Deftly choreographed footwork and lots of spinning skirts propel this month's Sound & Vision column, where we rate music videos on a scale of 0-100. From the rubbery gyrations of Black Eyed Peas to the steamy salsa moves of Vanessa L. Williams, dancing is the central focus of these videos rather than a byproduct of one more on-camera party.
From the current resurrection of '40s swing dancing (Brian Setzer Orchestra) to soundtracks that celebrate disco ("54") and salsa ("Dance With Me"), a renewed interest in somewhat traditional dance steps (does the hustle count?) is infiltrating pop music and culture.
More than just a spur-of-the-moment house party or involuntary, drunken gyrations on a dance floor, these are learned and calculated steps--planned fun. After years of economic recession and the dark, industrial grunge and gangsta rap music that followed, a generation accustomed to bad news is now ready to celebrate, and actually commit to celebration in the form of learned moves.
But beware: This may mean that casual club-hoppers may actually have to put their drink down and learn a real step or two. Look in the phone book under "Dance Lessons."
Black Eyed Peas, "Joints and Jams," Interscope. Hanging out on a street corner, the Silver Lake trio is enticed into dancing by an ancient transistor radio that is blasting their addictive single. But they are sucked toward the camera lens by an inexplicable wind, their dreadlocks flying and faces squished up against the glass as they rap "turn it up, play it again." But the action really starts as the beat drops to a repetitive, old-fashioned piano loop, and the charismatic Peas find themselves cutting the rug in a dilapidated old bar. They bust into liquid dance moves that combine everything from break dancing to ragtime vaudeville moves to kung fu stances. More compelling than Terence Trent D'Arby, the entire cast of "Fame" or every episode of "Soul Train" combined, they defy gravity by dropping to the floor and then effortlessly picking themselves up like a wiggly puppet sans the strings. Directed by Brian Beletic, the video combines the edginess of a street party with the excitement of old James Brown footage. 94
Brian Setzer Orchestra, "Jump, Jive an' Wail," Interscope. Dapper swing dancers toss partners in the air, slide between each other's legs on a waxed floor and generally look fabulous in polka-dot skirts and big suits while Brian Setzer (formerly of the Stray Cats) and his orchestra bang out a riotous mix of swing and '50s rockabilly on stage. In this clip directed by Eric Heimbold, the highly stylized outfits, makeup and hair are striking, but it's the gravity-defying and often risque dance moves that make it fly. From dancers arriving in autos with suicide doors, to shots of pearl necklaces resting on mega-cleavage, this video--like Setzer himself--combines the accouterments of eras so seamlessly, it makes you long for the good ol' '40s. Or was it the '50s? 89
Hepcat, "No Worries," Hellcat. Skipping and skanking down daisy-lined lanes while singing "tra la la la," this happy, nine-piece L.A. ska outfit leads the way to a dance party inside the hull of a tiny boat. Deceivingly spacious inside, the white room offers the mod setting of bright green bandstands, multicolored sunburst and airplane designs and the band's own logo--similar to TWA's logo circa 1965. The band, dressed in pegged, mustard-colored trousers, blue rayon suits and wing-tipped shoes, plays for go-go dancing girls and boys who are swaying, Jamaican dance-hall style. Directed by Piper Ferguson, this low-budget video captures the essence of early color TV shows via linear sets and obnoxious, standout tints, while the band successfully blends the happy naivete of the era with the ironic savvy of today. 78
Vanessa L. Williams and Chayanne, "You're My Home," Epic/Sony Music Soundtrax. Williams and Latin superstar Chayanne get up close and personal via twisting, dipping and intertwining Latin dance moves in this video by Gustavo Garzon. Dancers in flared pants and short skirts kick toned legs in the air and spin stealthily under each other's arms in a sort of sultry slow motion. But there's not enough action in this video due to the nature of this slow ballad--the first single from the "Dance With Me" soundtrack. A faster, spicier tune would have provided a far more challenging and exciting dance track than this rather dull and homogenized ballad. Redeeming point: Chayanne, Hollywood's next swarthy heartthrob. 59
Stars on 54 (Ultra Nate, Amber and Jocelyn Enriquez), "If You Could Read My Mind," Tommy Boy. The remake of this '70s hit, from the "54" soundtrack, is pumped up to a dance floor capacity via a disco beat, and the video by Toni Cherubino could use more of that pulsing energy. Instead, it focuses on the minimal dance steps of the three singers--pointing, stepping and arm-raising in unison. Then there are the smoky shots of one of the film's stars, Neve Campbell, holding a disco ball. For a video loaded with "Saturday Night Fever" potential, it feels as dull as the ill-conceived sequel, "Stayin' Alive." 39