Before the VMAs air live August 28 at 9 p.m. ET on MTV, we shine a spotlight on some lesser-known clips.
By James Montgomery
Last week, the nominations for the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards were revealed in a live special that featured plenty of surprise guests (like multiple-nominees Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and Tyler, the Creator) and just as many actual surprises.
Perhaps nowhere was the latter more apparent than in the Video of the Year category, which saw Perry’s “Firework” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” grab noms (as predicted), but also featured a trio of rather unexpected inclusions: Mars’ “Grenade,” the Beastie Boys’ “Make Some Noise” and Tyler’s “Yonkers.”
In fact, though they’re all worthy selections, this year’s Video of the Year category might best be remembered for the clips that didn’t make the cut. And we’re not just talking about high-profile vids like Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie,” Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” or Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends” either. There were plenty of videos that wowed us in 2011, from artists both big and small. And after some rather zesty debate in the MTV Newsroom, we’ve compiled some of our favorites. Have a look at our picks for the Other Videos of the Year.
Arcade Fire, “The Suburbs”
A stirring, somber clip that’s part political treatise (the perils of colonialism, the erosion of civil liberties, etc.), part social commentary (the steady advance of adulthood, the preponderance of the past) and all compelling. It’s part of a larger film from director Spike Jonze and the band. Proof that sometimes the best artists actually do make the best art.
Battles, “Ice Cream”
A collection of seemingly random images — Karate! Some dude drinking milk! Bowling! A girl licking a doorknob! — tossed in a blender and whirled into a seizure-inducing syrup. The end result is a blissed-out, kinetic trip, and while it doesn’t make an ounce of sense, when paired with Battles’ spastic strut, it almost does. Almost being the operative word, of course.
James Blake, “Limit to Your Love”
A clip that’s as sumptuously simple as the track it backs, “Limit to Your Love” is little more than scenes of urban malaise — a darkly lit apartment, a decadently unmade bed, a decaying wooden floor — but its true power lies in the wonder it creates within those confines. Appliances limp to life, fruit hovers in the air, and a churning sea appears out of thin air. Like Blake’s music, there’s magic in the minimalism.
Kanye West, “Monster”
The disclaimer at the beginning states that “Monster” is “an art piece and it shall be taken as such,” but as is the case with pretty much everything Kanye does, it’s not that simple. Because while some decried the clip for its (frankly pretty brutal) misogynistic leanings — and with the abundance of half-nude women, fully deceased women, who can blame them? — few could deny that “Monster” is also a jarring, compelling, decidedly dark masterstroke. Deeply troubling torture porn or totally realized work of art? Probably both.
Manchester Orchestra, “Simple Math”
The year’s most brilliant, beautiful (and quite possibly best) video, “Simple Math” twists time and space — the whole thing plays out over the time it takes frontman Andy Hull’s truck to spin violently off the road — into a Möbius strip of memories, and the result is powerful enough to send shivers down your spine. Sure, it’s about the fleeting nature of life, but really, it dares to ask an even bigger question: What do you see when you die? Your regrets? Your triumphs? Your loves? How about all the above?
My Chemical Romance, “Na Na Na”
A breakneck, candy-colored, full-throttle thrill ride through pop culture’s past, set in the postapocalyptic future. Only My Chemical Romance could make a video this deliriously over-the-top, not to mention this dedicated to being flat-out ridiculous. It’s a talent, really.
Portugal. The Man, “Sleep Forever”
A 13-minute mini-movie shot in and around frontman John Gorley’s native Alaska, it gradually dissolves into a metaphoric tale of survival — one man wandering the wilderness — with an appropriately gruesome conclusion. Part fever dream, part epic, wide-screen experience, it may not end on a particularly positive note, but really, neither does life.
Radiohead, “Lotus Flower”
The video that spawned a million memes, “Lotus Flower” isn’t flashy like Radiohead’s older clips; it’s just Thom Yorke, in a bowler hat and button-up, spazzing out to the song. And yet, it’s infinitely watchable, both as a curio case and a compelling little bit of art. Also because, man, it’s fun to try and replicate Thom’s moves. And then go to the chiropractor.
Robyn, “Call Your Girlfriend”
Part of Robyn’s endearing charm lies in the fact that she’s never afraid to go it alone. And in “Call Your Girlfriend,” she does just that. It’s just her, dancing in a warehouse, while lights dazzle and the song soars. Of course, the video is oddly sad too (mostly because she’s all by her lonesome, singing for a love she cannot have), which goes to yet another part of that aforementioned charm: Even her most sugary bonbons come with a bittersweet filling.
What are your picks for Other Videos of the Year? Let us know in the comments!
The 2011 Video Music Awards air live Sunday, August 28, from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles at 9 p.m. ET/PT.