Willow Smith: Nine Years Old and Amazing

I’m sure this has been widely seen by now, but I can’t get over it. She is nine years old and doing it better than most adult pop stars. “Whip My Hair” Willow Smith (daughter of Will, of course) is one solid music video. There’s been some buzz going around on whether or not this can be considered “child labor” or “not having a childhood,” but as Willow says in her own lyrics – “We ain’t doin’ nothin wrong, so don’t tell me nothin’, I’m just tryin’ to have fun.” So listen to her. Cuz that’s exactly what this video and song encapsulate, and nothing more. Well, also, there’s the immense talent.

Sleigh Bells’ “Infinity Guitars” Video: Bad Ass-ness Visualized

If you hadn’t heard of the noisy but catchy lo-fi band Sleigh Bells before, you probably have now between the MTV coverage and the ever-dreaded indie-rock-band-goes-to-car-ads Honda commercial. I’m not sure why, but this is almost exactly how I imagined the music video to be for the track “Infinity Guitars.” Whenever I listened to it I had this perpetual image of frontwoman Alexis Krauss strutting down a street like a bad ass during her lip-sync. And then what do you do with the other half of the Sleigh Bells equation – guitarist (formerly of Poison the Well) Derek E. Miller? Have him strut too, of course – except while playing the distinctive guitar riffs.

The cheerleaders sidenote may seem random, but not if you’ve listened to the rest of the debut album, Treats. The semi-theme of the collection denotes some kind of high school voice, point of view, or commentary. Almost like a fiery rage that is angsty but also mocks teenage angst at the same time – with Krauss and Miller bringing the “cool kid” vibe, the kind of kids who didn’t need backpacks and nonchalantly swung their books around and skipped class.

I may be biased because it came out close to what I had hoped for, but I would say that the new Sleigh Bells video delivers – even if it’s a short but sweet experience (as most of their tracks are, anyway). While the live performances may not impress yet (another story altogether), let’s hope the rest of their music video career does.

More 2010 Music Video Goodness: Beyonce’s ‘Why Don’t You Love Me’

Seriously – 2010 is already a year marked by amazing music videos that just so happen to be made mostly by female artists. (i.e.: Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope,” Eyrkah Badu’s “Window Seat,” and M.I.A.’s “Born Free”). And now THIS by Queen B. Amazing. I love the look of the video, the song (a bonus track on Sasha Fierce, sounds to me like a little channeling of sister Solange), and the OUTFITS! Oh, the outfits…

I would write more about this, but it’d basically just be a regurgitation of everything Jezebel already said.

Also, the director of this video should not go unnamed. Melina Matsoukas graduated from NYU and did her thesis on music videos. She has a pretty envy-inducing music video filmography as well.

M.I.A.’s “Born Free” Music Video – Who’s on the Bus?

UPDATE: As predicted, YouTube yanked the other upload of this video that I happened to find within 24 hours. You can watch it here on Vimeo – from the actual director’s page. (WARNING: This music video contains explicit, violent images)

This new M.I.A. video “Born Free” is something you have to watch, let roll around in your mind for a few hours, watch again, etc. Rinse, repeat.

In a nutshell, it’s a graphic political video that doesn’t hold back. A group of American soldiers storm through buildings and apartments searching for someone, and beating anyone who gets in their way. And who are they looking for? It turns out to be a resistant, young, white redheaded man. It becomes clear soon after that redheaded males are the only targeted group – and there’s an army-driven bus full of them. Ultimately, they are being driven off to be massacred.

One thing that this explicit video makes me think of is how the reign of MTV – and music television in general – is over. Not surprisingly, this video was primarily heard about through viral online tactics. As I’ve said before, the new music video platform is the internet. And what can you get away with on the internet? That’s right: Everything.

Sure, Marilyn Manson shocked everyone in the 90s when he released, for example, “The Dope Show” on MTV. But compare that to this M.I.A. video or the new Erykah Badu video and Manson just looks silly. I mean, the dude is only walking around in an alien body suit that gives him breasts…But this new wave of videos – these are forms of art that feel like they matter and are standing up for something. Artists are making statements not because they want to out-shock each other, but because they’re genuinely pissed off or impassioned. They are screaming to be heard.

As for M.I.A.’s video itself, there’s so much you could say. But I’ll give my first impressions. The choice of redheaded men as the target is the first thing to boggle your mind. Why them? It’s obviously symbolic in one way, or possibly in every way. You could say they represent Jewish people. You could say they represent Palestinians (and it’s interesting to note that the redheads attacking the bus are wearing red and white keffiyehs, most often associated with Jordan).

But for me what’s striking about this video isn’t who’s on the bus, but who’s not on the bus. People of color. Women. Girls. Blonde people. Dark-haired people. Old people. The only people targeted are light-skinned, redheaded boys and young men. But are M.I.A. and French director Romain Gavras trying to draw our attention to everyone who is and has been persecuted by marking their absence?

Another way to look at it is that it’s meant to make us realize how ridiculous profiling is. By asking, “Why the hell target redheaded young men?”, you might as well be asking, “Why the hell target Jewish people? Black people? Japanese people? Muslim people? Hispanic people?” The list goes on. The point being: There’s never a good reason for ethnic cleansing, prejudice, and profiling. It is never humane and it is never justified. And what good timing on M.I.A.’s part – just days after Arizona demands that Hispanics (or, sorry, only illegal immigrants…) show them their papers.

As for the artist herself, I do know this: Anyone who thought M.I.A. was done was horribly, horribly wrong. Long gone are the days of overplayed and eventually mediocre “Paper Planes.” M.I.A. does not just exist for you to announce that no one has “swagger” like you. This is why M.I.A. exists – to scream out against the world’s injustices. So get ready. ‘Cause it’s gonna get loud.

Erykah Badu Strips at the Grassy Knoll in “Window Seat” Video

Yes, you read that right.

This Erykah Badu video for the song “Window Seat” was filmed guerilla style and plays out in one single take. In a sentence: The camera follows Badu as she gradually takes off her clothes in a walk from a car to the place where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas – while several tourists and bystanders (including children) watch in shock. Badu hails from Dallas herself, for whatever significance that holds on the video. Here’s the full (censored) version:

The video’s biggest strength is the fact that it was (and had to be) done in one single shot. The best parts are when we see Badu fidget and hesitate to take off the next article of clothing, looking around somewhat self-consciously. You can tell that it’s setting in what she’s actually doing, but she has to keep doing it because they literally only have one shot at it before people start to get suspicious. After all, they have no permits and a woman is stripping down in public. Cops are a definite possibility. (She was, in fact, later charged with a class C misdemeanor.) If this was a standard, highly stylized music video with editing cuts galore, it just would not have the same effect.

You can also watch the video on her website right now in reverse, along with a short commentary from Badu in the beginning. Equally fascinating.

Janelle Monae is an Avant-Garde Film Geek (‘Tightrope’ Video)

Janelle Monae was already promising to be a distinguishable kind of talent with her 2007 EP and her 60s soul sound with a touch of outer space. And the music video for her new song “Tightrope” (to be released on her upcoming album in May) has given us even more to look forward to.

There’s one thing extra special about this video though. Aside from the smooth dancing, awesome energy, and undeniably catchy song, the video features a Maya Deren reference. (Puttin’ my film history cap on…) See those hooded people with the mirrors for faces? That’s from the mind of the renowned avant-garde filmmaker herself. And unmistakably so. The faceless, cloaked people appear in Deren’s experimental short, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). See the original image at about 3:18 in this video:

Though made in the early 40s with very simple filmmaking techniques, this image alone effectively disturbs me every time I see it, and haunts me after.

As a fan of Maya Deren and her works, the reference came as a gleeful, nerdy surprise. Did someone really just pay homage to what some consider the “grandmother of avant-garde” in their music video?! I decided to do a Google search to see if my finding was novel. (It wasn’t, most unfortunately.) But I was pleased to find that a few other people took note of this.

Janelle and/or this music video director have earned extra points in my book for this. (Not that anyone’s reading my book, but still). For anyone who’s a fan of – or at least familiar with – Maya Deren, this little homage blows all the rest of them out of the water in its total unexpectedness. I hate to use the word “obscure,” but Deren is too often neglected outside of a film history class (assuming the curriculum covers avant-garde). As this guy says on MuuMuse, “Lady Gaga, eat your obscure cultural reference loving heart out.”

He’s right. I’ll take a nod to Deren over heavy-handed Tarantino references any day.

Internet: The New Music Video Platform

I can’t bring myself NOT to write about this. Yeah, that’s right. I’m talking about the now infamous, mixed received “Telephone” music video/mini epic comprised of a million pop culture references by Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. (Sidenote: Funny – the last time I wrote about a music video worth writing about, it was Beyoncé’s “Video Phone” featuring Lady Gaga.)

No, I’m not going to analyze and criticize it scene by scene. (After all, Jezebel and Salon’s Broadsheet already said it better than I ever could.) Besides, all I really have to say is that the acting is atrocious (sorry B, but you are by far the worst of the two), and that there’s an overload of silly product placement, drawn-out and misplaced scenes, and Tarantino references.

What’s more fascinating to me than the video itself is its internet-based success. As of today it has more than 14 million views on YouTube via Vevo. And it was released on Thursday night. Then today, things got really interesting. MTV announced it was “banning” the video from its channel, which officially means absolutely nothing seeing as how MTV doesn’t even air music videos anymore. Back in February, MTV slightly rebranded and removed the “Music Television” from their logo. So what is now basically a network for reality television – but used to be the pioneering music TV channel – has decided to make a statement by banning “Telephone.” Because it’s raunchy? Because it’s 9 minutes long? Or because – as Gawker points out – MTV is trying to reinforce that their decisions still matter in the music video world? Probably the sad but true latter.

When I was growing up in the 90s, my daily life before and after school was defined by music videos shown on MTV. I seriously watched the same videos and premieres of new videos over and over to the infinite degree. Total Request Live replaced the after-school snack for us kids in the decade before the aughts. And then on top of it, we had regular episodes of Making the Video, taking our young minds from concept to film set to final product (and making us want to have Hype Williams’ job when we grew up.) Believe me – there wasn’t one music video I hadn’t seen start to finish in those days.

Now? Well, I hate to say it, but I don’t see a music video (even by my favorite artists) unless I go out of my way to watch it online, or it becomes a huge sensation (like Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.”) No one watches MTV anymore for music videos. Mostly because they choose not to play them. But also because MTV is completely useless nowadays unless you’re watching the guilty pleasure Jersey Shore, or you’re in the mood for yet another lame and yawn-inducing True Life episode. (“I Have a Summer Share 2″ and “I’m Graduating from High School” are seriously a few of the titles from Season 9… Long gone are the days when Serena Altschul squatted in alleys with heroin addicts.)

But I don’t feel bad for you, MTV. You brought this upon yourself. You’ve turned your back on your original purpose of music videos, which are (sometimes) truly worth watching. And now YouTube and Vevo are garnering millions and millions of views on music videos, and the mini films themselves are premiering on the internet worldwide – not on your pointless, dated channel. The “Telephone” video has made it strikingly clear: As of 2010, music videos are officially spread by word of mouth. There’s no need for an MTV when you have YouTube, countless other video hosting sites, and Twitter.

So now what do you do if you’re MTV? Release a statement that you’re “banning” the most talked-about music video of the year thus far. Sounds like someone just has a spoonful of bitter and regret stuck under their tongues.

UPDATE: Thanks to Robert Brenner for bringing it to my attention, but MTV has – after all – not banned the “Telephone” video, as they reported today. I got that story from more than one popular source, but it appears that a CNN reporter announced it without any kind of citation. MTV says: “Fans can continue to catch the video as we repeat it on-air and online.”

While my rant in regards to MTV banning the video no longer stands, my rant towards MTV on a more general note does.

Music Video Appreciation #1: ‘Video Phone,’ Beyoncé

Artists: Beyoncé featuring Lady Gaga
Song: “Video Phone [Extended Remix]“
Director: Hype Williams

I know I’m a few months late on this, but I’m really blown away by the “Video Phone” music video. It’s strange, sexy, colorful, and enticing. It actually made me appreciate the song (which is also strange, especially for Beyoncé) more because of these visuals. Though it’s not clear why exactly Lady Gaga needed to be remixed into it, I don’t really mind it. I do believe though that the song is just as good on the album without Lady Gaga. (Someone actually said somewhere online that Lady Gaga’s voice doesn’t seem cut out for this kind of beat, and I have to agree.)

But back to the visuals. I love Hype Williams, and this video screams Hype Williams – almost back to his old Busta Rhymes days. I also appreciate the nod to Reservoir Dogs in the opening sequence. Odd-looking guns, even odder-looking outfits, and men with cameras for heads make this video uniquely appealing. So appealing, in fact, that I felt the need to post it. (EDITOR’S NOTE: I am planning on incorporating more music video posts like this a few times a month. Thoughts? Suggestions?)