Music video blog: Playing pirates

David Knight hijacks the airwaves to show today’s kids a thing or two.

David Knight
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The Beastie Boys in Spike Jonze’s Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win (2011)

The Beastie Boys in Spike Jonze’s Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win (2011)

Note: two of the videos discussed and embedded below feature explicit cartoon/puppet violence, and one video has been marked ‘age-restricted’ by its uploader.

The videos they show our kids on TV are too sexy. This is one of the main conclusions of the recent Bailey Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood, which follows the findings of recent academic research concerned with youngsters’ daily consumption of overtly sexual visual media, particularly that which objectifies women. (Bailey calls it kids’ “wallpaper”.)

It’s no surprise to find that music videos shown on British TV are regarded as prime offenders. Anyone who’s watched any music channel over the past 20 years knows that the ‘sexiest’ videos are often the ones made by successive generations of pop icons, from Madonna to Britney to Shakira to Rihanna, aimed at the most impressionable viewers. And that’s before you get to all those blingy, booty-shaking hip-hop videos by borderline misogynist rappers.

As a parent who aspires to being vaguely responsible, I monitor my children’s viewing habits on a continual basis – gently suggesting alternatives to their viewing with comments like “why are you watching this rubbish?”, and finding myself duly ignored.

If I had real control over what they and their peers watched – if, say, I picked the afternoon schedule for a music-video channel – could I do much better? Admittedly my near-total lack of interest in modern chart pop hinders my chances of getting the job. Still, were I to execute a pirate takeover of one of these stations for half an hour, I’m fairly confident the following playlist could keep a bunch of fidgety 11-year-olds away from YouTube’s more nefarious depths – or from trying some Shakira-style pole-dancing.

Still, the Daily Mail isn’t going to like my proposed substitute viewing. Nor even, most likely, Ofcom. Because my kids’ music-video show would have to start – just to get the little blighters attention – with the video for Is Tropical’s ‘The Greeks’, a super-violent parade of vicious point-blank shootings, botched drug deals, explosions, decapitations and sniper attacks on old ladies. As you’ll see, it’s all enacted by Nerf gun-wielding nine-year-old boys, with the violence rendered in comic book-style animation.

This video is directed by a four-man Paris team called Megaforce (their other work includes videos for Metronomy and Tame Impala, and the latest Cadbury’s Dairy Milk commercial, Charity Shop), with the cartoon explosions and gore by animation team Seven. It’s ostensibly not for kids, but it’s very cool, and I think it would be a real shame to deprive any 11-year-old the chance to see it. (It’s age-restricted on YouTube, but no doubt a few minors have already contributed to its two million-plus viewings.)

Rather less controversial, Masterchef Synesthesia is another surefire winner with the kids. This isn’t a music video in the conventional sense, but it is a work of audio-visual comedy genius: a video mash-up of Masterchef’s Gregg Wallace – with an additional seasoning of Torode – which turns Wallace’s enthusiasm on the show for “the buttery biscuit base” into a irresistible, hilarious dance track. It was created by Swede Mason, a one-man comedy Coldcut who has been making his musical mash-ups, usually involving B-list British TV celebs, for a couple of years. Masterchef Synesthesia is his piece de resistance.

Masterchef still qualifies as an old-fashioned song promo because Swede is now selling it on iTunes. But in case the lack of pop in my selection threatens to lose a proportion of the youth audience, I’m banking on the King of Pop himself to keep them happy. And I’m not talking about an oldie, but the new video for Michael Jackson’s ‘Behind the Mask’, directed by Dennis Liu.

It’s a remarkable work (from which Jacko is entirely absent, for obvious reasons) – a crowd-sourced video on a scale not previously attempted. Jacko fans were invited to submit their own videos, based on the artist’s dance moves found on his website. A mind-boggling 15,000 videos were submitted, from which Liu and his team heroically created a work that includes about 1,600 fans from 103 countries.

Whatever your feelings about Michael Jackson, this is an impressive and rather uplifting document of the continuing devotion and enthusiasm of the global Jackson fan base.

After that I’d like to properly mess with the kids’ heads with some hypnotic, psychedelic, pixel-based animation.

This kind of thing is usually associated with drug-fried ravers, and the song in question – Etienne De Crecy’s ‘No Brain’ – is a knowing retro-ride into early 90s dance culture. The rather wonderful video, by Fleur & Manu, another French directing team, is essentially a lot of CG cubic shapes moving around, with a very funny live-action ending.

If nothing else it would be interesting to see if your average ten-year-old finds it as irresistible as I do, or just ridiculously childish.

Admittedly the title of the next one may be abhorrent to some kids – even in its American incarnation. But the video for Manchester Orchestra’s ‘Simple Math’, directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinart (collectively known as ‘Daniels’) is such a tour de force of orchestrated confusion that it should be seen by as many people as possible. And it has a great universal concept, in which childhood plays a crucial part: the life of singer Andy Hull flashes before him in the milliseconds that it takes for his truck to spin out of control – and then he recalls the painful, experience-forming moments of his childhood self:

By this point, my pirate broadcast will probably have lost some of the girls. Who knows, it might have lost everyone. So I might as well finish with the Beastie Boys‘Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win’. It’s an just-released action-packed epic – with the Beasties represented by action figures battling a ruthless band of assassins – directed by their old friend Spike Jonze.

The video features more guns, more shooting… but it’s brilliant. A mere 17 years after Sabotage – a video that announced Spike Jonze and transformed music video as an artform – this has a similar spark of genius:

But is it suitable for kids? In the wake of July’s atrocities in Norway, the violence strikes a nerve. Next month, who knows? The way video are shared and passed around online, demarcations of age-suitability border on the meaningless.

Even so, while parental policing of kids’ viewing habits is difficult at the best of times, if you wish to exert any control of what your kids’ consumption of TV shows and movies, it’s logical to try to extend that to everything they watch. A music-video rating system is one of the proposals put forward by the Bailey Review, and I suspect that’s where we’re headed.

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