Backstreet Boys – Larger Than Life (extended video mix)
     (zero)  "Larger Than Life" is set in 3000 AD, which is definitely wishful thinking on their part. We all know the actual expiration date on this can reads June 1, 2000. This video is a science-fiction odyssey that starts with a lengthy tracking shot of a spaceship, the director’s own homage to Spaceballs ("It was the movie that changed my life.") Inside the ship lie Backstreet robots, dozens of them, and they’re all wearing yellow. They sing and dance in unison as the real Backstreet Boys steer fighter jets through the middle of deep space. The video tries for Star Wars and achieves Wing Commander, while the song has the drum track of "Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)," the keyboard interlude of "Baby One More Time" and the lyrics of a poem written by, oh, the rosy-cheeked fifth grade honor roll student of your choice. Zero stars, not only because this is excruciating, but because one fraction of the money they spent on this would pay my rent straight through to the year 3000. –Andrew Hicks

Ben Folds Five – Don’t Change Your Plans
     (***)  Ben Folds Five, now officially too sophisticated for MTV, makes their VH1-exclusive debut with this catchy Paul McCartney-tinged single. I know what you’re thinking – How much longer will people inevitably compare everything they like to the Beatles? Don’t blame me; I had no choice. This song actually has a trumpet solo. "Don’t Change Your Plans" is a pretty sparse video, cutting between shots of the band performing in a dark apartment with Ben’s love interest, a blond first seen getting out of a cab. She’s moved away, you see, and there are all sorts of flashbacks to their happy childhoods and the days when "Brick" was big on the radio. I’ve never really given these guys much of a chance, but I’m willing to bet their new album is one of the year’s best. –AH

Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines – Lost in You
     (**)  I was driving across the country the first time I heard this song. We were somewhere in South Dakota and my driving partner saw fit to park his radio-surfing finger on this middle-of-the-road R+B ballad. Through the entire song, we debated the identity of the singer. He swore up and down that it was Garth Brooks, and I didn’t believe him. It didn’t seem right. "Lost in You" was more an Eric Clapton "Change the World" clone than anything. (When I returned to Missouri and noticed row after row of the single for 88 cents in Wal-Mart, I looked at the credits and realized the entire "Change the World" posse was involved.) Turns out my friend was right, and I had to buy him lunch at the Hungry Heifer, or whatever the place was called. "Lost in You" isn’t good and it isn’t bad; it really isn’t anything except a bored country artist’s attempt to bring variety into his career, even though you know as soon as the director yelled "Cut!" Garth raced offstage to restore his 10-gallon hat to its proper location atop his head. The video looks a lot like "Change the World," even down to the gothic bus station set. Pedestrians walk by in a blur as Garth sings about his new love, wearing all black and sporting a haircut that is half-Prince and half moptop-era Beatles. I’m not appalled or impressed by this effort. We’ve all known there’s a thin thread separating country and R+B, from the All-4-One covers by John Michael Montgomery to remakes of Tony Rich and Monica hits. Now Garth is reciprocating and, I don’t know, does the name "Richard Bachman" ring a bell? --AH

Eric Clapton – Blue Eyes Blue
 (*½)  Speaking of Eric Clapton, he hasn’t been idle, either. He’s accepted his Old Fuck status with great ease, joining Billy Joel and the Dixie Chicks on The Runaway Bride soundtrack. I’m not going to spend much time on this video, since I’ve only seen it on VH1 at 5 a.m. and The Runaway Bride is one of the worst movies of the year, but I figured it deserved a mention after the Garth Brooks review. So here he is, Eric Clapton, sitting on his usual soundtrack-video folding chair with his trusty acoustic guitar. He dressed up in his best white shirt for the video, left the top shirt unbuttoned and spent an hour lip synching for the cameras, trusting the director to fill the rest of the space with clips from the movie. And there are plenty of them, mostly the same clips that grace the end-of-movie montage. (Garry Marshall is so full of hubris that he has to remind us of the "best" moments of the movie we’ve just seen before the movie is even over.) Come on, Eric, couldn’t you at least have put this song on the Notting Hill soundtrack, instead? This is just embarrassing. –AH

Whitney Houston – My Love is Your Love
     (**)  When Whitney experiments with musical styles, it sounds like Christian music. There’s something intangible about Christian music that keeps it from sounding authentic, and "My Love Is Your Love" sets off the Z-Music alarm with its ragga gospel sound and invocations of God and judgment day in the opening verse. A trenchcoat-clad Whitney wanders out in the streets, entertaining bored movie theater box office employees and watching violent crimes take place. (Makes her homesick, really.) All this injustice; what’s a girl to do? Imitate Lauryn Hill, I guess. Whitney shows up halfway through, curled hair bobbing out, microphone clutched aggressively and head shaking vigorously as she sings in the streets to a bunch of tortured souls and jams with a DJ who looks suspiciously like Wyclef. Not a surprise, considering he co-wrote and produced the song. Come on, Whitney, your battle is with Mariah. Leave Lauryn out of this. –AH

Wyclef Jean f/Bono – New Day
     (*½)  I’m starting to get the feeling that Bono is stuck in his own personal version of the movie Stay Tuned – you know, the abominable 1992 comedy where John Ritter gets trapped in the world of basic cable. Bono keeps turning up for guest shots in some of the most embarrassing "cause" videos, first to preach at us in Kirk Franklin’s "Revolution" and now in Wyclef’s "New Day." This is the theme song for NetAid and, maybe I’m getting my celebrity charities mixed up, but isn’t that the one that hands out musical instruments to less fortunate children? I think it’s great that Wyclef is helping all the 10-year-olds out there who are hungry and sleeping in Armana refrigerator boxes to learn all their scales on the flute. The "New Day" video is a demented stage production, with a white-suited Wyclef waving his cane around and lamenting the state of the world. ("Turn on your television / Martin Luther King just had a dream / Take this dream and apply it to your life / Shorty sellin’ crack says, ‘You’re talkin’ jive.’") He then evokes the name of Bono and seems stunned when the U2 singer actually appears in sunglasses and a stovepipe hat. In later scenes, rowdy teens climb out of Wyclef’s enormous coat and do a choreographed dance, Bono sings his verse "straight outta Dublin" and the requisite children’s choir is trotted out to sing the chorus. The lesson of this video? A conscience can make an artist do very embarrassing things. –AH

Limp Bizkit – Rearranged
     (**)  It’s a good feeling to see Limp Bizkit incarcerated. The band members each get their own cells in this video, which proves it’s fiction. In reality, they’d be bunking with Bubba the Serial Rapist Who Wants To Make Sure You Remember Who That Ass Belongs To. The MTV world also lets Limp Bizkit keep instruments in the cells – that dual turntable and sampling board cost them five cartons of cigarettes and eight minutes of "shower time," whatever that means. The bulk of "Rearranged" shows Bizkit in their natural, vertically striped habitat, with appropriate flashbacks to the court trial (the judge looks suspiciously like Matt Pinfield) and shots of the priest. At the end of the video, the band is trotted out for execution in a room where, behind thick glass, the relatives of the band’s victims watch with twisted satisfaction as the band is drowned. (Yeah, I spotted George Michael’s mom and dad in the back row, thick sunglasses masking their unmeasurable pain.) I was going to go out on a limb here and give the video two-and-a-half stars, because it really is a badass concept even if wasted on a bubblegum metal band, but the "Rearranged" outro is amazingly dismal. The band members float in an amorphous abyss (which looks suspiciously like a white soundstage) while Fred Durst announces, "If this was heaven, I’d be kicking it with Method Man." I haven’t seen dialogue get mangled this badly since Space Jam. –AH

Puff Daddy f/R. Kelly – Satisfy You
     (*½)  This is the most overblown Hype Williams video in his new cycle of excess, that growing stable of Puffy, Mase, Missy Elliott and TLC videos that are flashy as Liberace and almost as painful to look at. I used to respect this guy as a hip-hop auteur, the guy who made the most garish and fun rap videos around. Now they’re starting to get painful, as in this epic "Down Low" rip-off with thematic "Girl is Mine" material. Someone sleeps with Puffy’s girl, Puffy rails on him, Puffy strolls with R. through a posh party, Puffy sleeps with some other girl, and another and another. I think I can hazard a guess as to who storyboarded this one. "Satisfy You" is one of those videos that makes me wish I could hear the dialogue its characters are spouting. I’d give anything to hear what Puffy is hollering from the balcony when his bitch does him wrong. Other than that, "Satisfy You" is overlong, uninteresting and downright vain. A third performer raps out one verse in the middle but never gets on camera because R. Kelly and Puffy are too busy french kissing the lens. "You look beautiful." "No, you look beautiful." –AH

Smash Mouth – Then the Morning Comes
    (***)  Why do these guys have to be so fucking catchy? I can’t respect Smash Mouth on any level, but I always end up liking their songs. I saw through "All-Star" the first time I heard it, but it ended up growing on me anyway. I can see the same thing happening with this single, so I’m going to give it three stars even though it features the phrase "It ain’t no thang" in the chorus. (You were wondering what could top, "Get your game on.") "Then the Morning Comes" is typical Smash Mouth, with the requisite shots of the shirtless guy lifting weights outdoors, the singer walking in slow-motion and the paparazzi capturing a gala banquet. The theme here is a simple one – the singer gets up in the morning, takes off his silk pajamas and entwines himself in a social setting where he makes a total ass of himself, only to wake up and find out the whole thing was a dream. How was I to guess the singer of Smash Mouth’s worst nightmare is having a dog piss on him at the beach? --AH

Classic Videos

Michael Jackson – Black or White (1991)
Michael Jackson - Black or White
Michael Jackson - Black or White
     (*½)  After the fun I had reviewing the 16-minute version of "Bad" last week, I decided to devote a week’s worth of classic reviews to our favorite race-bending pop star, and there’s no more embarrassing place to start than this huge-budget 1991 effort. "Black or White" features a prologue copped from Twisted Sister, as George Wendt interrupts son Macaulay Culkin’s listen-through of the new Jackson record and Culkin sends him to Africa with one misplaced guitar chord. (MICHAEL: "That’s a wrap, Macaulay. Now take five and blow me.") Of course, Michael is waiting for Wendt in Africa, ready to do a jaunty dance with some tribal bushmen. From there, the video segues to both the American Indian and 7-Eleven Indian cultures, then to Siberia and the Statue of Liberty. All in all, you get to hear people say "This guy’s a goddamned freak" in 37 languages." Michael is well into his whiteification by this point – if he really had any black in him, would he have let Macaulay perform a rap interlude with brass knuckles on? I guess guys really will do anything to get into someone’s pants. –AH
Michael Jackson - Black or White

Michael Jackson – Leave Me Alone (1987)
Michael Jackson - Leave Me Alone
     (***)  If the music video world was a neighborhood, then Michael Jackson was the richest kid on the block. He may not have been the coolest – in fact, he was without a doubt the strangest motherfucker around – but he had the most money and knew how to use it. Take "Leave Me Alone," which shared the airwaves with "Jacob’s Ladder" and "True Blue." It wasn’t even on the real Bad album (it was a bonus song on the CD edition), but it had its own money-swallowing video anyway. "Leave Me Alone" sees Mike in aviator goggles, riding a carnival plane through his very own tunnel of excess. Newspaper headlines scream, "Bubbles the Chimp bares all about Michael" and "Michael weds alien," and we see him sing from the middle of a twenty-dollar bill. A giant chocolate chip cookie floats by, a brain rotates and there’s even a shrine to Liz Taylor. Basically, it’s a personal nightmare come to life, right down to the climactic dance-off between Michael and the bones of the Elephant Man. (No comment.) But it has that distinctly Jackson quality to it – unintentionally funny but still catchy. This first of many tabloid kiss-offs from Michael is an all-around spectacle. EPILOGUE: After all of Michael’s plaintive cries in this video, the general public took him seriously. By God, we’ve left him alone the last two times he’s put out an album. –AH
Michael Jackson - Leave Me Alone

Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson – Scream (1995)
     (***½)  What did they spend, $10 million on this one? And all I can think when I watch it now is, No, I don’t want no scrubs. A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me. I shouldn’t hold TLC and Hype Williams’ wholesale plagiarism against the Jacksons, though. I like this video – it’s one enormous black-and-white cyber-playground for Mike and Janet, who slink around the spaceship whining their heads off, flipping off the camera and using a silver urinal (Janet only). What’s the big problem? For one, the spindly leather costumes you’re wearing. Slip into some sweats and you’ll feel a lot more comfortable. And, for God’s sake, turn the gravity back on. That’s why you’re so disoriented. And no wonder you’re bored all the time – all you have is racquetball, Pong and expensive art prints to keep you company. Oh, and those eight guitars you don’t know to play. As an aspiring critic, I’ll probably live down my affinity for old Michael Jackson records until I die, but I can honestly say this was the last one I really fell for. Me and an unforgiving public, both. One viewing of this video and Joe Jackson’s psychotherapist was only too happy to refund the bill. –AH

Copyright 1999 Apartment Y Productions