MUSIC VIDEO CRITIC AT LARGE
MTV Top 100 of 1996 -- Reviews #10-1
10. Oasis -- Wonderwall **
Them again... Hmm, what new insults can I throw out about Oasis this time? None, except to say I wonder to the wall and back how this one managed to crack the top ten. This is their signature tune, sure, and the most watchable of their videos, an artistic black-and-white piece that shows off circus performers (kind of like Tom Petty's "Walls" video... makes you wonder, don't it?). As a video, without the song and the group, it would be good, but Oasis had to work themselves into it, probably because it's their video.
9. L.L. Cool J -- Doin' It ***1/2
Hey lover, it's L.L. again, doing what he does best... or at least what he wants us to think he does best. "Doin' It," the biggest Cool J hit of the four sexually-suggestive rap songs he's put out in the last sixteen months, also has the best video. He trades in Total for one hot, uncredited woman who shares the raps with him and sings the inane chorus. "Doin' it and doin' it and doin' it well, doin' it and doin' it and doin' it well, doin' it and doin' it and doin' it well..." Now I know why they put this at #9 -- that's how many times the song's title occurs in each chorus.
The video for "Doin' It" is probably the best of L.L.'s career. Could you expect anything less of my boy Hype Williams? I don't think so, Hype lives up to his first name with every video he does. The man's got his own colorful style that can spice up even the most mundane hip-hop song, for instance one with a chorus that consists of repetitions of "Doin' it and doin' it and doin' it well." L.L. even gets to do a little dress-up this time, as a trenchcoat-clad stripper ogler and telephone repairman. There were a few more scenarios that got cut from the video. In one he was a pizza boy delivering a large sausage and in another a Girl Scout trying to sell cookies.
We've established that the video is far better than the song, but just how poor a single choice was "Doin' It"? Let's consider for a minute that at least half the words in the verses get cut out to make the song completely radio-safe. It's like some kid was in the studio playing around with the vocal track, cutting in and out at will. I counted at least 23 separate occasions where one or more words are missing. I think this may have been a marketing ploy, because I went out and bought the "Doin' It" single just so I could find out what all the missing words were.
8. No Doubt -- Don't Speak ***
I've given all three No Doubt videos a three-star rating, but "Don't Speak" is my favorite just because we finally get to see sexy Gwen Stefani out of her freaky musclewoman outfits. The contrast is vivid this time as the video cuts back and forth between Gwen in a simple blue and white polka-dot dress and Gwen in her onstage stomach-exposing garb. She looks infinitely better in the dress, feminine even, so let's hope she keeps the transition for all future videos.
"Don't Speak" was the song that established No Doubt as a VH1 pop act. It's their only down-tempo tune on the entire Tragic Kingdom album, and probably the sappiest, a sad realization by Gwen that a friendship is dying. That's probably because whoever this friend is got sick of being seen in public with Gwen when she was wearing those spandex lycra outfits. I'm not kidding, I think those could lead to anyone's downfall, particularly anyone over 200 pounds.
What the "Don't Speak" video also establishes is that when anyone thinks of No Doubt, they think immediately of Gwen. This may have something to do with the fact that none of the other band members are sexy women. The Gwen supremacy is detailed during the part of the video in which the entire band poses for a magazine cover which is later cropped to show just Gwen. That's not gwood news for the other guys in the band, no doubt about it.
7. Coolio -- 1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin' New) ***
Coolio has made appearances in the Top 10 of three MTV year-end countdowns in a row, even having the #1 video of the year in 1995 with "Gangsta's Paradise." "1, 2, 3, 4" forgets the heavy-handed message of that song and returns to the fun roots of "Fantastic Voyage," the song that put Coolio on the hip-hop map back in 1994.
The "1, 2, 3, 4" video is just as fun as the other free-sampling song. A couple of Coolio's girls are having a party and he's got to find his way over there. In four minutes, he covers every possible mode of transportation, including car, boat, airplane, bicycle, even a kid's big wheel. When Coolio finally gets there, he finds a note reading, "Tired of waiting, went to your house." That's when he utters the memorable line, "Damn! Now how am I gonna get home?!"
This was the first Coolio video that had me noticing his natural charisma and comic charm. He's constantly mugging to the camera and performing weird slapstick comedy, enough so that whoever the director was took his name off the video. I was thinking last spring that with all this natural ability in front of the camera, Coolio could easily make the familiar transition from rapper to movie actor. Then I saw Phat Beach.
6. Fugees (Refugee Camp) -- Killing Me Softly **1/2
I figured this one would come in at #2 or 3, considering it was the most overplayed song of the year. As sick as everyone got of it, I still have to admit I liked "Killing Me Softly," although there's every reason to hate the song. It's a remake of a soul classic, has sparse production consisting only of a drum program, keyboard bass and occasional synthesizer, and that "one time, two time" stuff is annoying as piss. I like a lot of admittedly crappy music -- hell, I even bought the Jagged Little Alanis album.
The video for "Killing Me Softly" has the three Fugees in a movie theater, where Lauryn Hill proceeds to belt out the song during the movie. I've sat through plenty of movies where people are talking, crunching popcorn or slurping their sodas loudly, but never this. And she's singing through her own movie too. It's the non-existent Fugees film The Score they're watching, and they're still sitting in the 36th row. Between this and their "Fu-Gee-La" video you'd think The Score was a real movie but it only exists in a few audio scenes on their album. And that's the worst part of their album -- if you've heard the Chinese restaurant scene, you know what I mean.
Lauryn singing isn't the only weird goings-on in this theater. First a woman walks into the men's restroom and observes a man urinating, someone crowd-surfs through the movie audience and I think I even saw a white person in this video. Maybe after seeing 94 other videos in such a short time-frame, I'm hallucinating. All hell breaks loose at the end when the movie stops running right during Lauryn's "la, la, la, la, la, la" part and the moviegoers riot. Same thing happened this year when a copy of Kazaam didn't stop running. That movie Kasucked. You should be ashamed of yourself, Kashaq.
5. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony -- Tha Crossroads ***
Mile-a-minute gangsta rappers Bone Thugs-N-Harmony actually scored a #1 hit in Billboard with this rap ballad, if such a coupling of words isn't a complete oxymoron. Besides being the only #1 song to ever misspell the word "the," which was previously considered one of the easiest words to spell correctly, "Tha Crossroads" is also the only #1 song about the tender pains of death... if you don't count "The Living Years" and "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)." You'd never know from listening to the verses that the song was about death; all I could understand was, "I miss my Uncle Jo Jo."
Tha video for "Tha Crossroads" features sort of a black Grim Reaper, a sinister leather trenchcoat-wearing guy who wanders around the ghetto taking people's lives... no wait that's Snoop Doggy Dogg. This Reaper even puts the touch of death on a newborn baby in a hospital, and leads the procession of dead people, including Eazy-E (insert big cynical laugh here), to the top of a mountain, where he outstretches his wings. This, I guess, establishes him as the Angel of Black Death, which only leaves me with one question -- why does he have white wings?
4. Bush -- Glycerine *
Still don't like 'em one bit.
3. 2Pac featuring Dr. Dre -- California Love ****
Giant epic concept video directed by (who else?) Hype Williams, and featuring the two biggest names in gangsta rap, one of which is now the deadest. This video is a costumed epic that looks like something out of Mad Max... actually it should probably be called Mad Blax, but you didn't hear that from me. With land rovers, desert bikes and that giant Thunderdome cage, the "California Love" is an even bigger deal than the one-time teaming of Dre and Pac.
The over-the-top setup is perfect for the always-obnoxious 2Pac, who gets to drive a giant go-kart and frolic in front of a giant bonfire. Dr. Dre even gets into the act by wearing an eye patch, which he looks thoroughly stupid in. We'll probably all be laughing about this self-indulgent video in a few years, but it was the best 2Pac video ever, and his first after joining Death Row.
Oddly enough, though, this version of "Califronia Love" isn't even on 2Pac's All Eyez on Me album. Of 27 tracks, only the remix version appears on the album. The "To Be Continued" sign at the end of this video refers to the video made for the remix, which was less apocalyptic and more of a traditional gangsta rap house party video. That version is seldom seen on MTV, probably because 2Pac is holding a 40 ouncer the entire time. We all know that if you drink too much it can kill you.
2. The Smashing Pumpkins -- Tonight, Tonight **
Oh boy, here we go again, another freaky video showcasing Billy Corgan at his whiny best. Someone should have told the MTV people that this video is called "Tonight, Tonight," not "Twonight, Twonight." You guys didn't have to make it #2, you know. I can understand why MTV plays their videos to death -- I mean, I don't think the Smashing Pumpkins have ever made a truly bad video.
What I don't like about them, and this is an overwhelming factor, is Billy-Boy. I just find him annoying and untalented, and I believe I'm allowed my opinion in that arena. This video is some kind of weird, costumed, 19th century James and the Giant Peach thing that features a derigible and surreal sea and skyscapes. It's got some amazing art direction, and it's also got Billy. Four star video, zero star Billy. It averages out to two stars, which I think is only appropriate for "Tonight, Tonight."
1. Alanis Morissette -- Ironic ***1/2
Was there any doubt that Alanis would wander off with the #1 video of the year? And was there any doubt that "Ironic" would be the video that achieved that position? Even VH1 gave Alanis the best video of 1996 honors over #2-rated Celine Dion. No doubt about it, "Ironic" is the best song Alanis has done and her best video.
If she didn't win you over with this song, it's never going to happen. I must admit I hated her before the radio stations conspired to make me hear this song every hour on the hour until I finally liked it enough to even partially like her. I still agree she's basically talentless, even though she's raking in the millions. If that's not irony...
We've all seen this video or at least one of the multiple parodies of it. Alanis is driving a car with three of her multiple personalities, because if there's anything better than one Alanis, it's four Alani. This is the first time she's toned down her spasmic stage act that made me wish for once someone would give her some muscle relaxers.
Here she and the other three shes basically just sit around the car for the duration of the song. It's still a great video, though, not only for the original concept but for making her look presentable. She almost looks cute here. I have to admit it, I like this video and actually feel a tinge of Alanis affection for this one.
One gripe, though... Alanis must have skipped a lot of her high school English classes because she doesn't seem to have a full grip on just what irony is. "10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife," yeah, that's irony, but "rain on your wedding day" isn't. That's just bad luck. A divorce on your wedding day, that would be ironic.
The journey has been long and tedious for you, I'm sure, but it's been longer and even more tedious for me. I'm the guy who had to write about all these videos. But someone has to do it, give their uninfluenced observations and opinions on the music people spend billions of dollars to buy. Who is better qualified than I? I have a good two-thirds of these songs in my own massive CD library. So until next year's countdown rolls around, just remember that watching MTV for eleven hours straight turns you into me.
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Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks / Fatboy Productions