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February 2010
 
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Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 10:13 am
Neato: the literal video meme

Take a look at this video, in which a man called Dustin McLean (Dusto McNeato) has resung the Tears For Fears track Head Over Heels so that the lyrics reflect the actions in the video:



Now, Dusto has done a neato job here. Not only is his parody executed excellently (it really does sound like Orzabal singing the absurd actions of the video as they happen around him), it's a classic piece of Web 2.0 satire, or even art; something that couldn't really have existed -- and certainly not at this amateur level -- before the existence of YouTube and cheap video editing tools. Dusto has noticed something interesting about pop music: the fact that the concepts in the video are very different from the concepts in the lyrics. Video ideas are often a lot more eccentric and creative, whereas lyrical ideas usually reflect normative, conservative and "universal" sentiments. Here's the original, for contrast:



To put that another way, when a universal theme (such as being "head over heels" in love) has given a pop song commercial viability via an appeal to reproductive normativity (heterosexual reproduction, the contractual language of love and marriage), a certain kind of delirious excess and eccentricity can be permitted in the video, which can become -- as if to offset the slightly humdrum normality in the lyric -- thoroughly carnivalesque. It's almost as if the zany and expensive goings-on in the video conform to Bataille's idea in The Accursed Share that humans have an underlying need to conspicuously waste money and resources -- an impulse at least as strong as their need to manage their affairs and reproduce genetically in an orderly fashion.

By shepherding this carnivalesque absurdity back into the lyric of the song, Dusto McNeato creates a highly interesting parallel world where the distinction between normality and the carnivalesque is erased, as is the time-lag between "writing the song" and "making the video of the song". In Dusto's version, Orzabal is singing, apparently, his spontaneous reactions to the events happening to him in real time.



Dusto (a Current TV employee credited by Wikipedia as the inventor of the literal music video, circa October 2008) also erases the distinction between the distinct creative brains of songwriter Roland Orzabal and video director Nigel Dick, and deletes the distance between "what you're hearing" and "what you're seeing" -- a disjunct we're so used to in pop videos that we don't notice it any more.



In other literal videos by Dustin McLean we see a bit more satire, and diminishing returns; the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Under the Bridge becomes a satire on Anthony Keidis' pectoral vanity, Billy Idol's White Wedding is already so self-parodic it's hardly worth the trouble to take it further, Beck's Loser has unfortunately had its literal video squelched by Universal Music. Aha's Take On Me is enfeebled by the fact that the song and the original video are just as silly (and as hetero-normative) as each other, and a spoken dialogue concerning a fight over a "Magic Frame" gets a bit plot-heavy (though the line about "getting an assful of pipe-wrench" amuses some viewers).



But let's return to the best literal video, the one for Head Over Heels. According to Wikipedia's page about the original song, "the promotional clip for "Head over Heels", filmed in June 1985, was the fourth Tears for Fears clip directed by famed music video producer Nigel Dick. It is centered around Roland Orzabal's attempts to get the attention of a librarian (played by a Canadian model), while a variety of characters (many played by the rest of the band) take part in shenanigans in the library. The final scene shows Orzabal and the librarian as an older married couple. The video was filmed at the Emmanuel College Library in Toronto, Canada."

I can't dissociate the appeal of the 1985 clothes, hairstyles and spectacle frames from my fascination with this clip; 1985 is bang in the middle of the revival period I called, in The anxious interval, "the goldmine". The parody is also fuelled by the appeal of the original Tears For Fears song, whose lyrics seem particularly opaque, silly and meaningless to me (why is the narrator "dreaming he's a doctor", and why is it "hard to be a man when there's a gun in your hand", and why does "nothing ever change when you're acting your age"?), but whose topline melody, chords and hooks are sort of gorgeous.

Dustin's observations here are, in fact, rather neato, as an ongoing commentary on 1985: he has Orzabal note to the librarian "you have really big glasses", and then confess that he stole the flying index cards idea from Ghostbusters, which came out in 1984. It's as if a cultural historian had turned his commentary on a pop video into a song, or actually become one of the characters in the song himself. It's as if -- in the manner of David Foster Wallace or Alasdair Gray -- footnotes had become part of the text itself. Web 2.0, Postmodernism 1.0!



The literal video hasn't become as viral as other Web 2.0 micro-forms, partly because it's actually rather hard to do well, and because nobody can quite touch the originator. Tom Vondoom's Safety Dance is okay, but isn't very well sung, loses points for lines like "this is really gay", and has only scored a tenth of McNeato's views. Fever103's Sweet Dreams veers too wildly between literal commentary and far-fetched interpretation, with some strained, lame and vulgar fart and zit jokes thrown in:



Birdhouse in Your Soul fails as parody, since the original They Might Be Giants song and video were already unbearably whacky and random:



Deshem's take on James Blunt's You're Beautiful is much better: he strips everything back to Neato's original formula (just sing the actions) and achieves a Beckettian minimalism which made me chuckle quite a bit:


41CommentReply

eptified
eptified
H. Duck
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 09:20 am (UTC)

lol firsties


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 09:42 am (UTC)

The Tears for Fears one was genius. An old girlfriend used to tell me I looked like the other guy in the band (not Orzabal). I never really saw it myself.

He should do this one next.


some of the misheard lyrics videos are funny too.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 10:49 am (UTC)

ha ha, speaking of misheard lyrics, i always sang "and dreaming I'm adopted" not "dreaming I'm a doctor"


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
god_jr
god_jr
D-L Alvarez
Tue, Jan. 26th, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)

Agreed. I think that one is by far the best of all the literal version videos. The replacement lyrics are actually clever.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 10:06 am (UTC)

Strange, I got fed up with the whole thing and just listened to the last one while doing something completely different.

And what do you know,the lyrics didn't sound off kilter at all until I went back and glanced at the video again at the end of the song and then I paid attention to the strange words again.

Makes me wonder how much of our brain actually pays attention to the lyrics of pop songs when listened to for the first time.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 10:25 am (UTC)

Well, I'm supposed to be a world-famous song lyricist, and I pay very little attention to pop lyrics. Yet somehow I know literally thousands of pop songs, including many I hate, off by heart. Odd, that.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 10:54 am (UTC)

Apropos nothing, you've mentioned Amanda Palmer on account of her cover version of one of your songs. She was at the MIDEM industry conference in Cannes over the weekend. You can see her talking about how she uses the web to create a fan community:

http://www.midem.com/en/Homepage/

Click the "Jan 23" to pull up her interview.


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subalpine
subalpine
subalpine
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 10:55 am (UTC)

hey look, there is a literal version of a Momus(u) video on Youtube already!


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 12:41 pm (UTC)

Wasn't this the internet meme of about two years ago? You're a bit slow on the uptake there momus.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 01:02 pm (UTC)
RE: slow on the uptake

Let's not get into that tired internet dick-measuring contest. "Yo, have you checked out this video, brah!" takes 5 seconds, an analysis with fancy references to The Accursed Share takes a bit longer to gestate.

For my money this one will always be the best (can't believe you didn't include it, actually):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj-x9ygQEGA


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robotmummies
robotmummies
ad reinhardt
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 01:46 pm (UTC)

i like stonerpervs videos too:


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jan. 25th, 2010 01:51 pm (UTC)

That video gets very good at the end, where it arrives in a sort of uncanny valley between chronic and lyrical.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Tue, Jan. 26th, 2010 04:59 am (UTC)
jam on it


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Re: jam on it - (Anonymous) Expand
count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Tue, Jan. 26th, 2010 06:28 am (UTC)
Urichipangoon


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Jan. 26th, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC)

This whole entry started because of this video:


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god_jr
god_jr
D-L Alvarez
Tue, Jan. 26th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)

hee hee, she's cute.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 27th, 2010 09:23 am (UTC)
sheesh

Youtube Hole: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q16KpquGsIc

Its too late and i should be asleep but i must keep watching videos. . . i am jazzed!!!
probably cause i made some music . . .

was looking on emusic to get some Ryuichi Sakamoto. . . unfortunately not impressed by 20 second preview of songs. . . they didnt have yellow trippy orchestra or whatever his hold synth band was. Did get the untitled soundtrack though . .. speaking of which

Have you seen the Untitled movie yet? It was sooo goood. .. . .check out the trailer
here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9myaiQs3GI

PS. love your comment on how right wingers tend to focus on individual responsibility and left wingers on social culpability. This is a political trend i have often seen myself, yet never put to words. When such discussions arise I tend to promote doubt in others ideology as an ideology, with a thriller lean to the left. I think your environment (where your from, who your parents are, who you associate with, etc) are major players in who you become. I guess that is why i am always looking and never satisfied. However once your hand is dealt, its you who decide how to play 'em. . . .existentialism?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jan. 27th, 2010 09:47 am (UTC)
Re: sheesh

There's a problem for that strain of liberalism which strains away from agency, individual responsibility, and existential arguments. The problem is that those who say that victimhood is structural also tend to want to say that society is a "construct" -- something arbitrary and changeable. This ends up in the suggestion that problems aren't really problems, because the powers that be (or other powers) can change them with a shake of the "construct wand".

Seen from a wider angle, though, the individual / social distinction dissolves. The individual is just a microsite where social constructions play out. This doesn't mean they're easily changed. What's arbitrary can also be binding.


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