1980s

Panic at the Fertilization Clinic: Buggles – “Video Killed the Radio Star”

Buggles Video Killed the Radio Star

  Trivia tidbit: The was the first music video ever played on the fledgling MTV network back around 1981-ish. This factoid will not change your life in any way, just thought I’d mention it, in case you want to be “that person” at cocktail parties who tries to impress everyone else with his arcane knowledge. You know, the person that everyone stops talking to after a while because they really don’t care? That one.

Anyway, prepare for a shocking display of primitive art, because nobody knew what they were doing back then (a trademark of the Reagan Era). And here we go…

We start out with a cherubic little girl in a red jumper thing fiddling with what I think is supposed to be an old-timey radio, but really looks like a washing machine. There’s a black and white image of some guy with odd glasses and a microphone who keeps intruding from the left side of the screen. It takes exactly one second for this to get annoying.

We pull back so that we can see a full moon shining down on the tyke as she continues her ministrations with the radio washer. I have no idea what the moon symbolizes. Maybe the girl is going to turn into a werewolf if she finds the right station, but werewolves won’t become popular for another thirty years, so who knows.

Oh look, the girl did find a station, and she throws her hands back in a crappy simulation of surprise. She’s a terrible actress. No wonder we never saw her again after this video. Cut to some guy wearing a suit made out of silver Saran wrap and playing some keyboards. He doesn’t seem happy to be here. Maybe he’s the little girl’s agent and just saw her performance.

Okay, now the black-and-white dude is taking up the whole screen. He’s very proud of his curly hair and his odd resemblance to Elton John before EJ did that fake marriage thing. He slides to the right and continues singing while we get another shot of the bad actress, once again jacking around with the radio knobs. One would think she’s supposed to leave that thing alone now. The song is already playing and her limited functionality has been depleted. She’s a bad actress and she doesn’t know when to stop. Wait, is this actually Vanna White before she started flipping letters in sparkly dresses?

Then we get a couple replays of the child’s horrid attempt at method acting, throwing her hands up in a slight seizure as she finds the radio station again and again. Even the radio can’t stand looking at her, and just decides to explode. The little girl then stands there amidst the rubble and looks at us, like she did nothing wrong, but we all know she’s been very, very naughty.

Now we have TWO of the black-and-white singer guys, bellowing from both sides of the screen. It’s a crappy-looking shot now, but it was very high-tech at the time and probably indirectly led to two Lindsay Lohans appearing in a Disney movie. You know, that movie Lindsay made back in the day when she was still interested in having a career and not self-imploding, spinning the roulette wheel of her sexuality and running about flashing her panties.

Another shot of the worthless little girl standing there, but this time she transitions into a woman sporting a strange outfit that is probably supposed to represent futuristic fashion, but really just looks like the wrong people were going to design school at the time. This woman is very accusatory, and she points her finger at us. Hey, I didn’t break the damn radio, that little girl did.

Close-up shot of reels of magnetic tape turning. Fascinating. Could do this for hours.

Then the black-and-white singer guy is there, as a real person this time and not a distorted image. He’s walking around on what might be a stage, because Shiny Jacket Guy is playing a synthesizer next to him, but it might also be a laboratory, because there are computers and such. Then Stupid Outfit Woman suddenly appears again, sliding down the inside of a giant test tube and clutching at her heart while impersonating a coma victim. She wakes up, does a short mime routine, and then stops moving again, as if suddenly realizing that this mess is doing nothing for her career.

I have no idea what she represents. Please don’t send questions.

Then we cut to a monitor of some kind, showing just the heads of two women wearing matching wigs and more stupid sunglasses. They seem to be having difficulty figuring out where to look as they sing the chorus. (Shot of the shiny keyboard player still mad about whatever.) Then the main singer is back, playing peek-a-boo behind another giant test tube. Oh, and there’s the little girl, apparently not fired as she should have been, and now she’s staring at frozen Stupid Outfit Woman. Even Stupid Outfit Woman doesn’t want to be around the little brat, so she zips back up the test tube, which hopefully leads to the wardrobe department and a better couture decision.

Quick shot of the Wig Girls doing hand movements to the lyrics. They’ve finally agreed to look in the same direction, one that doesn’t appear to involve the camera or any degree of sense. Then we have several odd-angle shots of random people playing instruments, and another turn at watching Stupid Outfit Woman shoot up that tube. (Apparently the video director is very invested in this tube action, perhaps intent on turning the image into a branding concept for the band, which is sad. All of the marketing possibilities out there, and he’s going to go with a jacked-up take on in-vitro fertilization?)

And now the talentless brat is back, climbing some unexplained stairs so she can be on top of giant cardboard set decorations designed by people who are clearly not skilled craftsmen. This, naturally, leads to another explosion. You would think these folks would have figured out by now that the little Firestarter has got to go.

The aftershock of Damianetta’s pyrotechnics has caused the Wig Girls to lose their temporary synchronization skills, and they are no longer staring in the same direction, standing rigidly and awkwardly, as if they received surprise enemas when we weren’t looking. Suddenly, television sets start bursting out of the ground for no apparent reason, because this always happens when the director tries to get too arty. Next we have several jump cuts around the studio/laboratory, ending with Main Singer also pointing an accusing finger at us. The people in this video are just vindictive and unwilling to accept any responsibility for what is happening around them. (Is this how the Tea Party started?)

More keyboard playing, followed by Stupid Outfit Woman flying over the set (twice), like a very unfocused super hero. If we’re lucky, she’ll snatch up the little girl and throw her into a volcano, thus saving the world. Instead, walls start sliding out of the way and we have Main Singer and Mad Keyboard Guy playing instruments, and a new musician whose issue seems to be that his tight plastic pants are neutering him. Stupid Outfit Woman is back in the test tube, so she’s either resting after all that flying or she’s hiding from the little brat, who is currently unaccounted for, not having been seen since she caused that second explosion.

And that’s basically it. We finish out the song on this same set, with the camera whirling all over the place because somebody thought that might be fun. Stupid Outfit Woman decides to do an interpretive dance in her tube, and no one bothers to make her stop because there are only a few seconds left in the video and she seems to be very invested in her writhing. Little did we know at the time that people doing inexplicable things in music videos would become the hallmark for decades to come.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how a new network was born.

I’ll give you a few moments to think about that…

 

Sadly, this video is no longer available on YouTube, indicating some type of copyright issue, so you’ll just have to envision the mayhem. 

(Originally published on 08/04/10, revised and updated with extra flair for this post.)

 

Don’t Squirt That Thing in the Wrong Direction: Madonna – “Borderline”

Borderline

We start out with Madonna and a gang of friends all gathered round one of those areas where folks used to do spontaneous break-dancing back in the day, mainly because the Internet really hadn’t caught on just yet and people were bored. There’s a small child doing a backbend whilst Madonna, wearing the trash-girl couture that she popularized back then, does some odd dance steps and then touches his hiney. In modern times, that would constitute child abuse and Madonna would get thrown in the Big House, but such overkill political correctness won’t happen for another twenty years or so.

Then we have a montage of street-dance sequences, where Madonna gets to show off the fact that she can throw her leg over her head, and we get introduced to her lover, a man-boy wearing tighter pants than she is. Everyone seems to be having a very good time, or at least as much fun as you can have when people are spinning around on their backs with their legs in the air. Suddenly, some snooty photographer guy comes waltzing up and crashes the party without an invite.

Normally, this would require that one of the gang members get an attitude and pull a knife, but this isn’t reality, so the street folks just keep spinning and dancing unprofessionally while the photographer (let’s call him Hank) hands his business card to Madonna. We don’t know why Hank would single out Madonna, when most of the other folks are spinning and spreading their legs with much more gusto, so Hank must have a special fondness for the bandana thingy that Madonna has artfully woven through her hairdo that is bigger than Detroit.

Well, Man-Boy doesn’t care for small pieces of cardboard being handed to his lady-friend, and he makes a small scene that implies we don’t need no paparazzi up in here. (Apparently he doesn’t know Madonna very well, since she’s dreamed of paparazzi since the doctor slapped her newborn ass at the age of 10 seconds.) Madonna gives him a look (and a shove) that makes it clear that she and her bandana are going to do whatever it takes to not have to dance on this street corner any more.

Cut to Madonna hopping into Hank’s fancy car (while Man-Boy glares from what looks like a balcony in Barcelona, so there might have been some editing issues), and the next thing we know Madonna is wearing an outfit with extreme ruffles and screwing around with a giant ball while Hank takes pictures. (There’s also some business with Madonna wearing a leather jacket accented by a hairstyle jacked to Jesus, but it’s not clear if Hank is also recording that Madonna or if it’s just her auditioning for a Broadway revival of West Side Story 2: The Hair Product Strikes Back.)

Next up are some shots of Madonna and Man-Boy on a rooftop somewhere. They seem to be very much in love, or at least horny, and they proceed to admire each other’s wardrobe and then make out. Zip back to Hank’s photography studio/penthouse, where now we have Madonna traipsing around in another leather outfit, meandering amongst some fake Greek columns and a giant statue of a naked man. Hank seems to be encouraging her to twirl as much as possible, when he really should be advising her to brush her hair at least once a week if she wants to be taken seriously.

Then we have a montage featuring Madonna in another frilly outfit that no serious person would ever wear unless under court order. (Was Nellie Oleson the stylist for this shoot?)  Madonna and Hank review the photos he has taken, and they both guzzle margaritas like there’s some kind of prize to be won. Apparently Madonna is quite pleased with Hank’s work, because she lustfully kisses him on the lips and they presumably (nothing is clear in a music video, ever) proceed to have questionable sex while the giant naked statue reviews the proceedings.

Cut to a phone booth, who knows where, with Madonna back in her street gear, a colorful ensemble with a Keith Haring theme and more hair that has not received proper attention. (Girl, put some conditioner on that mess!)  She’s hanging up on someone, but we don’t learn who it is (bill collectors? the Pope?) because it’s time for another round of Madonna dancing back at the sex-scented photography studio. This turns into an extended scene where Madonna uses all of her acting skills to show that she can wear an outer garment that is clearly too big for her and maneuver her way through the Greek columns without mishap or any damage to the artwork. (I bet she’s really good at Ms. Pacman.)

Now we have Madonna (back in the Keith Haring outfit) standing on a street corner and chatting with several of her girlfriends, all of them sporting hairstyles courtesy of the Helen Keller Salon in the South Bronx. Man-Boy suddenly shows up and pouts whilst leaning against a lamppost and smoking a cigarette, because his part in the script wasn’t clearly defined and he’s winging it.

Madonna finally wanders over and tries to make nice, but her efforts are thwarted by Man-Boy doing some odd improv-acting with an unexplained pool stick. The subtext is unclear, but he seems to have a number of issues: Madonna is banging someone that is not him, Madonna is getting all uppity and wearing clothes that she can’t get at the dollar store, and Madonna’s hairdo is getting more publicity than his. He stomps away and heads back into a building, leaving Madonna to fret and kick the innocent lamppost, like it had anything to do with her bedding choices.

We go inside the building, where Man-Boy is playing pool (somewhat explaining the stick in the previous scene, but not the manner in which he was fondling it), which is something some guys naturally do when their Former Squeeze is on the brink of international superstardom. Madonna appears in the doorway and tries to interest Man-Boy in her womanliness, or at least her more expensive couture, but he ignores her and keeps shoving balls into pockets. Madonna turns and struts away, apparently deciding that this is a part of her life that won’t make it into her autobiography anyway, so what’s the point?

Brief revisit to Hank’s studio, where Hank is smirking and Madonna is twirling while he takes photos that no one will appreciate except Vogue editors, not showing any signs of guilt about working her way up the corporate ladder or bothering to get an STD check. Cut to Man-Boy walking up to a newsstand, surprising all of us that he reads, where he sees Madonna on the cover of “Gloss” magazine. He snatches up the magazine and proceeds to another Barcelona balcony so he can pout some more and have flashbacks of those special fifteen minutes that he and Madonna had on that random rooftop.

And now we’re at the studio/trysting place once again, where Hank is trying to convince Madonna that she needs to wear an especially unattractive floppy hat for their next photo session. She doesn’t seem to care for it, but Hank gets her on his artistic-vision side by handing her a can of spray paint and encouraging her to draw hearts on his fake marble wall. This development appeals to the street side of Madonna, so she proceeds to graffiti with exuberance, regardless of the annoying hat, whilst Hank points and shoots.

Madonna, who firmly believes in excess, gets carried away and accidentally besmirches Hank’s fancy sports car during the ecstatic bliss of getting to deface property that does not belong to her. Hank gets all pissy with Madonna, despite the obvious stupidity of Hank parking his car in the middle of a photo shoot where aerosol propellants will be introduced. There is an altercation, one that presumably does not lead to wanton sex but does lead to Madonna and her hair no longer being welcome in the House of Questionable Greek Architecture. Poor girl is not going to be the next supernova supermodel, at least not this afternoon. Bummer.

Cut to Madonna waltzing down a darkened street, headed toward the pool hall where Man-Boy is still shoving a stick at balls and making it clear that he doesn’t have a real life or he wouldn’t still be there. First, Madonna greets her gal pals standing outside, because you always have to give props to your sisters or you get kicked out of the gang (you can’t have that kind of mess showing up in your autobiography), then she heads inside for the showdown with Stunted-Growth-Boy.

Madonna and the Pink Ladies sashay their way past Man-Boy, who apparently hasn’t moved from his position on the table since Oklahoma became a state, and then Madonna tries to appear disinterested as she peruses the selections on the jukebox. (After all, Joan Jett advised us years ago that we should put another dime in the jukebox, baby, and peer pressure is really hard to shake off despite counseling and relative distance from your formative years.) The tension in the room is as thick as hair gel as we wait to see what happens.

Man-Boy rushes up to Madonna before she can insert anything into a slot, and they embrace each other fervently, as if Madonna hadn’t recently offered her wares to the first guy who had more than just liability insurance on his car. To confirm their back-togetherness, we cut to Man-Boy showing Madonna just exactly how his pool stick should be handled to achieve the most satisfaction. We finish out with another shot of Madonna singing the final notes of the song and wearing that ill-advised floppy hat with the most obnoxious bow known to mankind, accented by a heart-shaped earring that annoyingly swings back and forth as she lip-synchs. Little did we know that the earring was simply marking time until Madonna swallowed the entire music industry for breakfast and then kept going…

 

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

Originally published on 01/27/13, revised and updated with extra flair for this post.

 

Unexplained Campfires: Duran Duran – “Hungry Like the Wolf”

Duran Duran Hungry Like The Wolf

We start off with various people doing boring things in some vague city that is not in the Western Hemisphere. If I paid more attention to the news, I would probably know where this is, but I don’t. (This is just one of the many ways in which I have failed society.) Anyway, the city streets are crowded, there is poverty, and lots of folks have an affinity for sandals.

Next thing you know, two of the members of Duran Duran (the Cute Short Guy and one of the drag queens) suddenly run across a street and are nearly killed by angry people on Mopeds. But they manage to survive, and they are joined by the other drag queen band member. What’s going on? Are they running late for their concert? Did a shipment of hair gel just arrive at the port? Can they people possibly look more flamboyant and out of place?

Cut to a café of some kind, where a small person with interesting headwear is sitting on one of the tables and trying to coax a snake out of basket. I hope the waiter doesn’t sit us in that section. Or that section over there where it appears that an actual cow is waiting for her stuffed-shrimp appetizer. Oh, look, there’s Simon LeBon at one of the tables, looking about 12 years old, drinking a beer, singing, and staring at a rude man who is doing something with a monkey.

Simon takes off his glasses, which is a cue for the camera man to zoom in on an asexual necklace that Simon is wearing. Before we can ask Simon what’s up with the odd jewelry, he suddenly flips his table over in some fit of dissatisfaction. I guess the service must be really bad at this establishment, which is not surprising, considering the presence of livestock and all. Simon then dashes to a nearby farmers market, perhaps intent on making his own food, or maybe he just likes to ogle local produce while using a fake screen name.

We have a quick shot showing that other band members have somehow commandeered a rickety jeep, which means there is probably an unhappy native sitting by the side of the road somewhere, cursing British pop stars in a language that we don’t understand. We zip back to Simon, still at the market, and I think he’s drunk, mainly because people who are sober wouldn’t look like he does at that moment. This is followed by a montage of more band members running through the crowded streets, one of them wearing a potentially-offensive headband. We also have a brief glimpse of a woman with startling lipstick who is apparently very tired and falls to the ground. No one rushes to assist her, so the assumption must be that she does this all the time and people are sick of her games.

Meaningless shot of a bushel of corn.

Simon, now in another part of town for no reason, encounters oxen or some such pulling a wagon. He stares at them quizzically, not sure if he’s found the rest of his band or should keep looking. After careful study, he decides it’s not them, so he and his fedora run somewhere else. (Why is everybody so agitated and restless? Do they still use lead paint around here?) We get another brief glimpse of Lipstick Woman, only now she’s tromping about in a forest with some type of gang-markings on her face. (Is she stalking the writer who turned in the “script” for this video?) Then we have a transition shot, with special effects that make it very clear this video is 30 years old.

Now we have Simon straddling a canoe on a river, trying to be cool and squat like the natives but really looking like he’s got a body part caught in something. He’s making some other guy do all the paddling, which isn’t really fair, but maybe Simon has a clause about manual labor in his contract. (“I get top billing, I get the dressing room with the Jacuzzi and scantily-clad assistants, and I don’t participate in my own transportation.”) We spy another face-painted person peering out of the jungle, but we don’t know them so we don’t care.

Back in the city, two of the band members accost a small boy and torment him with a photo of Simon LeBon. (“Have you seen our moneymaker?”) The boy shakes his head in terror, not being fond of white people with odd names, especially now that word has gotten out about the foreigner in the farmers market with sketchy credentials and a fondness for dewy freshness.

Cue another crappy transition scene.

Next we have Simon crossing a rope bridge that’s practically falling apart, so you fully expect him to fall through and he does. Plop! Simon’s Descent triggers another scene, with yet another small boy rolling a big tire in front of a gas station, carefully avoiding unexplained campfires in the roadway as he does so. Then we have jump-cuts of a non-drag queen band member doing who knows what, girls walking in short skirts and presumably giggling about pointless things and/or the ineptitude of their parents, and a close-up of Rush Limbaugh. Oh wait, that was just an elephant at the end there.

The camera pans to the right of the elephant, and there’s Simon, standing in the middle of the river and bellowing the lyrics. (I often do this after having nearly plunged to my death. I burst into song. Don’t you?) He tries to do some kind of shimmy dance move, which is totally inappropriate and unsuccessful, then he makes a seductive face, turns toward the elephant, leers provocatively, and then heads that way. What the hell? Does Simon need some Dumbo lovin’?

Then we veer off into a sub-story involving the band member wearing the offensive headband. (You may not remember him from the opening scenes of this review. I certainly didn’t expect him to get a spin-off.) Apparently Headband Guy has totally enraptured some woman just by pretending to be an extra in a Karate Kid movie. I still don’t know what country we’re in, but it seems that such imagery is all it takes to woo the maidens who have managed to escape pre-birth marriage arrangements and/or didn’t hitch a ride on the first mail truck going to a bigger city.

Headband and Available-Etta immediately clutch each other in a sensual embrace while mystified street people look on. (I’ll just assume that “wax on, wax off” was one of the many sweet nothings the lovers whispered to one another as their love-fire burned brightly.) But then the scene ends and we never see them together again, so I’m guessing the spin-off was cancelled after the first episode.

Back to Simon, who is wallowing about in that damn river, all alone. (I guess things didn’t work out with the elephant. Hopefully they can remain friends.) We have a short scene with the Lipstick Jungle Woman grabbing the Cute Short Guy band member, and then kissing him, which causes her to briefly transition into a lion. (No one really expects that to happen on a first date, so I’m sure Cute Guy has a bit of regret about accepting her friend request on social media.) Why all these images of horniness and animals? Is it the heat, the lack of a dependable wi-fi signal, or all that lead-based paint?

Simon’s still in the river. He manages to frighten some boy on the shore, who then runs away in terror while dead trees sway in the background. Oh wait, he’s running to Simon, who has been magically transported to a convenient pile of rocks via some very questionable editing. Simon is very thirsty, despite having been swimming in water for most of the video, and the little urchin soothes Simon’s parched throat by squeezing liquid out of a dirty rag. We don’t know where that rag has been, and Simon could possibly die, but at least he’s not in the river any more.

Oh wait, I lied. Simon’s back in the water, doing a slo-mo Swimsuit Model maneuver, rising out of the river all drippy and such. This causes the conveniently-nearby Lipstick Jungle Woman to arch her back seductively and then start running through the trees. It’s not clear if she’s about to eviscerate a wild boar or she just remembered she has an appointment with her therapist.

Culture Club makes a brief cameo. No explanation given.

Then we’re back in the jungle, where Simon has also been to one of those street fairs where they do face-painting and everyone pretends that there are not more important things to be doing in life. Simon and Lipstick Woman appear to be stalking each other, now that they have artwork in common. They finally meet up in a convenient clearing and howl at each other, which automatically counts as a first date in some countries, then Lipstick Woman gets all moody and aggressively attacks Simon’s neck, thus living out the fantasy of every teenage girl in 1983.

Then, in a move that surprises absolutely no one in the burgeoning world of MTV where “over the top” is the new black, Simon and Lipstick start making angry, beasty love on the jungle floor. Clothes are torn, leaves are trampled, and we have an unwelcome close-up of Lipstick’s derriere as she crouches in animal lust, fully prepared to be mounted and stuffed. While they bang a gong, we have minimalist story-progressing shots of all the band members not named Simon finally getting together at that nasty café with the snakes and the bad service and the cattle.

As the song and the mating winds down, Simon manages to pull up his soggy pants and make his way to Café de Botulism, and the band members all gather around Simon as he apparently relates his adventures of the aggressive woman who did more than just throw her panties on stage. They all nod knowingly, being pop stars and used to having jungle sex every time they turn around. Meanwhile, the obviously poorly-paid extras in the background stare directly at the camera, deer in the headlights, and they don’t even pretend to be eating, adding even further polish to this fine piece of cinema…

Fade out.

 

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

Originally published on 07/11/10, revised and updated with extra flair for this post.