imomus (imomus) wrote,

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:


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