

The words, though, actually matter. They matter as much as the bass line, the lighting on the set and the type of leather jacket worn by the lead singer.

Spend a little more time and money on the words, because I used to hear “Train” and think of two good songs. Now, the first two things that pop into my head will be “drive-by shootings” and “Hefty bags.” Which is too bad.

A Tour De Force of ’80s Videos

If you were breathing during the ’80s, you will remember these songs and videos. If you weren’t alive, use this chance to learn about the songs coming to Classic Rock stations after they get done with their rotation of ’60s folk and ’70s disco-funk.

You may recognize some tunes from this thing they used to call the radio, which plays random songs and ads you don’t control, no matter how many buttons you push, though you could use these things called telephones to call the DJ to request a song, win prizes or try to get on live air to say something horrible, clever or horribly clever.

This era is actually important, in a musical sense, because ’80s rock and pop stars were the first to deal with music videos and MTV, so they broke a lot of ground in terms of visuals. It’s hard to go from “here’s some live footage of a concert” to “which Hollywood director should we hire for our $3 million shebang that *might* hold a candle to Thriller?”

Check it out:

The clip from Top Gun still cracks me up. How did we ever think that movie was cool?

Violins and cellos gone wild

Classical music can be a wonderful sleep aid, which is unfortunate because NPR switches from news (interesting!) to classical music right at 9 a.m., when I want to stay awake all day. Not helpful, NPR, not helpful at all.

However: These musicians prove you don’t need a guitar loud enough to shatter boulders to make good music. No. All you need is a violin–or a cello, which I’m told is a violin on steroids, but they could be lying to me–plus a whole bunch of talent.

First up is an Alaskan wunderkind, Bryson Andres, who has some kind of magical electric violin.

Second: Lindsey Stirling in an ice castle wearing an outfit that remind you of Peter Pan or an elfin extra from LORD OF THE RINGS, but maybe in a good way.

And finally, our clean-up hitter: Four British women with three electric violins and one super-powered cello, covering Led Zepellin.

Weirdest Lyrics of All Time goes to THE REFLEX by Duran Duran

Oh, you can find plenty of obscure bands who can confuse you with lyrics that make no sense, and pop singers talking about how their heart is breaking because baby, baby, baby, I love you, thought you’d always be mine.

Think I’m kidding? Hold my coffee.

The trick is finding a popular hit song by a famous band where the lyrics are completely insane.

This is where Duran Duran comes through, and not just with epic amounts of hair spray.

Check out the complete lyrics below.

I challenge and of you you to explain to me what “the reflex is” and exactly what how the reflex is “a lonely child waiting by the park” and “a door to finding treasure in the dark.”

THE REFLEX

You’ve gone too far this time
And I’m dancing on the valentine
I tell you somebody’s fooling around
With my chances on the danger line
I’ll cross that bridge when I find it
Another day
To make my stand, oh oh
High time is no time for deciding
If I should find a helping hand, oh oh
 
Why don’t you use it?
Try not to bruise it?
Buy time don’t lose it
Why don’t you use it?
Try not to bruise it?
Buy time don’t lose it
 
The reflex is a lonely child
Who’s waiting by the park
The reflex is a door to finding
Treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover
Isn’t that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does
Leaves you answered with a question mark
 
I’m on a ride and I want to get off
But they won’t slow down the round-about
I sold the radio and TV set
Don’t want to be around when this gets out
 
So why don’t you use it?
Try not to bruise it?
Buy time don’t lose it
Why don’t you use it?
Try not to bruise it?
Buy time don’t lose it
 
The reflex is a lonely child
Who’s waiting in the park
The reflex is a door to finding
Treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover
Isn’t that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does
Leaves you answered with a question mark
 
So why don’t you use it?
Try not to bruise it?
Buy time don’t lose it
Why don’t you use it?
Try not to bruise it?
Buy time don’t lose it
 
The reflex is a lonely child
Who’s waiting by the park
The reflex is a door to finding
Treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover
Isn’t that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does
Leaves you answered with a question mark
 
Oh the reflex what a game 
He’s hiding all the cards
The reflex is in charge of finding
Treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover
Isn’t that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does

Toad the Wet Sprocket is back! Listen now, then go see them live

The best jokes contain painful truths. When it comes to music, I joke that the life cycle of bands is (a) starving unknowns, (b) big breakout hit, (c) rehab, (d) lead singer goes solo and band breaks up, then (e) reunion tour 20 years later when they’re all broke, sober, married and need to pay the mortgage.

So it gives me unbridled joy (note: don’t ever try to put a bridle on my joy; I will punch you into next week) to learn one of my favorite bands OF ALL TIME is back together and cranking out new albums.

Toad the Wet Sprocket is the weirdest possible name for a great band.

I say that with love.

Honestly, you can throw together a sweet band name in two seconds using this simple formula: “the” + active adjective + non-threatening animal.

Check it out:

  • The Flaming Squirrels
  • The Angry Hedgehogs
  • The Psychotic Hamsters

However: While the name doesn’t really work on every level, at least you remember because it’s so flipping weird.

Though I take great joy in dissecting terrible music videos, or divining why brilliant ones work, it’s nice to simply share a great bad with people who might not know they exist.

Also: To the punk who broke into my car when I was a starving reporter and stole all my tapes (yes, music once lived on these things called “tapes”), you took every Toad album I owned, and if I ever see you, and figure out you’ve got a closet full of cassette tapes from your criminal past, I think that’s punishment enough, because tapes are a terrible idea. They always get snagged in your car stereo, with the tape spilling out like intestines full of music, and maybe, maybe, you could take a pencil and wind everything back into place after you did some scotch-tape surgery. Tapes sucked.

Back to Toad the Wet Sprocket: Whatever you think of the band name, the music is beautiful.

Toad can play rock or folk, fast songs or slow, electric or acoustic. 

I bet they could even do a medium-paced song that’s neither happy nor sad, if you asked nicely.

Here’s one of their more famous songs:

And here’s a slow burner that still slays me:

Welcome back, Toad the Wet Sprocket–so happy you’re making new music and hitting the road again.

If you want to check them out, here’s a link to the band and their tour schedule. See them live. DO IT NOW.

The Red Pen of Doom digs up the existential dread hidden beneath the BABY SHARK song

baby shark song, baby shark lyrics

Songs for kids like BABY SHARK can be relentlessly repetitive and deceptively deep, if you dig deep enough–or stay up all night writing a term paper about Nietzsche, who is harder to spell than understand.

BABY SHARK is a perfect example of this, a peppy, wholesome song viewed billions of times, and this is perhaps the first time I mean “billions” literally, since I usually say something like “2.84 bazillions” as a joke on the internets. No. People have watched and listened to versions of BABY SHARK more than a billion times.

Have a listen to the original, and if you’re feeling masochistic, or have a tiny one in your secret fortress, go ahead and watch the dance version, too.

Then we’ll dissect every line of lyrics through the eyes of a grown-up who understands the joke behind the Nihilist Arby’s twitter account. (What makes me an expert? I dissect music videos, movies and books on this silly blog. I also watched 5,823 hours of The Wiggles, Thomas the Trains and the Teletubbies when our pookie was small. Come at me, bro.)

Baby Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Small Shark, you are small now, like the small humans singing this song, doom doom, doom doom doom doom) 

Baby Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(But little shark, you will eat and grow big, just as the tiny humans will grow, doom doom, doom doom doom doom) 

Baby Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Big enough to become the feared apex predator of the ocean, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Baby Shark

(So all hail the baby shark, future king of the seas, and the tiny humans, future lords of the land)

Mummy Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Mother Sharks are loving and wise, except when they tear into a school of tuna with their razor teeth, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Mummy Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Mother Sharks are strong and powerful, and can take away our iPhones when we are bad, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Mummy Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(We thank you for not eating us, which you could easily do, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Mummy Shark

(All hail the Mother Sharks)

Daddy Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Father Sharks are the largest and scariest of them all, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Daddy Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Father Sharks can seem unreadable and mysterious, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Daddy Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Baby Sharks recognize the size and power of the Fathers, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Daddy Shark

(We also hope to grow as big, strong and silent as Father Shark, like Clint Eastwood in a Spaghetti western, though this will not happen if you eat us when there are no tuna around)

Grandma Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Grandma Sharks are still big but not scary at all, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Grandma Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Their age and infirmity is a sign that death comes for us all, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Grandma Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(So their time with us is limited and precious, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Grandma Shark

(We love you, Grandma Shark)

Grandpa Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Grandpa Shark is no longer a threatening predator, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Grandpa Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Like Grandma Shark, he is loving and kind, and spends his limited time on us, doom doom, doom doom doom doom))

Grandpa Shark doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Possibly because there is no Shark Golf Channel, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Grandpa Shark

(You’re a lovable goofball, Grandpa Shark)

Let’s go hunt doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Though we are small, we know that we must learn to be predators, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Let’s go hunt doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(As it is in the ocean, it is on land, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Let’s go hunt doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(The little fish gets eaten by the bigger fish, who gets munched by the biggest shark, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Let’s go hunt

(This is the real food pyramid, with predators on top, and thankfully we are predators)

Run away doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(But for right now, we are still small, and prey for anything larger, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Run away doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(We can’t stand and fight, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Run away doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Running is our only option, which is why young animals of all sorts chase each other, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Run away

(Running isn’t just a game, it’s essential practice for survival, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Safe at last doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Running and hiding can protect you, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Safe at last doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(But not forever, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Safe at last doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(Eventually, you need to grow big enough to chase and eat not just prey, but your competition, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

Safe at last

(Safety is temporary and elusive)

It’s the end doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(There are beginnings, middles and ends, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

It’s the end doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(We are all Baby Sharks, then Daddy Shark and Grandpa Shark–or Mommy Shark and Grandma Shark, you get the idea, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

It’s the end doo doo, doo doo doo doo

(And our existences will end, as everything must, doom doom, doom doom doom doom)

It’s the end

(Eat Arbies)

Music video dance-off: Janet Jackson vs. Dua Lipa

Dance and music videos go together like peanut butter and chocolate, salt and pepper, bacon and eggs, coffee and newspapers.

Janet Jackson has made dance music videos forever, and my fake news version of “forever” includes before Dua Lipa was born. (She’s 23, so yes, no lie.)

Today, we’re looking at the latest from Janet, MADE FOR NOW, versus an interesting twist on the dance video from Dua, IDGAF, and yes, if you’re offended by bad words, Dua has a bad one right up there in the title. Sorry. Didn’t write the song.

First up: Janet, then Dua, before we dissect both videos.

I bet you the title to my car that Janet’s video cost far, far more than Dua’s–it certainly looks slick and expensive.

In this case, money and production values don’t win.

Dua has a better song and a far, far more entertaining video.

The acid test to me is whether (a) you’d have to pay me to rewatch it or (b) I’d happily watch and listen to something again. I’ve happily put IDGAF on loop while you’d have to pay me to hit replay on MADE FOR NOW, a repetitive song and boring video.

And that’s too bad. Janet’s got talent to burn. She’s made iconic music videos for years.

RHYTHM NATION was groundbreaking and still works today.

So I’m disappointed because Janet’s playing it safe with this. So safe that it fails.

Here’s the thing: once you’ve already had crazy success and so much cash you can’t spend it without buying private islands in the South Pacific, playing it safe is a losing strategy. You’re coasting instead of pushing yourself, and the audience feels it.

Though I’m no fan of Madonna’s music, she did a tremendous job of recognizing this and picking a hot new producer for every album to reinvent herself. That was bold and risky. It made her a star for decades instead of a one-hit wonder.

The best music–rock, pop, rap, whatever–attacks the status quo.

Aggressively. Relentlessly. Without mercy.

The worst music defends the status quo.

Limply. Lamely. Apologetically.

If you’re a famous singer or band, please take your piles of money and try to make something insanely different, new and interesting.

Rebel again.

Because that’s the real point of art, to shock us into seeing the world in a different way.

Okay, fine–let’s admit the brilliance of DON’T GO BREAKING MY HEART by the Backstreet Boys

I come not to bury the Backstreet Boys, but to praise them.

And yes, this is praise from the most unlikely of sources. I don’t personally hate this band, or anybody in it–they’re just not my cup of tea. Now, it’s different with others who are inherently annoying. Justin Bieber could show up at my front door with a suitcase stuffed with $3.75 million dollars while singing original compositions about my virtues and it would STILL rub me wrong.

So you’d expect me to take a scalpel to any one of the Backstreet Boys songs, old or new, or any random song from New Kids on the Block or Nsync, and no, I couldn’t tell these three bands apart except for the fact that one of them included a young Justin Timberlake before he hired Jason Statham to make a daring escape in a black BMW. (Note: Timberlake is one of the dudes wearing a ski mask.)

So why would I go against every instinct in my body and praise a video by the Backstreet Boys?

Here’s why:

(1) Radio is the great equalizer

Since I drive about two hours a day, 99 percent of music comes to me in a blind taste test, like Pepsi versus Coke except there’s no carbonated sugar water involved.

This song hit my radio and honestly, I had no idea it was Backstreet Boys–could’ve been any boy band, whether you’re talking current UK newbies or a Nostalgic Throwback Tour Because Yo, We Got Kids and Need to Pay the Mortgage.

Honestly, for a pop song, this is good. The lyrics are nothing to spend time dissecting, and the song won’t go on my running playlist or anything. But the song isn’t actively annoying, which is better than most of the stuff I hear on the radio. Not once did I rush to change radio stations, skip forward on Pandora or cover my ears in pain. That’s the acid test right there, empirical proof that despite my anti boy-band bias, the song holds up.

(2) Their fans will love it

What’s the purpose of a song like this? It’s not to get people like me to buy their stuff on iTunes or shell out serious money for a concert ticket.

They don’t need to generate name ID or start from scratch. This music video is for their fans, which is people who loved them back when they were on top of the world.

That’s a massive, built-in audience. When you start with an old fan base of millions and millions around the world, you only need to excite a fraction of that audience to pay the bills.

And I bet you all those old fans adored this new song.

(3) The video gets the job done

Music videos these days are expensive, with budgets in the millions not unusual.

Clearly, they spared no expense on this one.

So why do it, aside from letting singers scratch the acting itch?

A good music video adds to the song by (a) telling a story, (b) showing off the dancing skills of the singer/band or (c) giving you a taste of what a live concert might feel and sound like.

The Backstreet Boys are on tour, and these days the music business doesn’t really make money from selling music. The real cash comes from concerts.

If you grew up listening to these guys, and now you’re an adult with some scratch instead of a teenager raiding the change jar, this video probably makes you want to see the band live. Because hey, they clearly put on a good show.

VERDICT: I have to admire the brilliance of this comeback song and video. Fans of the Backstreet Boys will adore this song and video, so congrats on a well-performed comeback.

Hey there

Here’s the deal: I’ve been crazy busy with Other Things, and did not post to this silly blog much lately. And I missed it.

Missed dissecting the first pages of novels, the full three minutes of insane music videos and the reasons why the Series of Tubes will always, always be awash in videos of cats.

Missed talking smack with writers, editors and creative types scattered on every continent.

Missed the whole damn thing.

It’s good to be back here. Am writing a post every day for the month of August (so far, so good) and it’s made writing other things, for work and fun, much easier and faster. A happy snowball.

So: thanks for reading, thanks for commenting or tweeting at me–and thanks to many of you for teaching me a lot.

P.S. Just shout if you have suggestions for posts, such as which novels, music videos or movies (a) desperately deserve to get bled on with a red pen, (b) need to be taken apart to see why they work so well or (c) are so godawfully bad they circle back to good. I may open this thing up for guest posts, even. YOU NEVER KNOW.

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.

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.

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.

HALLELUJAH by Kate McKinnon, who is just killing it

I’m not alone in adoring Kate McKinnon’s impression of Hillary Clinton during the campaign, though Alec Baldwin’s job as Trump got more attention.

This song, though, hit me hard. Who knew she could play piano and sing? (If you don’t know the song, it’s by Leonard Cohen, who just died.)

Capping it off? Her lines after the song is over, when you can she’s choked up. Appropriate for our times.

Though she does a great Clinton (below), she also does spot-on impressions of Justin Bieber, Ellen DeGeneres and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

So she can act and sing. If she could dance, McKinnon would be a triple threat.

Yeah, she can dance.

Kate the McKinnon, please keep on doing what you do and we won’t give up.

Why MELANIANADE is peak SNL and brilliant comedy

Music has never been more competitive. A good music video adds another layer of difficulty–and when you add comedy–the hardest thing of all–then it’s no wonder that truly funny music videos are rare.

Your typical parody video looks cheap and takes easy shots at the artist who made it. Weird Al Yancovic has been the king of parody videos for precisely the opposite reason: he knows poking fun of the singer or band will only go so far, so he takes a song and twists it to make fun of something entirely different, like when he used American Pie to rip on Star Wars.

Comedy is hard because it speaks to painful truths. Cheap, easy laughs aren’t deep. The deeper the pain, the more truth gets revealed.

This video works because the cast of SNL clearly put a lot of time and effort into it. They committed, absolutely, and didn’t hold back.

James Corden did something similar with his Lemonjames video. Take a look:

Corden is making fun of himself, and his industry, more than he’s taking shots at Beyoncé.

The quality of both these videos, in how well they’re shot and edited, may seem like an irrelevant point for comedians. Why waste so much time and effort making the lighting, costumes and settings so perfect.?

Except it’s not a waste of time. Chances are, most people have seen the original video. A cheap knock-off that’s badly shot and uses thrown-together sets and locations will keep dragging you out of it. Instead of noticing the jokes, you’ll get distracting with how amateurish things look compared to the real video–and these days, music videos are expensive affairs, often shot by moonlighting Hollywood professionals. So the bar is high.

These two videos leap over that bar of quality, letting you focus entirely on the comedy.

Well done, SNL and James the Corden–give us more, more, more.

SALSA TEQUILA is a classic parody turned accidental hit

Norwegian comic Anders Nilsen isn’t a world-class musician. He tells jokes.

And I bet you my house he didn’t set out to make this a hit song in Europe (or to have it blow up Reddit in 2016). This is a parody, a little joke he wanted to do. My favorite line: “Antonio Banderas.”

It reminds me of the Italian singer/comic who made an entire song of what English singing sounds like to non-English speakers. I did a post about this song a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, but here’s the video itself, because it’s epically entertaining. How did he get so many extras to play along?

Then there’s this video, made by two brothers by their brother who’s getting married, that’s a dead-on parody of ’80s pop.

Back to Norwegian comics: the brothers who did WHAT DID THE FOX SAY? are so good at parody music videos, they do them all the time now.

So what is it about these music videos that make them so fun?

I believe the secret sauce is authenticity.

When you’re a musician trying to pay the bills, you dream about a hit single. You push hard for it. You’re serious, focused and driven. This is your life, your dream.

A comedian or amateur just playing around is doing it for fun. The success or failure of your parody song won’t affect whether you make the mortgage payment next month. There’s far less pressure.

That lack of pressure lets people take bold risks like this–and perhaps more importantly, to be loose and relaxed. To have fun.

That’s the overwhelming sense I get from parody music videos that’s often lacking in Genuine Music Videos By Serious Musicians, who often forget the fun while aiming at high art. Or by rockers, rappers and pop stars trying too hard to show off how edgy and cool they are.

Trying too hard is never cool or fun.

So props to the comedians, amateurs and others out there making parody music videos simply because they can. You’re adding something real to the art of music videos, which will only get more and more important as text gets replaced on the Interwebs by video, video–and, for variety, more video. Text is so 1994.

Top 5 reasons why GO 4 IT by Corey Feldman is so bad, it circles back to good

corey feldman dancing and singing

corey feldman dancing and singing

Corey Feldman’s live performance on the TODAY show was supposed to be a big opening for his new album, Angelic to the Core, and yes, that is punny.

You may remember Corey from his career as a child actor: The Goonies, Gremlins, Stand By Me, The Lost Boys and five zillion other movies and TV shows.

But now, he’s going to be remembered for this performance on live national television.

Reason No. 5: The Angels

There are two real choices in the big, famous music scene: a real band where everybody contributes–or a famous singer with a rotating cast of backup musicians and dancers.

Corey at least is trying to give his backup musicians a theme and identity. It’s just not quite right, as if he watched some Robert Palmer and decided to run with that theme, except all they had at the Party Store were some angel wings and sexy nurse costumes.

Continue reading “Top 5 reasons why GO 4 IT by Corey Feldman is so bad, it circles back to good”

The five greatest cover songs of all time

As a fan of music, and music videos, I applaud the decision by MTV to start a new channel that actually plays music videos instead of reality TV shows about teen moms, Snooki, random people forced to be roommates in different cities for no reason season after season, Rob Kardashian’s second cousin–or whatever other nonsense they’re making reality shows about today.

Music is universally good, and music videos are an art form that should be shared and enjoyed by all.

This post is also a bit of counter-programming now that the author of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is putting out yet another sequel to a book that should never have been written (here’s my review/epic takedown of that literary monstrosity: The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY). To celebrate music videos, here are the five greatest cover songs of all time, with the original artist versus their imposter in a battle royale.

Also: I have been crazy busy, which is a post for another day, but yes, I’m still breathing and will try to post more. Have missed it.

The Man Who Sold the World – original by David Bowie, cover by Nirvana

Twist and Shout – original by The Top Notes, cover by some band from Liverpool

I Will Always Love You – original by Dolly Parton (with special bonus, Burt Reynolds and his mustache!), cover by Whitney Houston (special bonus: Kevin Costner as a tough guy with zero mustache at all)

Nothing Compares to U – original by The Family (really, Prince), cover by Sinead O’Connor (because Prince said so)

Hurt – original by Nine Inch Nails vs cover by Johnny Cash

Or you could just have Ariana Grande cover everything by everybody.

What do you think? Vote in the poll or post a witty comment explaining how I’m musically wrong about everything musical.

2016 craziness leads to brilliant and funny music videos

Now, this fake Japanese commercial for Trump is spot-on and hilarious. But the seriousness and inevitably silliness of a campaign that started out with 20+ candidates and now has our first reality TV star as a nominee, well, you’re going to get more than one video from that.

Here’s Obama singing Rihanna’s WORK.

And here’s brother Bernie belting out POWER by Kanye.

Hillary and Barack team up for TIMBER by Pitbull.

It takes skill to create these videos. I think they work because of the high contrast between the highest politicians in the land and low-brow pop songs. The more banal the pop song, and the harder it is to figure out the lyrics (love Rihanna, but nobody understands what she’s singing in WORK), the more funny the video is.

The original Serious Footage Turned Into Song, though, is still the best: Brian Williams absolutely nails RAPPER’S DELIGHT.

DANCE OFF by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis opens with … Idris Elba!

Does it get any better than Idris Elba?

No. No, it does not.

This is another solid music video by Macklemore, who’s smart for (a) giving Ryan Lewis co-billing, (b) constantly trying new things with music videos and (c) now experimenting with a different kind of tour.

Instead of doing the smart thing in terms of economics, which is to tour giant cities playing in giant arenas to maximize profits, Macklemore’s latest tour is completely local, with gigs in tiny venues around his home state of Washington.

He’s coming to my little county, to Olympia, Spokane, all over.

And tickets are cheap ($21 or so) instead of the usual $100+ for a big name like Macklemore.

This is pure fan service, in the best way possible.

There aren’t many international music stars who’d chose to make less money by playing to small crowds in small towns.

Thank you, Macklemore—though the concerts in my backyard are sold out (they all sold out, statewide), I know my friends and neighbors are excited that you’re doing this.

Student makes insanely great 007-style musical opener for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

007 intro to empire strikes back

Star Wars – Episode V “The Empire Strikes Back” Homage (Title Sequence) from KROFL on Vimeo.

This is a special kind of music video: a blockbuster title sequence song, made famous by the James Bond movies, though you see them with other big-budget monsters.

Except this one was created by college student Kurt Rauffer, who should immediately pack a suitcase, get on a metal tube filled with explosives and fly to Hollywood, where they’ll give him stacks of green paper to work this magic for IRON MAN 4: ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. CHEWS ALL THE SCENERY.

The music is a piece Radiohead recorded for a Bond movie (but wasn’t used), so yeah, it’s perfect.

More perfect: the tone and graphics are spot-on. Couldn’t improve upon this if we tried.

Well played, Kurt the Rauffer, if that’s your real name. Give is moar moar MOAR.

Jimmy with the Good Hair

lemon james

James Corden didn’t forget the funny here. He fully committed: great cinematography, great writing and pacing. The whole package.

That’s the secret to comedy: you have to close your eyes and step off the top of a ten-story building. A little hop off the curb doesn’t do it. Comedy works through extremes.

Stephen Colbert did something similar with his Stephenade bit.

Now, Colbert is a genius, among the best in the world at monologues and interviews. Love him. But this was mildly amusing compared to Corden’s masterpiece.

Why?

Colbert did a sort of SNL-skit version of the idea: let’s take a baseball bat and smash things in slow motion. It was a quick, one-trick thing, and just like a SNL skit, taking it longer wouldn’t work.

Corden went big. You can tell they put time and effort into it. You or I could’ve grabbed a bat and smashed things like Colbert.

Jimmy Fallon fully committed, too, with his frame-by-frame version of Too Much Time on My Hands by Styx.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Here’s the original. I hit play on both and with only a little fiddling with pause & restart, they matched up exactly.

These two late-night comics prove that the music video isn’t dead–and that comedy doesn’t have to involve f-bombs and gross-out jokes.