If you've ever read a music video treatment, you've probably come across some phraseology that boldly states, "This will be the greatest music video ever made."
Most videos fall short of those GOAT ambitions, which is understandable in a medium which straddles the line between art and commerce while dealing with budgetary considerations, tight deadlines, "star" performers who may have never before been on a set and in front of a camera and so on and so forth. But, some videos actually reach that promised land and succeed on every level.
Regular Video Static contributor Doug Stern loves a video like that is indisputably great, but he also sees how they may make it difficult for those who make music videos for a living. Think of it like this: Somebody puts out an amazingly simple music video that becomes a huge hit. Next day, every video commissioner hears from up high about how they need a video like that and the call goes out to directors. You might call that phenomenon Game Changers: One day, all of sudden, every video must have a fish-eye lens segment, or a scene in the rain, or puppets. Doug likes to call the concept, "Videos That F%@ked It Up For The Rest of Us," and that's what we'll be calling this semi-regular column about videos that, well, fucked up the game for everyone else.
This video is a single, extended, lingering close-up of a shaven-headed Irish singer performing a (then) fairly obscure Prince composition. That's basically it. Just the one shot and the glowing face of the artist in all her glory. There's a few interspersed shots of Paris — perhaps to cover the edits in the chin-to-forehead performance — in which Sinead O'Connor wanders through some Arrondissement or another, looking like a shorn monk in her long black robe. The climax has Sinead shedding a couple real-looking tears as she sings one of the final lines. The raw emotion as she captures the vulnerability in the lyrics is riveting.
"Nothing Compares 2 U" is a deservedly famous video that became a massive hit and was perfect for that song and that artist and that time. In the years that followed, many record labels have wanted to make similar videos for their own artists. They would suggest a single, powerful close-up that ensures their artist connects with the viewer, without artifice. And, why wouldn't they? It's a simple idea that doesn't require a big budget, and even better, it's a perfect testament to a label's A&R department. What better compliment than for a label to say that this artist we found, signed and nurtured is so dynamic, amazing and captivating that a video director need only point the lens at him/her and capture that inherent greatness.
Most of these videos never get out of the idea phase for the simple reason that it takes an extraordinary performer, an extraordinary song and the element of surprise. Perhaps the 2008 artist considering this technique is not nearly as intriguing to watch as a pretty woman with no hair — a shocking sight back in the day, though not as shocking the bald one's future issues with Il Papa — and chances are the contemporary track under discussion is also not nearly as good as this understated masterpiece of a song by Prince.
Let's face it: A four minute close-up is tough for almost anybody to pull off, let alone a less than fascinating artist and a pedestrian song. If all the pieces don't fall into place, the director will end up with a video that looks more like a glossy webchat. Perhaps that is why there are more amateur iSight auteurs willing to try the idea than professional video makers, despite the concept's initial appeal as a great idea.
There are exceptions, of course — the most prominent one being D’Angelo and his abs. In R&B circles, director Paul Hunter's "How Does It Feel" video for D’Angelo is the one that gets mentioned as the model "all one close-up" clip that wouldn’t really serve the needs of the song/artist under discussion. See a slight variation filed under "Houston, Marques."
Whether inspired by Sinead or D'Angelo, the "wanted poster come to life" video is one that will rarely work. When the label asks for this kind of idea, does the smart director shift the concept to something that plays to the strengths of the artist and the song? Do you try to please the label and come up with a 'Sinead-esque' idea that won’t really work? Or, do you pass? Does it depend when the director's rent is due and how wild the gooses are he/she likes to chase?
Face it: ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ is definitely a great video, but it sure is f%@king it up for the rest of us.
--> watch "Nothing Compares 2 U"