While scaring up internet intelligence on Unofficial Music Videos, I happened upon Billboard magazine’s “10 Most Popular Fan-Uploaded Music Videos From 2015.” As the title clearly indicates, it’s a popularity contest, as one would expect coming from a chart-focused publication.
There’s nothing wrong with winning the popular vote, but Billboard’s list would seem to be another example of rewarding the most familiar formulas, e.g., one video is for the ubiquitous “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen. Even though innovation isn’t the goal, the list does include some noteworthy highlights.
Two of the top 10 videos are treatments of “Watch Me (Whip & Nae Nae)” by Atlanta artist Silento, with this performance by Heaven King and her crew drawing over 190 million views.
Let’s face it: You can’t go wrong with cute kids in a video, and Heaven King and her dancing divas are downright adorable. The choreography reveals plenty of hard work and preparation, but it’s still joyfully ragged, and practically begs the viewer to join the fun. It’s a good time and there’s nothing wrong with that.
In this and other videos (shot by her mom), we see Heaven driving a “fancy car” with her dog, and she even has her own little entourage, a child’s view on the trappings of adult success. Hopefully when she’s older and a bit more worldly, she can create inspiring videos about having the smarts to avoid the usual pits and snares that gobble up our young creatives.
Elsewhere on Billboard’s list we get a heaping dose of ambition, as the Rockin’ 1000, a veritable army of musicians, covers Foo Fighters’ “Learn To Fly” in order to convince bandleader Dave Grohl to bring FF to Cesena, Italy for a concert. As the director himself says in the video, it was a project that took over a year to make.
The supple editing and swooping camerawork is impressive, as is the sheer scope of the project. In that regard, it’s the exact opposite of Heaven and her friends picking up a few steps. One can’t help but admire the logistical sophistication of the endeavor, which paid off to the tune of over 36 million views (and presumably, a Foo Fighters concert).
Apparently Mime Through Time is a “thing” perhaps inspired by the viral success of The Late Late Show’s Carpool Karaoke. Here, three Austrailian friends known as SketchShe share a ride through rock history, complete with costume changes and a hurricane of remain-in-your-seat jigs, gyrations, and gesticulations.
The premise is original, energetic, and once again extends an enthusiastic invitation to the viewer to rock along, whether stuck in traffic or stuck behind a desk. Shake what Mama gave you!
The ending is also funny as hell, and it compelled me to watch more Mime Through Time videos by SketchShe, whose groovy moves have attracted over 40 million views to YouTube. Nice job, ladies!
It’s encouraging to know that Unofficial Music Videos (even popular ones) reveal variety and imaginative solutions, qualities we hope to cultivate further at TikiKiti.
The exact origin of dance is likely unknowable, but most deep thinkers believe that it developed as some kind of ritual to frighten away predators that don’t care for dancing. My own theory involves a Neanderthal falling asleep on an anthill, but it’s never gotten the attention it deserves.
Hieroglyphic evidence suggests (to me) that the ancient Egyptians spent considerable time working on elaborate ska-dance routines to appease a colorful pantheon of bird-headed deities.
Today, there is no doubt that dance serves as a valuable cultural window into a given society, whether it be squirming beneath the boot heel of oppression or blessed with the freedom to bust moves all over the kitchen.
The top question on my mind is about the staying power of individual cultural touchstones, as we inevitably meld into more of a World Cafe society, one with a jukebox tuned almost exclusively to contemporary Seoul music, a.k.a. K-Pop.
The first country on our whirlwind tour is France, where we find the highly photogenic Hive Dance Crew synched up to “Error” by VIXX, a Korean boy band. The dancers are handsome, sleek and obviously multi-culti, a point emphasized by the variegated colors of their tunics.
The team’s feline formations bear little resemblance to the carefully measured sequences that first gained favor in the court of Louis XIV. Instead, the action slides on a modern and vibrant groove fueled by soulful ringtone seduction; a sexy reminder that this would be a better world if love were the coin of the realm.
Next we visit Poland, and the trio known as ReadyorNot, working out to another K-Pop combo, EXO-CBX. Again, the universal signifier to these impressionable hoofers is American nightclub mating ritual, by way of South Korea’s teen-friendly discos.
While the steps lack the discipline of the traditional Polonaise, the playful abandon of the Mazurka is not completely out of the equation here. The fluid camerawork really heightens the action, and the wardrobe choices are refreshingly blue collar and irreverent.
Surely the joy generated by ReadyorNot is in response to living in a country that has seen its share of totalitarian rule, by both Germany and the Soviet Union, but now declares itself free to choose beats over beatings and choreography over communism.
Finally, we return home to the US of A, and the SoNE1 dance team from UC-Davis, an all-Korean squad that celebrates K-Pop as a unifying positive force that dominates Asian media and youth culture. Here, the dancers take a few laps around NCT Dream’s “My First and Last.”
In this instance, we are treated to another confluence of identities, including Korean, American, and musical theater enthusiast. Despite the college address, these dancers are probably homesick freshmen, still yearning for the innocence of high school and its G-rated, sugary playlist.
The choreography of SoNE1 is anything but provocative, which makes sense coming from a culture that values modesty and honoring the family.
Some fragments of our past remain present, it seems.
Narrative — a video that has a story element usually based on the lyrics of the song.
It’s safe to say that we TikiKitis pay particular attention to Unofficial Music Videos with a narrative structure. Because our backgrounds are closely tied to independent filmmaking we understand how challenging it can be to tell an actual story with limited resources.
For this installment, we’re cueing up a trio of student videos, each with a different approach to narrative.
Jaye is another promising video artist from the UK stretching her creative legs in a Media Studies class. The storyline for the song “Youth” by English pop band Daughter, is nonlinear and episodic, depicting a turbulent romantic relationship between two schoolgirls. Happy times give way to conflict and apparent dissolution, followed by a sorrowful interlude. The ending suggests that the protagonist perseveres despite learning a rough life lesson. Cynics may rightly point out that this structure has been done to death, but Jaye’s viewpoint is nonetheless clear and sincere.
In “Four Walls” by Bastille, artist Rachel Marsh turns even further inward with her own personal horror movie that bears a passing resemblance to The Exorcist. The video teeters between benign footage of a seemingly “normal” teenage girl to unsettling scenes of the same girl in a nightmare insane asylum. With a song that was written about Perry Smith, one of the real-life killers profiled in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Marsh uses the brittle lyrics as a jumping-off point for an icy plunge into madness that is both frightening and heartbreaking, thanks to deft execution and editing.
Finally, Lucia Timberlake’s take on The Bangles’ “Manic Monday” provides a playful tweak on our expectations, by seemingly sabotaging a song that celebrates rushing out the door to face another workweek. Here, she focuses on a nameless adolescent boy getting ready for school.
Instead of the breathless frenzy the song describes, the kid takes his sweet time, prepares breakfast, washes the dishes, and brushes his teeth. It’s 100 percent mundane, but there is movement as the story is shot from different angles and flowing easily with the music, effectively subverting our anticipation of significant action taking place. Well played Lucia!
It’s noteworthy that all three narratives are set in plain ol’ reality (though Rachel’s video turns darkly inward), with action seemingly derived from everyday routine. It shows pragmatic minds at work. Chaos is easy. Imposing order on the universe is far more difficult.
Have your passports in order, we’re paddling across the pond to meet photographer Phil Bebbington, a prolific producer of Unofficial Music Videos. Hailing from Bath, in the county of Somerset, Phil is a self-taught photographer whose work has been shown in the United States and Greece, as well his native England.
Curiously, a perusal of his portfolio at philbebbington.com (heartily recommended!) could prompt a visit to Google maps. The artist’s nook-and-cranny fascination with America is explored in vivid detail, and it fuels his sepia-toned videos for somber indie-rock acts like Black Heart Procession, Red House Painters, and Willard Grant Conspiracy.
It was a pair of Phil’s videos for the latter band that first snagged my attention. Upon learning of the recent passing of WGC singer-songwriter Robert Fisher, I stumbled across “The Suffering Song” and “The Ghost of the Girl In The Well” on YouTube, and was captivated by the stark archive footage providing the visual landscape for Fisher’s forlorn lyrical musings.
“Mostly these videos are emotional responses to the music and my mood,” Phil says via email. “The lyrics are rarely considered, as is often pointed out by people that view them.”
For Phil, words and tempo are distant considerations, behind tone and mood. His work qualifies as a mashup approach, but it’s more like an organic, historically correct film score set to a Ken Burns joint.
“Oh, I was drawn to WGC through other stark Americana (music), or was it WGC drove me to other; not sure,” he muses. “I love music that scratches the underbelly of a place or helps us retreat into ourselves.
“The videos are rarely linked to the words, I’m not that clever,” he continues. “I tend not to generally connect to lyrics, but, more to the mood of a song. The selection of footage would be with mood in mind.
“It’s a fairly organic process with the video sourced from different places,” Phil continues. “Often I will see footage on YouTube that I feel I could use with a tune I love.
“Other times I use royalty free archive sites and sometimes I shoot the video myself whilst travelling with the aim to perhaps use it at some stage. ‘The Suffering Song’ was, I’m fairly sure, a public information film from an archive site.”
For his photographs, Phil is keen on Hasselblad and Holga medium format cameras, as he’s partial to “the pace it imposes on him.”
“(For videos) I have used Windows Movie Maker in the past. In recent years I have been working with an old version of Sony Vegas. Really anything that allows (you) to cut tracks and isolate audio from video works fine. I’m sure that there are far simpler programs out there than Sony Vegas!”
Several songs utilize footage from Phil’s annual sojourns across America, and while it’s anything but frenetic, the steady cam perfectly captures a slow roll set against dreamy terrain that appears empty, but is actually anything but.
“I love small-town America, I love to photograph it,” Phil says. “I have tried to get over at least once a year over the past 7 or 8. Usually alone … and just drive for a few weeks. I can usually do about 6,000 miles in that time.”
Happy trails, Phil! Take a picture, it’ll last longer.