YouTube Hall of Fame: Worst Music Videos 2RCA
Long ago, in the early days of the HOF, the Grantland staff got together and honored the “worst music videos of all time,” from Billy Squier to Sisqo. But, of course, there will always be more worst music videos of all time, as demonstrated this week by Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. So today we bring you a second edition of badness, in an effort to outbad our personal worst. Enjoy?
Nickelback, “Trying Not to Love You”
Mark Lisanti: A couple of caveats here: Picking a Nickelback video is dirty YouTube pool. It’s hitting a barrelful of dead fish with a jackhammer. I know this. We all know this. “Oh, Nickelback, great.”
I chose it because we need to save Jason Alexander. If he’s going to play a love-struck barista in a goofy music video, it should be for Kanye when he decides to set “Hold My Liquor” in a coffee shop for some reason. (The love interest will be played by Khloe, because there is a giant pool of in-laws to keep happy now. And they will bone atop a Clover machine in front of a green screen that alternates between the world’s most breathtaking coffee-related backdrops. It will be directed by a genius lamp-auteur you haven’t heard of yet.) Alexander can’t be doing this. It’s too upsetting. The music. The brew-off with the dark-timeline Jay Fieri foam-molester who Harleys in and threatens to steal his crush. The music.
You even forget about the hairline situation for a minute because you’re too worried about him to notice. But just for a moment. The hairline’s old news, and there are more pressing problems to consider.
Let’s burn down a Starbucks. It feels like that might help somehow.
Wait for us, Jason. We’re on our way.
Dave Matthews Band, “Dreamgirl” (Starring Julia Roberts)
Emily Yoshida: I want to say that I completely intended to submit a music video that I have long had flagged as something that rounds up all my queasy-triggers and mashes on them for four minutes — that would be Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger,” which was a tie-in with Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me and is framed by Mike Myers getting seduced by an apparently gigantic Madge at some kind of late-’90s go-go club. I hate movie tie-in music videos to begin with, and this was a combination of a film franchise and a song I have a very low tolerance for, so it seemed my work was done. But thank god for YouTube recommended videos for bringing me to this 2005 Dave Matthews Band music video for “Dreamgirl,” a song that came out long after I swore off DMB in freshman year (of HIGH SCHOOL, guys, HIGH SCHOOL) and that stars Julia Roberts in temporary white-girl dreads.
Being blissfully ignorant of its provenance, five seconds into the video I thought, Oh, this must have been on the Eat Pray Love soundtrack. Why else would Roberts be here in such enlightened flower-child regalia? (I am also blissfully ignorant of the Eat Pray Love phenomenon, except that I know Florence + The Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over” would be the more reasonable song to promote.) You’ve got Davey in an empty movie theater, watching Roberts stumble around in a morphing dreamscape with a faceless dark person, which I imagine is an emotionally faithful re-creation of what it is like to actually see EPL on the big screen. Roberts also runs into the entire Dave Matthews Band during her journey, including shirtless violinist Boyd Tinsley? I’m not sure — my memory is already spotty, because the entire thing is so unabashedly creepy (THE MASKED MAN LURKING AT THE PLAYGROUND WATCHING CHILD JULIA TURNS OUT TO BE DAVE MATTHEWS, SPOILER ALERT) that I had to play it in 30-second snippets, each one ending with me involuntarily yelling with inarticulated rage and hitting pause. But I made it through, and then I did my research, which meant looking up “Dreamgirl” on Wikipedia and realizing it was released five years before EPL, and, oh yeah, also:
The music video for the song features Julia Roberts, a longtime fan of the band.
Case closed. Everything makes sense and everything is terrible.
Accept, “Balls to the Wall”
netw3rk: Do you guys like subtext? I love subtext; I think it’s important that a piece of art works on several layers at once, that it is able to engage us on conscious and subconscious levels. That’s why I chose “Balls to the Wall” by the German metal band Accept. It’s a song about putting one’s testicles against a metaphorical wall, set to the haunting images of a drooping, gonad-ian wrecking ball tea-bagging a building until its constituent bricks scream for mercy. This is a video about the seductive and destructive power of unadulterated male virility. Look how the band stands with legs cocked outward, hips rocking back and forth, as if their wide stances can only just contain the beasts that stir within. See how the band emerges from the rubble of destroyed buildings, echoing the devastation of World War II and the resilience of life swimming within their balls. In the end, the golem-like lead singer rides the wrecking ball (an image Miley Cyrus would later steal in yet another brazen act of cultural co-opting) to illustrate how, even amid the destructi— OK, whatever. This video is terrible.
Backstreet Boys, “Incomplete”
Katie Baker: After the first take of this video the director was all “That was great, guys — the Lion King–inspired swirling leaves and the low-fi car explosion each made for the perfect touch — but we’re gonna need a lot more ARM MOTION this time around.” (While I’ve got you here, my semi-monthly plea: Kelly Clarkson’s people, if you’re reading this, make her cover this song!!!!!! I won’t even ask for a cut.)
Organized Rhyme, “Check the O.R.”
Sean McIndoe: Canada has a long and cherished tradition of producing music videos that cost roughly six dollars and consist entirely of people randomly wandering around the downtown streets of various cities while trying not to get assaulted. One classic example comes to us in this 1992 video from Organized Rhyme, which you have to admit is a pretty good name for a rap group, even one consisting entirely of nerdy white teenagers. The group was basically Canada’s answer to 3rd Bass, and it hailed from the mean streets of Ottawa. For this video, though, it will be exploring Toronto’s fabled Jane-Finch area, because Ottawa’s “downtown area” is the driveway of a guy who lives kind of close to Parliament.
I can’t decide on my favorite lyric. It’s either “I grab a horse and I jump like equestrian” or “Break the deuce like Jimmy Connors.” Don’t make me choose. It’s like picking which one of your kids you love most.
This song was a minor success in Canada, but it would sadly be the only hit for Organized Rhyme, who disbanded shortly after this video came out. According to Wikipedia, one of the members became a computer scientist. Another became a real estate agent.
Oh, and one of them became a world-famous celebrity who married Drew Barrymore.
Yes, if the skinny kid in the Senators hat looks vaguely familiar, it’s because that’s a young Tom Green, the future shock-comedian, talk show host, and MTV star. I guess he really was better than the best of us.
Alanis Morissette, “Ironic”
Zach Dionne: While writing about a Broadway-bound Jagged Little Pill musical recently, I had to make sure that “Ironic” hadn’t already gotten a music video in which all the imagery comes to life — bugs swimming in white wine, airplanes spilling from the sky, frowny wedding guests getting slo-mo drenched by rain. And no, that video doesn’t exist, because this one does instead. It’s Alanis Morissette and three more Alanis Morissettes road-tripping in a shitty brown car, jamming to their song, in snowy-but-not-beautiful-snowy Canada. The concept’s passable, I guess? Watching a talented person do a regular-person thing, driving a car while singing and having fun with her friends and/or her multiple personalities? But what gets me is how badly the low-budget aesthetic fails to match up with the fact that “Ironic” would go on to anchor the bestselling album of the 1990s. Alanis is an institution, not a victim for some stilted film school undergrad–style video treatment. Meanwhile, two separate uploads of the video stand at 26.7 million and 15.5 million views, so what do I know?
Leonard Nimoy, “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”
Tess Lynch: Actually, this video is a lot like “Bound 2,” especially around the 48-second mark, but with more lil’ Kims. And no horses, motorcycles, or stimulating road turbulence.
The Who, “Tommy, Can You Hear Me?”
Charlie Pierce: This week, the Who released a four-CD package of its masterpiece, Tommy, including Pete Townshend’s demos for the project, which are better than most of what was on the radio in 1969. Back in those days, youngsters, record companies would release things called “promotional videos.” Here, for reasons known only to Decca, is one it released with the band lip-synching to one of the brief programmatic numbers in the piece. The material is lame. Nobody is trying remotely hard to do this well. And, god bless his merry soul, Keith Moon just decides to chuck the whole business and see how hard he can get the other three guys to laugh. I’m with him.
By the way, when they were really trying, this is what it was like.
Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain”
Brian Phillips: Obviously it doesn’t belong on this list. It’s too beautiful, too strange, too insulting. The blue parts are too blue. It can’t fit on a list of terrible music videos because it is a list of terrible music videos. It includes all the others. It contains them, the way a drop of Christ’s blood contains the universe. It created them. It even created the ones that predate it. It also created the good ones, of course. I used to think that the string section was the cry of a wedding cake that knew it was going to die. Now I know it’s the sound of stars: stars being born in the deep cold of space, stars dying in the void alone, stars pretty much comprehensively not respecting your intelligence.
The plot of the “November Rain” video is simple. It concerns a crane cam that loves to swoop. This isn’t just any crane cam we’re talking about. It’s the baddest crane cam in town. It doesn’t give a fuck; it’ll swoop anywhere. Its life is an opera written in the key of swooping. It doesn’t know the meaning of the words “Yasujiro Ozu.” It swoops in the blue-saturated bedroom of a wiry insomniac who can’t sleep with his shirt on. It swoops in a concert hall where a conductor who was for sure also a roadie for Frank Zappa’s Bongo Fury tour is leading an orchestra of pole dancers and violinists who play standing up. It swoops around a tiny, dusty church on an endless plain of dust in a state of dust in a dusty country where the forecast calls for dust.
It swoops at a wedding. The bride is wearing what let’s just go ahead and not call a chastity-belt-themed dress. Some not un-gross tongue-kissing takes place. A sentient poodle-centaur swaggers out early and tears off a guitar solo that shatters every awesomeness meter known to ’90s science while the crane cam swoops its heart out and the dust acts like dust. There’s a reception. I guess you could question whether the director needed to spend four solid minutes showing the buffet line. Then: rain. Possibly, but not definitely, November rain. Panic among the guests, as though the reception is being shelled by the guns of Navarone. (I don’t know what those are, like everyone involved with this video.) But wait! Someone’s dead. It’s the bride! Color bleeds out of the flowers, because shut up, Kyle, that’s how flowers work. Some blood leaks out of a very angular Jesus. Everybody needs some time on their own. BUT WAS IT ALL A DREAM?
Of course it was. This was the video that apotheosized Guns N’ Roses and also the video that destroyed it as a concept, if only because it made Slash seem so much cooler than Axl that the basic generative tension of the band imploded like a victimized tier cake. I mean, Axl spends a lot of narrative time here lumped like a portly Victorian frog-gentleman next to his girlfriend while Slash is all scaling pianos and not having discernible human eyes. We didn’t realize it at the time, but there would be no coming back from this. Axl has spent the last 20 years being shorter than Stephanie Seymour. You and I may not care about that, but you can tell he did, which gives this whole production an air of weird vulnerability and instantly regretted artistic sacrifice. And yeah, this was also the video that collapsed irony utterly and forever and in all the obvious ways, because it was so ludicrous and rocked so hard that it made you see aesthetic grace as a kind of ouroboros wherein stupidity and genius are occasionally the same quality. When fears subside, shadows still remain. Nothing could have been more Guns N’ Roses than this, and nothing ever was. This was its glory, this was its failure, this was its wedding dress.