Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sam's Top 24 Favorite Music Videos of the '90s (Part 2)

As a special Thanksgiving treat, here’s part two (the final part) of my Top 24 Favorite Music Videos of the ‘90s! Gobble gobble, my darlings.

12. “I Miss You” by Björk (1997), dir. John Kricfalusi (NSFW)

Björk has a lot of great videos, but I’ve always been drawn to this animated masterpiece. It has the same animation style as The Ren & Stimpy Show (probably because it was directed by the show’s creator, John Kricfalusi), which means it’s packed full of crude humor and surrealism. This animation style definitely suits an artist like Björk because it’s off-kilter and kind of unnerving. Warnings for cartoon nudity and some strange imagery that may not fly at work.

11. “Liar” by Rollins Band (1994), dir. Anton Corbijn

Henry Rollins is a god amongst men, and this video proves it. It starts simply enough—Henry struts around doing his jazzy, spoken-word thing in a couple different costumes (including a superhero and a cop). But as soon as the chorus kicks in, he goes full ape-man, jumping around the set covered in red body paint. If you want to know what Henry Rollins is all about, look no further than “Liar.”

10. “Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys (1998), dir. Nathaniel Hörnblowér

Ah, the Beastie Boys. I was torn between this video and “Sabotage,” but I have to be honest—I just love “Intergalactic” more. I mean, what’s not to love about this video? You’ve got robots, a giant squid monster and it’s all set in Japan. It’s the Beasties at their most irreverent, and boy, is it entertaining. The corniness of the special effects just makes it all the more hilarious.

9. “Let Forever Be” by The Chemical Brothers (1999), dir. Michel Gondry

You will see Michel Gondry again on this list because he’s just an amazing director. “Let Forever Be” is one of his best videos because it’s a perfectly synchronized, surreal dance epic. His work has a lot to do with dreams, and this video is no exception. It just looks like a dream with the camera angles, the color scheme and all the cool effects.

8. “Smack My Bitch Up” by The Prodigy (1997), dir. Jonas Åkerlund (NSFW)

Okay, this video is 100% not safe to view at work. Just warning you now. I actually did a presentation with “Smack My Bitch Up” in an English class last year, and let me tell you, the looks on people’s faces were absolutely priceless. Controversy aside, this video is incredible. It’s shot from a first-person perspective, which gives the whole thing a more intimate feel. We follow a particularly rowdy individual on a night out and things get a little extreme. This also has a great twist ending, but I won’t spoil it here. (Note: You may have to sign into YouTube to watch it, since it's age-restricted.)

7. “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails (1994), dir. Mark Romanek (NSFW)

Here’s another one you might want to save for a home viewing. “Closer” is a visually stunning video because it has a 19th century torture chamber motif. Okay, so it’s just really creepy and I dig creepy videos. The editing in this video is pretty cool, too. In order for it to be shown on MTV, certain scenes had to be removed. They were replaced by a title card reading “Scene Missing.” And every time the word “fuck” had to be censored, the video appeared to stop, like a defective filmstrip. The film stock Mark Romanek used gives the whole video a nice vintage look.

6. “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. (1991), dir. Tarsem Singh

This is a video that’s heavy in metaphorical imagery, but that’s what makes it great. There’s a lot of religious imagery here, but it’s not of the sacrilegious variety, as shown in “Closer.” The color contrasts are what really sold me—the video shifts between dark grays and browns in the band scenes and oversaturated colors in the other scenes. “Losing My Religion” is a gorgeously haunting song with an equally gorgeous music video.

5. “Everlong” by Foo Fighters (1997), dir. Michel Gondry

Didn’t I tell you that you’d see Michel Gondry again? This is definitely my favorite Gondry video. He still plays with the dream motif (this time by actually structuring the events of the video within a dream), but it has that trademark Foo Fighters humor to it. Also, Taylor Hawkins makes a surprisingly pretty woman.

4. “Longview” by Green Day (1994), dir. Mark Kohr

What’s a ‘90s countdown without Green Day? This was the band’s first music video, and it’s pretty underrated, if you ask me. It doesn’t have the cool special effects of “Basket Case” or the nice tracking shots of “When I Come Around,” but it perfectly captures the snotty essence of Dookie-era Green Day. Billie Joe Armstrong still has a nose piercing and the remnants of dreadlocks. Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool have enough pent up energy to rock out in a closet. This is what Green Day is all about.

3. “Heart-Shaped Box” by Nirvana (1993), dir. Anton Corbijn

Kurt Cobain had a particular vision for this video and Anton Corbijn executed it perfectly. “Heart-Shaped Box” is a surreal trip into Kurt’s imagination, complete with hospital beds, poppy fields, little girls in KKK uniforms, human fetuses dangling from trees and an old man representing Jesus in a Santa Claus hat. It’s creepy, but visually stunning.

2. “Criminal” by Fiona Apple (1997), dir. Mark Romanek

So if you read this blog on a regular basis, you already know that I’m in love with Fiona Apple. This is one of her best videos because turns the whole female exploitation thing on its head. Fiona was barely legal at the time, making the scenes of her mostly naked a little risqué. Though it was deemed controversial, the video was all Fiona’s idea. She said, “I decided if I was going to be exploited, then I would do the exploiting myself.” Nicely played, Fiona.

1. “Tonight, Tonight” by Smashing Pumpkins (1996), dir. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris

There are too many things to love about this video. Based on the groundbreaking silent film, George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, “Tonight, Tonight” successfully evokes a sense of whimsy and pure magic. It’s almost frame-for-frame identical to the film, with shots of the band performing in the clouds added for good measure. I’m actually speechless when it comes to this video. It’s just perfect, okay? 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sam's Top 24 Favorite Music Videos of the '90s (Part 1)

What’s that? You want another countdown? Well, your wish has been granted, dear readers. If you were a fan of my Top 50 Favorite Albums of the ‘90s countdown, you’ll love my Top 24 Favorite Music Videos of the ‘90s countdown!

I love music videos. I appreciate the artistry of matching music with visuals, and the weirder the visuals, the more I love the video. So get ready for some cinematic adventures, kids. Look for part two next week. (Warning: Some of these videos are not safe to view at work. I’ll label them to spare you the embarrassment.)

24. “This Is Hardcore” by Pulp (1998), dir. Doug Nichol

“This Is Hardcore” is a song about pornography, so you would think the accompanying music video would reference that. Well, you’re wrong. Pulp opted out of the obvious porn parody video and instead produced a collection of dramatic film noir scenes that feel just as seedy as a homemade porno. The characters are dark and empty, much like adult film actors going through the motions.

23. “Tommy the Cat” by Primus (1991), dir. Mark Kohr

I had a hard time deciding which Primus video would make this list. It was between this video and “Mr. Krinkle,” but I ultimately went with “Tommy the Cat.” I think this video captures the true essence of Primus. You’ve got hyper-sexualized cartoon cats, Monty Python references and a special appearance by Tom Waits. And damn, that’s a funky bass line.

22. “Just” by Radiohead (1995), dir. Jamie Thraves

My music video preferences tend to fall on opposite sides of the spectrum. On one hand, I love weird, extravagant videos full of metaphors and symbolism. On the other hand, I really appreciate simple videos with a strong hook. The hook in Radiohead’s “Just” is the mystery of one person’s actions. A man lies on the sidewalk and refuses to explain why he’s doing it until the very end. But we never hear his words.

21. “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” by Backstreet Boys (1997), dir. Joseph Kahn

Most boy bands in the ‘90s tended to make cheesy videos that mostly consisted of either synchronized dance breaks or “come hither” bedroom eyes. I definitely have to give the Backstreet Boys props for this extravagant ode to old horror films. Those pretty boys weren’t afraid to get ugly for this video. Vampires and werewolves and mummies, oh my!

20. “Give It Away” by Red Hot Chili Peppers (1991), dir. Stéphane Sednaoui

This video is a great introduction to the Chili Peppers. It just shows Anthony Kiedis and company as a bunch of funky, shirtless dudes who like to get weird. That is the RHCP philosophy in a nutshell. Also, the camera work in this video is trippy as hell.

19. “Who Was in My Room Last Night?” by Butthole Surfers (1993), dir. William Stobaugh

Butthole Surfers didn’t have a ton of success with this song, but this video just screams ‘90s MTV. The Surfers play in a creepy bar with even creepier characters buying drinks, but the animated sequences are the really rad parts (those scenes were animated by RobZombie, so you know they’re badass). “Who Was in My Room Last Night?” is basically a Saturday morning cartoon on acid with some live action shenanigans thrown in.

18. “Three Little Pigs” by Green Jellÿ (1993), dir. Fred Stuhr

If you’re not familiar with Green Jellÿ (pronounced “green jello”), sit yourself down and watch the video for “Three Little Pigs.” You will probably love it. Green Jellÿ is a comedy rock band that promoted itself as “the world’s first video-only band.” “Three Little Pigs” is part of the band’s video album, Cereal Killer. The video is ultra cheesy claymation, directed by the guy responsible for Tool’s “Sober” video. Unlike “Sober,” “Three Little Pigs” is hilarious.

17. “Just a Girl” by No Doubt (1995), dir. Mark Kohr

Okay, so this is probably because I have a huge girl crush on Gwen Stefani, but I’ve always loved the “Just a Girl” video. It sets up a nice contrast between the “boy’s club” and the “girl’s club.” Gwen is stuck in the girl’s room with the pretty pink walls and mirrors, while the rest of her bandmates are jamming away in the boy’s room. The visuals really complement the song here. And Gwen looks her best.

16. “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam (1992), dir. Mark Pellington

Most of the videos on this countdown are fun videos, but I do appreciate a music video with a serious message. “Jeremy” is powerful in its simplicity. We get a glimpse of the title character’s story through newspaper clippings and brief flashes of his home life and the final controversial scene in the classroom. The subject matter is dark, but it’s handled so well on the screen.

15. “Prison Sex” by Tool (1994), dir. Adam Jones (NSFW)

Tool produces some of the most thought-provoking music videos I’ve ever seen. Though most people tend to like “Sober,” I prefer “Prison Sex.” Both videos use claymation, but the message behind “Prison Sex” is much stronger. Though the visuals are mostly metaphorical, the song itself is about the cycle of child abuse. In the video, we see the larger, more menacing creature play around with the smaller creature like a helpless doll, only to put it back on the shelf.

14. “Freak on a Leash” by Korn (1999), dir. Todd McFarlane

Say what you want about Korn, but this video is badass. Using the same camera techniques as The Matrix, “Freak on a Leash” follows a bullet in slow motion as it travels through various objects (and leaves them shattered). White boy, nu-metal angst aside, the bullet trick in this video is beyond cool.

13. “Violet” by Hole (1994), dir. Mark Selinger & Fred Woodward

I was torn between this and “Doll Parts,” but “Violet” resonates more with me. I love the ballerina/stripper dichotomy presented in the video, and Courtney Love shifts between virgin and whore seamlessly. The old-timey film stock also gives the video a gritty feel to it, making the whole song just that much more aggressive.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Sound Familiar?
“Creep,” “Waterfalls,” “No Scrubs”

Who Are They?
One of the most successful girl groups of the ‘90s (and of all time).

In 1990, Atlanta-based record producer Ian Burke and his client, teenager Crystal Jones, got the bright idea to start a girl group. The two wanted a female equivalent of Bel Biv Devoe, combining a tomboyish, hip-hop image with contemporary R&B music.

So Crystal put out the call for two more girls to join her group. Tionne Watkins and Lisa Lopes took the job and the three called themselves 2nd Nature.

The girls got an audition with singer Perri “Pebbles” Reid, who gave them the name TLC-Skee. She was so impressed with them that she set up another audition with local label LaFace Records. The label heads saw potential in Tionne and Lisa, but felt that Crystal should be replaced (ouch). Crystal left and Rozonda Thomas stepped in just in time to record the group’s first album.

(Fun fact: Once Rozonda joined the group, the name was changed to just TLC, which was originally an acronym for Tionne, Lisa and Crystal’s names. In order for the name to still make some sense, the girls adopted nicknames—Tionne became “T-Boz,” Lisa became “Left-Eye” and Rozonda became “Chilli.”)

TLC’s first album, 1992’s Ooooooohhh…On the TLC Trip, was a critical and commercial success. The debut is often cited as a prime example of “new jack swing,” which is a genre that fuses dance-pop, hip-hop, R&B and swing, and landed TLC with an opening slot on tour with MC Hammer.

After the tour, the group dropped Perri Reid as a manager and began work on a new album in 1994. During this time, Lisa began dating Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Andre Rison. The two were living together by 1994, but the relationship was rocky (Lisa filed an assault charge against Andre in 1993, but Andre maintained that he didn’t assault her). After a fight in the early hours of June 9, 1994, Lisa tossed a few pairs of Andre’s shoes into the bathtub, doused them with lighter fluid and set them on fire. The whole house caught on fire and Lisa was charged with first-degree arson.

All of that happened right before TLC released CrazySexyCool (arguably the group’s best album). CrazySexyCool spawned four successful singles, including the socially-conscious “Waterfalls,” and was one of the first albums to receive a diamond certification from the RIAA.

(Fun fact: Remember the Nickelodeon show All That? Remember the theme song? That was by TLC.)

TLC was on top of the world by 1995, but in the midst of the girls’ success, they were forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This was mostly due to Lisa’s insurance payments from the arson incident and Tionne’s medical bills (she was diagnosed with sickle cell disease), but the primary reason for all the debt was the fact that all the money was going to managers, producers, expenses and taxes.

Work on the group’s third album, 1999’s FanMail, was constantly delayed due to drama between Chilli and producer Dallas Austin (who were dating at the time and had a son together) and Chilli and T-Boz’s appearances in various films. By the time the album was released, tensions were at an all-time high between Lisa and the rest of the group. Lisa openly claimed that she was unable to fully express herself on FanMail and challenged T-Boz and Chilli to record solo albums and let the fans decide who was the better musician.

The girls eventually settled their dispute and FanMail ended up going six times platinum.

Where Are They Now?
Without the incredible talent of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (R.I.P.), but still making a comeback.

Before TLC began recording its third studio album, Lisa recorded her own album, 2001’s Supernova. The album didn’t sell well at all (and wasn’t even released in the US), so Lisa went back to recording songs with Chilli and T-Boz.

On April 25, 2002, Lisa was killed in a car crash in Honduras. She had only completed vocals on five of the tracks on 3D, but Chilli and T-Boz decided to keep those tracks and finish the album as a duo (most of the other tracks eulogize Lisa).

Chilli and T-Boz made their final appearance as TLC (until now) in June 2003. After two greatest hits albums, the two remaining members announced they would search for a third member on a reality show called R U the Girl. The winner, 20-year-old Tiffany “O’so Krispie” Baker, did not become a permanent member of the group (Chilli and T-Boz vowed never to replace Lisa), but did record a single with the group.

In 2009, Chilli and T-Boz began making more appearances as TLC, and signed a new recording contract with Epic Records just last month (October 2013). TLC released a compilation album called 20, and just one week later, VH1 premiered a biographical TV movie about the group called CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story.

As of right now, Chilli and T-Boz plan to start a tour in 2014 (most likely as a duo, as they refuse to replace Lisa).

But Why TLC?
Chilli and T-Boz are making a comeback, of course! And then there’s the VH1 TV movie, which I haven’t seen (but I’ve heard mixed things).

What Does Sam Think?
I grew up with the poppier version of TLC (the FanMail era). Not that “No Scrubs” and “Unpretty” are bad songs (I still love them), but they don’t really have the same substance as a song like “Waterfalls.” That’s what made CrazySexyCool such a great album—it was socially conscious and empowering and it still had that new jack swing sound.

If you guys surf the interwebz as much as I do, you’ve probably heard of a lovely Internet celebrity by the name of Nostalgia Chick. What does she have to do with TLC, you ask? Well, she made a video a while back about the group and just how important these girls were. I could reiterate everything she said here, but I urge you to watch the video because Nostalgia Chick gets pretty passionate (part 1, part 2).

The one point she makes that I will reiterate here is that TLC was a very empowering group. In comparison to another prominent ‘90s girl group, the Spice Girls, TLC just had more soul. The Spice Girls brand of “girl power” was pretty superficial—you can be any girl you want to be (as long as you fit into one of these five stereotypes). TLC’s brand of “girl power” was a bit more subtle and involved more emotional support. “Unpretty” (while not the best TLC song out there) is a good example of that support. It’s pretty blunt in its delivery of a message (inner beauty vs. outer beauty), but the message still gets across.

Now let’s talk about Left Eye. She contributed a lot to the group and her death was definitely tragic. But is it okay for Chilli and T-Boz to continue on without her? This is always a tricky situation (and I think I’ve addressed it before in another entry). Should a band continue to make music after losing a key member? Technically, Chilli and T-Boz are okay because they haven’t replaced Lisa. But is TLC still the same with only two members? In this case, I don’t think so. If Chilli and T-Boz want to continue making music, I think they should retire the TLC name. They’re both talented, so why do they need the name to back them up?

In any case, it’s tough to deny how influential this group was. Even if you don’t like the music, you have to look at it objectively—here’s a girl group made up of three strong women of color that wrote songs with deep messages. Sure, they had their issues, but those issues just made them stronger. Now these are great role models for girls.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.