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See the Copycat Videos

A popular European group cleverly named Pop Will Eat Itself is about to hit these shores. While we wait for the first Stateside video clip from that band, we can feast--or famine, as the case may be--on plenty of video examples of pop culture indeed cannibalizing itself no end.

Paula Abdul borrows famous visual moments from other pop videos for her “Forever Your Girl.” De La Soul lampoons other rap acts in “Me Myself and I.” Mojo Nixon lampoons three teen faves in “Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child.” Madonna rips off the silent film “Metropolis” in “Express Yourself.” Prince borrows the various “Batman” personae (albeit with full legal authorization and payment) in “Batdance.” Paul McCartney rips off his own past in “My Brave Face.”

These are all part of this month’s edition of Sound & Vision, in which current pop clips are rated on an oh-so-original 0-100 scale.

CLIP PICKED TO CLICK: Howard Jones’ “The Prisoner.” (Director: Daniel Kleinman.) While most video directors seem to have just plain given up on surprising our tired eyes, Kleinman remains a master of visual ingenuity. This clip has the director up to his usual neat optical tricks, all involving the image of a lively Jones wiggling around in a series of purportedly still photos under the watchful eye of a typically fabulous-babe photographer. She takes scissors to one photo and cuts out Howard’s eyes; naturally, the peepers still move around, and so on. The song isn’t much to write home about, and Jones is an amazingly uncharismatic film performer, but who needs charisma when you’ve got a director this imaginative? 78

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Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl.” (Director: David Fincher.) What’s your cuteness tolerance? This uneven but amusing clip is a sure test. While Paula hoofs quite expertly, sings a little less expertly and generally does her disco thing, a series of children are seen imitating grown-up roles previously witnessed in other videos of note. Some elementary-schoolers are transformed into the blank-faced Robert Palmer girls (or is it the blank-faced Tone Loc girls?); most hilariously, a young tyke in an executive suit suffers a mid-life crisis and snaps a pencil in two, a la Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer.” On top of it, Abdul does an honest-to-gosh tap dance, which is worth a plethora of points in Sound & Vision’s book any day. 67

De La Soul’s “Me Myself and I.” (Director: Peter Lauer.) If you ever thought that the thick gold chains, thick sunglasses, thick attitudes and other heavy-duty accouterments of so many rap artists were enormously silly affectations, have comfort in the fact that at least one rap trio--the genre’s new shining light, De La Soul--agrees. This clip has the lads being dissed in a musical schoolroom by a whole series of self-serious figures, all made up to look like Run-DMC and the like, but our heroes are true to their own pacifistic, plain-yet-eccentric selves. Hep hep hooray. 67

WORTH A LOOK & A LISTEN: Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper’s “Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child.” (Director: Scott Kalvert.) It’s hardly a fair or well-reasoned fight. Twenty years from now, chances are that Debbie Gibson will be a major pop artist writing thoughtful tunes about her advancing middle age, while Mojo Nixon will be telling bawdy jokes to anyone who’ll listen somewhere up on the Catskills circuit. But for now, talented as she is, yes, Gibson can be a little bit irritating, and yes, watching Mojo let the air out of such a huge phenomenon’s tires is a little bit amusing. Plus, he does pick on two more deserving targets, Tiffany and “pantywaist” Rick Astley; and anyone who can dub the United States “the fornication nation” has at least a little poetry in his rotten, festering soul. Look for Winona Ryder, mega-star of the future, in a blond wig as pregnant Deb. 53

Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” (Director: David Fincher.) What kind of self-expression be this, pray tell? This clip takes from Fritz Lang’s brilliant “Metropolis” not just a great deal of imagery, but also its famous closing epigraph about the heart being the mediator between the mind and the hand. Unfortunately, this would-be remake is mostly about the libido; the tortured working class of the silent film is represented here by Chippendale’s-type studs, and the singer displays plenty of skin herself in the senseless love scenes. Such pandering diminishes both Lang’s ground-breaking work and Madonna’s lyrics--the romantically prudent message of which is completely obliterated by the bizarre sexual focus. Lame-brained as the clip is, though, both it and Madonna look spectacular. 48

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Prince’s “Batdance.” (Director: Albert Magnoli.) An army of dancing Batmans, an army of dancing Jokers, an army of dancing Vicki Vales, and a couple of Princes--one playing himself playing the music, and one playing “Gemini,” a self-made character who’s half-Batman and half-Joker. Confused? Wait till you see the clip. As it’s been hazily photographed and choppily edited under the helm of Magnoli (director of “Purple Rain” and Prince’s new manager), it’s impossible to tell whether there’s any real choreography going on here or not. As a single, it’s not unambitious, what with so many tempo changes and narrative voices, but this video--which should clarify as well as entertain--mostly just muddies the waters further. Batfans may also wonder exactly what lines like “I want to bust that body” or “Duckie, stick the 7-inch in the computer” have to do with the Batmythos. 45

Paul McCartney’s “My Brave Face.” (Director: Roger Lunn.) Aided by subtitles, a Japanese businessman explains the lengths to which he will go to collect Beatles and McCartney memorabilia--not all of them ethical or legal by any means. After a dozen viewings, we’re still unsure what the heck this is supposed to be about. A satirical view of the Japanese buying up all things Anglo? A bitter allegory about Michael Jackson buying up the Beatles’ song catalogue? Or just a chance to trot out some vintage Fab Four footage to remind the kids who this guy with the new record out is? Hmmmm. “Brave Face” is Paul’s best single in many years, but this odd, incongruous clip detracts from the song more than it complements it. 45

GAMMA RAY ROT: John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Pop Singer.” (Director: Jonathan Dark.) Granted that perhaps Mellencamp really “never wanted to be no pop singer.” We’ll buy his story that he “never wanted to have (his) picture taken,” etc., etc. But if so, why is the result of one of those dreaded photo sessions on the album cover? Why not a nice painting? Heaven knows the kids could use some exposure to modern art, John. And for MTV, why not a nice, impressionistic conceptual clip, with no footage of camera-shy J.C., instead of these mugging, white-faced shenanigans? The man doth protest too much. 39

Cyndi Lauper’s “I Drove All Night.” (Director: Scott Kalvert.) Cyndi struts her stuff in the middle of a casino-lit Las Vegas boulevard, for no apparent purpose other than to cause all the home viewers to stand back and sputter, “Geez, they must have spent a lotta dough to close down that Las Vegas boulevard so Cyndi could stand there.” Mission accomplished. Unfortunately, even in Sin City girls no longer just want to have fun; they wanna be sensitive and mature and fatiguing. The self-ruination of a once-major talent continues. 23

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