Like everyone else, I’ve spent most of my free hours this last - surreal, horrifying - week watching TV news, reading the paper and trying to deal not only with what’s happened to our nation but with the suspicion that there’s much more coming. It’s been a sad, angry, introspective six days for everyone, and none of us know if or when life will proceed as normal. But for once I have to commend MTV for behaving like free-thinking, heartfelt grown-ups. Their news people finally have something substantive to cover, and they’ve spent the weekend printing e-mail messages of grief and consolation in between videos. And maybe it took a jarring national tragedy to do it, but MTV’s programming has actually been nothing but videos and news (although both were repeated on a six- or twelve-hour loop). So I couldn’t possibly take the week off, but my mind has certainly been far from this website since Tuesday. In light of something like this, all our daily goings-on seem petty and inconsequential. But here’s my petty, inconsequential entry for the week…


Isley Brothers f/R. Kelly - Contagious
     (***)  When a friend told me there was a sequel to the R. Kelly camp classic “Down Low,” I didn’t believe him at first. He even ran through a melodramatic play-by-play of “Contagious,” with lyrics sung back and forth from Ron Isley to R. Kelly and the nameless lady who comes between them. I had to punch up the tune on a record store listening station to be fully convinced, and then I started praying I’d come across the video on MTV. Because I almost always forget to tape “Hits From the Streets” on BET.
     One pesky month-long hiatus later, I’ve finally come across the video for “Contagious,” which is well worth the wait. It’s not as all-out stylish and hilarious as “Down Low,” of course, but it’s a strong follow-up with an identity of its own. Isley, again in his gangster guise as Mr. Biggs, leaves his replacement trophy wife (he and his hoods killed the original trophy wife, if you’ll recall) at home and she rendezvouses with R. Kelly in his absence.
     And, as soon as they’ve shed a few clothes and turned over the picture of Isley, he walks in. That’s when the three-way sung confrontation, the song’s highlight, goes down. MTV cuts the shit out of it, but you can tell it all from the pissed-off look on Isley’s face. He pulls it off perfectly, while Kelly offers a half-hearted, “You mistakin’ me for somebody else.” There’s no hint of the horror that should appear on this man’s face when he realizes he’s inadvertently fucked with the same kingpin’s woman twice.
     Anyway, “Contagious” doesn’t have the epic scope of “Down Low” and actually cops out on the ending - instead of the TV-movie violence we crave, there’s actually just a To Be Continued at the end. But Kelly, as the video’s director (with his right-hand collaborator Billie “Braxton” Woodruff), does a good enough job of things to make it work. We’ll just have to see if the cliffhanger concept pays off. Andrew Hicks

Mariah Carey - Never Too Far
     (*½)  I liked reviewing Mariah Carey videos a lot more when she wasn’t such an easy target. Now I can’t even crack a joke about her engaging in anal sex with the rapper Ludicris without wondering whether Mariah will read the comment and attempt suicide. Or make another movie, which would certainly constitute career suicide.
     Anyway, this is Single #2 from the Glitter soundtrack, and we still don’t really get any inkling of what this movie will be like or be about. It couldn’t be much less exciting than the video itself, which reprises the simple concert-performance dynamics of past ballad videos like “Hero,” “Without You” and “Forever.” This time, she’s in a concert hall, looking glamorous (translation: not wearing her usual coochie cutters) and emoting for the appreciative audience, whose members cheer every time the “Applause” sign lights up.
     That’s about it. I mean, there are some lights that go over Mariah’s head and into the crowd, and there’s a pair of star-crossed lovers watching Mariah from the corner of the stage. Otherwise, nary a thought or idea. It’s creative exhaustion this diva is suffering from. -AH

Ginuwine - Differences
     (**)  Ginuwine, Maxwell and Brian McKnight are all back right now, so you can rest assured the panties of all the 35-year-old African-American women out there won’t stay dry for long. Especially not when Ginuwine puts on that black jacket, does some Michael Jackson dance moves and defies the laws of gravity.
     He starts the video sitting at home by himself, then his soul or something (whatever it is, you can distinguish it from the normal Ginuwine because it doesn’t have cornrows) ascends through the fog-machine clouds and into some kind of mahogany-pastel, What Dreams May Come universe previously visited only by Ricky Martin during ballad videos.
     This is a Hype Williams joint, but it’s not really one of the better ones. You can’t really pick up on a concept - is he visiting a dead girlfriend and grinding with her very soul? Does the fact that her costume changes five times during his three-minute visit mean anything? Where’s Robin Williams? Where’s Ricky Martin? These questions require answers. -AH

Jamiroquai - Little L (Domestic Version)
     (***)  My old roommate and partner on this site, James, once said of Jamiroquai front man Jay Kay, “It seems like this guy is unable to move normally. It’s always like the room is made of jelly.” And the more videos I see from them (okay, I’ve seen like three or four), the more I realize James was right. Jay Kay’s dance moves seem to exist on the end of a bungee cord or something, sprightly and with seeming disregard for the laws of physics.
     “Little L” is more of their neo-disco, with a catchy chorus and bouncing strings. And the “domestic version” of this video, from Stephanie Sednaoui, conjures up images of Studio 54 decadence on one small, black-backdrop soundstage. This video is full of retro clothing, psychedelic flashing lights and dancing chicks, and the camera work and editing keep things moving.
     This is no “Virtual Insanity,” but come on, we’re never going to get another “Virtual Insanity.” Just be glad you get to see a hat as funky as that white headdress-looking thing on Jay Kay’s head with all the silver arrows pointing out of it. -AH

Elton John - I Want Love
     (**)  I can’t decide whether I think this video is a good idea or an appalling one. It’s a pretty simple concept, really - keep Elton out of the camera’s eye and instead produce a one-take affair starring the lip synching mouth of one Robert Downey, Jr. Who looks pretty pissed off, though I can’t decide whether that’s because he let his agent talk him into this or because he’s sober. Or maybe it’s because he can’t leave the empty, enormous house he’s roaming around in. Who can say?
     “I Want Love” is another in a long-ass string of soundalike Elton ballads that began with “The One” and continued straight through the Lion King and Made in England singles and “Something About the Way You Look Tonight.” But the lyrics are far more somber than most of the VH1 fluff Elton comes out with. (“And I can’t love, shot full of holes / Don’t feel nothing, I just feel cold.”) Somehow, you know Downey feels the pain, too.
     So is this a good video or a train wreck? I still can’t decide; it’s just surreal, like this whole week has been. So I’m going dead center, ratings-wise. -AH

Mystic - The Life
     (***)  R+B and hip-hop still constitutes the best new music out there right now (and, naturally, some of the worst), absorbing the most influences and breaking the most ground. There’s been a return to traditional songwriting, and the production has been taken off auto-pilot. Mystic is definitely on the pop side of things with “The Life,” but even as a Top 40 contender, she owes a debt to the torch singers of the past, Lauryn Hill and - something about the backing track makes me think of them - The Roots.
     The video, from director Sanaa Hamri, is a charming, low-budget affair that has Mystic hanging out at a neighborhood block party and what looks like a bus station, where she brightens the life of some upset little girl by giving her a flower. Later, when she’s in an actual flower garden with a reflecting pool, she walks across the green water, Ric Ocasek-style. (I guess I could say “Jesus-style,” but let’s keep our frame of reference to the music video world for now.) Like I said, it’s a pretty standard video, but the appeal of the song and of Mystic herself manages to carry over. -AH

U2 - Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of
     (***)  The only football anyone saw this past weekend was in Joseph Kahn’s tongue-in-cheek video for the, damn, fourth video from the new U2 album. “Stuck in a Moment” is the first one since “Beautiful Day” that’s even worth watching twice (though the problem with “Beautiful Day” was we had to watch it every hour on the hour for six months), a straightforward adult-contemporary anthem with some creative visual nuances.
     Okay, so you’ll probably want to turn it off after the intro, which has commentator John Madden coming to you live from the “Unforgettable Fire Dome,” where the Lemons and Flys are three seconds away from ending the game. And it’s up to the rookie (Paul “Angel of Harlem” Hewson) to kick the winning field goal, which he misses.
     And the whole rest of the video goes back and forth through those three seconds, with Bono lip synching and doing the Wave from the stands while Adam Clayton is across the dome, stoically reading the newspaper, and The Edge is returning from the concession stand, falling on his ass when he slips on a discarded plastic nacho tray. By the third time through this scenario, poor Hewson is seeing the Easter Bunny holding the ball for him.
     For once, Bono’s not acting the least bit heavy-handed, and it’s good to see him that way. But, let’s not forget, he’s going to make up for it on that all-star remake of “What’s Going On.” -AH

Usher - U Remind Me
     (**½)  Usher and the Jimmy Stewart character from Vertigo have something in common - they both try to replace some girl from their past with a döppelganger. That’s a look-alike or “double,” for those of you who have never taken Intro to Film. In Usher’s case, he comes across a hottie at the shopping mall, hits on her during the course of their escalator ride and tells her in the middle of the food court that she reminds him of an Usher ex who “was sexin’ everyone but me.”
     The döppelganger doesn’t take the comparison kindly, especially once Usher delivers the above line while humping a telephone pole. But yeah, as you can imagine, they get out of the mall eventually, and he follows her back to her apartment. Where she finally agrees to make up for her counterpart’s lack of good sexin’. And, wouldn’t you know it, just as Usher is crawling in the fire escape window, there’s another Usher coming out the front door downstairs. And this Usher likes to dance on the street in front of apocalyptic-looking sunsets.
     It’s a David Meyers video, so anything goes. And, for the most part, “U Remind Me” is a good video, though it’s unclear whether the chick Usher reconciles with at the end is the original non-sexer or the döppelganger. But, I mean, if there’s two identical hotties and two Ushers running around, you’d think they’d just solve the problem by having one massive, mirror-image four-way. -AH

The B-52’s - Roam (1990)
     (**)  One of the biggest laughs I’ve gotten at Six Flags-St. Louis in the recent past was seeing a demure young woman in the “Bugs Bunny Rockin’ Road Show” sing “Roam,” classical-voice-style, to a pissed-off guy in a Daffy Duck suit, to cheer him up. A couple other of the biggest laughs were, a) seeing the Daffy-suit guy sing Smash Mouth’s “All Star” and, b) seeing the Bugs-suit guy rap a verse from “Miami.” It was a comedically rich show, to be certain.
     Almost as funny is this B-52’s blue-screen effort, which exhausts all the stock travel footage its director could unearth from the vaults. So you get endless shots of the four B-52’s hamming it up in front of all this international footage. And, yeah, the girls kind of embarrass themselves when, say, pretending to swim with the tropical fish or dance with the natives, but it’s swishy Fred Schneider who steals the show. He mugs to the camera while rowing down the pretend river and watching some guy jump out of his canoe, and he’s the only one who seems to notice the cartoon banana penetrating the cartoon bagel. Don’t worry, Fred, I saw it too… though I’m not even going to think about the ramifications.
     This video is bad, really bad, but late at night - after, oh, let’s say two in the morning - it gets to be quite entertaining. –AH

Toto - Rosanna (1982)
     (*½)  You could only get away with being this ugly at the very beginning of the music video revolution. -AH

Karyn White - Romantic (1991)
Karyn White
     (***)  You may or may not remember this tune. I have no idea if it ever even pops up on the adult-contemporary stations. Anyway, “Romantic” is a dance tune that once topped the Billboard charts, and it and its artist have since faded from glory. But, for some reason, when I came across it on an old VH1 History of Music Video Z-A tape just now, I didn’t fast forward through it. Like I did, say, that Toto video above. Nah, man, I dig this fluffy shit.
     Karyn White, wannabe diva that she was, is dolled up in three or four different seductive outfits in this video, and since most of them consist of just lingerie, they don’t seem dated. And the director, whoever it is, films the whole thing through blue- and sepia-tinted lenses, not to mention liberal black-and-white photography. Full-on color would have made the thing garish and unwatchable now, but as is, “Romantic” plays like a reined-in hybrid of Paula Abdul’s “Coldhearted” and En Vogue’s “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It).” And, insult my taste, but I can watch all three videos back to back to back and never complain. -AH


Copyright 2001 Andrew Hicks