Salty ocean air wafts across the empty veranda bar. Capping my pen and clasping my notebook shut, I take a satisfying slurp from my coconut-enshrined Mai Tai. Out on the deserted beach, seagulls dive-bomb the white sand to retrieve the afternoon’s discarded fish and chip morsels, as aquamarine waves lap the shore with hypnotic calm. The sky, once an endless, unfurled scroll of blue, is now ablaze with fiery gold.
Overhead speakers gently spill steel drum anonymity before fading into OneRepublic’s “Feel Again.” Smiling reflexively, I close my eyes, pivot towards the speakers, and sway merrily, allowing the song’s booming optimism to wash over me like a sonic baptism. When the song’s final notes die out, a voice breaks my reverie:
“Will you answer something for me?”
My eyes pop open to find another man has joined me. His 6’3 frame drips with sweat, and his messy, black mop of hair is drenched with seawater. His five o’clock shadow is flecked with grey. Gym tote straps crisscross his toned biceps, while blue board shorts conceal his bronzed legs. And though his inquiry sounds ominous, his shimmering jade eye pools display curiosity and kindness.
Despite this sexy stranger’s intrusion, I smile confidently and respond:
“Sure, what would you like to know?”
His first step toward me reduces the universe to the surrounding veranda; his next step freezes time. When his sandals strike the wood-planked floor a third time, my mystery man places his hand on my shoulder and sears my soul with a smoldering stare.
“Tell me why you love that song so much,” he commands.
On October 1st, 2017, heartland rock singer, Tom Petty, went into cardiac arrest, prompting a slew of media outlets to proclaim he’d flown to that great big stadium in the sky. While initial reports of his passing proved premature, Petty’s death was officially confirmed later that evening, igniting a groundswell of goodwill towards the legendary front man.
Petty and his band, The Heartbreakers, rose to prominence in the late ‘70s, thanks to their third LP, Damn the Torpedoes. The album contained rock staples, “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee,” sold over three million copies, and kickstarted an impressive run of hits that ran through the ’80s and into the early ’90s.
In tandem with the band’s sustained success, Petty struck commercial gold when he went solo on 1989’s Full Moon Fever, and again with super-group, The Traveling Wilburys.
But for a certain generation of music fans, he’s best remembered for his music videos. Though not an obvious MTV superstar like Madonna or Michael Jackson, Petty was an early champion of the format, transitioning from rock star to video god with ease, and eventually winning the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard in 1994.
To celebrate his legacy, here’s a look back at five of Petty’s most iconic music videos.
Don’t Come Around Here No More: This Alice in Wonderland inspired video is frequently cited on all-time “best of” lists, and for good reason. Co-written by the Eurthymics’Dave Stewart (who cameos in the video as the hookah-smoking Caterpillar), the song’s booming psychedelia perfectly matched Alice’s madcap adventure, with Petty expertly cast as the Mad Hatter. The minor (and ridiculous) controversy involving a scene where Petty and the band eat a cake version of Alice proved inconsequential, as the video scooped up Best Special Effects at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards.
Running Down a Dream: Based on Little Nemo in Slumberland comics, this animated music video found Petty on the run, as he slid down staircases and dodged cliff-eating clowns in surreal, nightmarish scenes. The video’s frenetic pace complemented the song’s windows-down/radio-up vibe in a fun, irreverent, and perfectly Petty way.
Into the Great WideOpen: Although the song wasn’t a hit (it limped to #92 in the charts), the six-and-a-half-minute video was a treat. The song’s cautionary lyrics were brought to life thanks to Johnny Depp as Eddie Rebel and Faye Dunaway as his cougar-ish Svengali, plus cameos from Matt LeBlanc, Chynna Phillips, and err…Terence Trent D’Arby. But the real fun was spotting the various parts Petty played: narrator, tattoo artist, roadie, reporter. The video was nominated for Best Male Video in 1992 (losing to Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”) and for Best Video That Should’ve Won a Moonman in 2009 (losing to Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”).
Mary Jane’s Last Dance: Recorded for Petty’s first Greatest Hits collection, this somber, faux-drug-promoting rock ballad was showcased by its lush, sapphire-tinged video, with Petty playing a morgue assistant enamored by a beautiful corpse (Kim Basinger). The video walks a fine line between creepy (dressing Basinger in a wedding gown and seating her at a dinner table) and cool (the candle-lit, Great Expectations-inspired slow dance), and won Petty Best Male Video at the 1994 VMAs.
You Don’t Know How It Feels: Petty’s last top forty single is best remembered for its distinct harmonica solo and a censored lyric about rolling joints. But it was the music video—shot in one continuous take—that shined brightest, with Petty in performance mode as he slowly revolved around a microphone. The deceptively-simple, medium close-up focus blurred the ensuing chaos (a bank robbery, circus performances, a wrecking ball smashing through a couple’s bedroom) behind him, creating instantly memorable imagery that scored Petty his second consecutive Best Male Video trophy.
Norwegian, tropical house DJ, Kygo, has released his Stargazing EP, which collects previous singles, “It Ain’t Me” (featuring Selena Gomez) and “First Time” (featuring Ellie Goulding), plus his remix of U2’s brand new single, “You’re the Best Thing About Me.” Rounding out the EP are two new songs, “Stargazing” and “This Town”; the latter is an adequate but forgettable ballad about escaping the trappings of small town life, but the former is a beautiful, shooting star of a single.
“Stargazing” starts deceptively as a plain ballad, with up-and-coming singer-songwriter, Justin Jesso, supplying crystal clear vocals about star-crossed love (“And I will still be here, stargazing / I’ll still look up, look up / look up for love”). But when the chorus hits, the song explodes into a supernova marriage of shimmering piano and Jesso’s impassioned, digitally-stuttered voice. It tugs at the heartstrings, allowing “Stargazing” to shine brighter than the sun.
A heartbreaking music video—centering around a child’s quest to build a rocket to find his deceased father in the stars—further supplements the song’s evocative vibe.
EPs function as stop-gaps to sustain interest while an artist plots their next move. But with another excellent single in tow, Kygo’s Stargazing twinkles magnificently on its own.
Eight months after his untimely death on Christmas Day, George Michael returns with a posthumous new single…sort of. To promote an upcoming reissue of Michael’s early ‘90s opus, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, a remake of obscure B-side, “Fantasy,” has just been released.
“Fantasy” is an odd candidate for a remake. Tacked onto his mission-statement-of-a-single, “Freedom ’90,” the glorified jam session found Michael crooning “if you ain’t got time for me / I’ll find another fantasy” against five minutes of wailing trumpets. The tune was serviceable but unspectacular, and was (rightly) reduced to a mere footnote in Michael’s storied career.
Enter Nile Rodgers. The legendary producer—whose five-decade-plus career encompasses everyone from David Bowie to Daft Punk—reduced “Fantasy” to its barest essentials, slashing a minute and a half from the running time, and stripping away the horns to thrust Michael’s blue-eyed-soul vocals to the forefront. Best of all, Rodgers infused the track with a sexy, bouncing groove that dares the listener to not tap their toes. The result brilliantly updates Michael’s classic sound for 2017.
Because of the original’s obscurity, the “Fantasy” remake will unfortunately preach only to the converted. But Rodgers has more than done his job, transforming an average B-side into an ass-shaking delight. George Michael would be proud.
Welcome to the dog days of summer, where oppressive heat and Despacito’s sustained success zap your will to live. Thankfully, British wild child, Charli XCX, is back like a blast of air-conditioned bliss. Though best known for adding bratty, party-pop hooks to Icona Pop’s I Love It and Iggy Azalea’s Fancy, her new single, Boys, is perfect minimalist electropop. With deliciously-vacuous lyrics—“I was busy thinkin’ ‘bout boys, boys, boys”—and an excellent Super-Mario-coin-snatching hook, it’s a glorious late-summer jam.
But Boys’ music video is its true highlight. Employing a multitude of her famous male friends, the Charli XCX-directed video is a veritable conveyor belt of stunning men hamming it up for the camera.
Though far from the first video to flip the script by objectifying men instead of women (check out Janet Jackson’s Love Will Never Do Without You
and Shania Twain’s Man! I Feel Like a Woman),
Boys shines because of its admirable diversity: we get tattooed indie boys (Frank Carter), sensitive singer-songwriter boys (Charlie Puth), hip-hop boys (Wiz Khalifa), pancake-eating boys (Joe Jonas), superstar-producer boys (Mark Ronson), Asian boys (Jay Park), ripped boys (Cameron Dallas), more-to-love boys (The Fat Jew), and beautiful British boys (Tom Daley), to name just a few. This rainbow of men means there’s something for everybody, and because spotting all the cameos is half the fun, the video is sure to warrant repeated viewing. It’s a calculated and clever way for Charli XCX to make her late bid for song (and video) of the summer.
MTV turns 36 today, but because the channel is the television equivalent of Peter Pan—refusing to ever grow up or even acknowledge their past—today’s programming remains an endless sea of Teen Mom and Catfish detritus. It’s a shame MTV won’t air music videos today, because the channel’s role in transforming the medium from a cheap touring alternative into a legitimate art form cannot be overstated.
I absolutely love music videos, and if MTV refuses to celebrate its success by playing any videos today, I’ll take the reins by spotlighting some excellent clips. I’ve forgone popular classics by Madonna and Michael Jackson to present five underrated gems, instead. Watch these and remember why MTV was once such a potent force.
The Sun Always Shines on TV—A-Ha: Sure, they’re mostly known as “that ‘80s one hit wonder with the cool, hand drawn video to ‘Take on Me’,” but Norwegian band, A-Ha, had another ace up their sleeve with the equally stunning video to “The Sun Always Shines on TV.” The introductory image of lead singer, Morten Harket, and video vixen, Bunty Bailey, continuing their cartoon love affair acts as a red herring; the black and white performance video really starts when the drums and guitar kick in, with the band playing to an audience of mannequins. The result could’ve been colossally cheesy, but expert, award-winning editing created haunting, chilling scenes of motionless mannequins singing, raising their hands aloft, and even playing violin, enabling this video to stand as the quintessential forgotten classic.
Karmacoma—Massive Attack: British collective, Massive Attack, made their name in the ‘90s by marrying inventive, iconic imagery to their trip-hop masterpieces. The tower-block terror of “Safe From Harm,” the singing fetus in “Teardrop,” and the creepy chase in “Angel” are all outstanding, but the surreal hotel visitors—including a paranoid gunman, a typist missing a “K” on his typewriter, and two crimson-clothed call girls—in “Karmacoma” are impossible to ignore. Despite knowing nods to The Shining, Pulp Fiction, and American Psycho, the video manages to thrill on its own accord, with disturbing, vaguely sinister undertones that perfectly match the song’s trippy vibe.
Giving Up the Gun—Vampire Weekend: Early DIY videos for “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma” marked New York indie band, Vampire Weekend, as a creative tour de force, but they upped the fun factor on their second album with the playful video for “Giving Up the Gun.” The video stars a precocious young redhead burning her way through a tennis tournament until she’s faced with her doppelganger in the dramatic finale. But it’s the hilarious cameos from Jake Gyllenhaal, Joe Jonas, Daft Punk, RZA, and Lil ‘Jon that make the video such a treat. Tennis has never looked so silly and fun.
We Come 1—Faithless: Riding a wave of big British ‘90s beats, Faithless burst onto the scene in 1996 with seminal dance track, “Insomnia.” Though hailed as an instant classic, the song’s simple, black and white promo left much to be desired; it wasn’t until 2001’s “We Come 1” that Faithless created a visual treat to match the music. The video starts with lead singer, Maxi Jazz, sitting on a sofa in Gandhi-like gear. Then, against the catchiest beats of Faithless’ career, the video ignites in a strange explosion of protest and club-dancing imagery. Rocks are tossed while couples kiss, ambulances are tilted while revelers shake their ass, and a full clash with armed police ignites while the dance floor loses their mind. By expertly walking a line we never knew existed, Faithless created an unforgettable video that still resonates today.
If I Had a Gun…—Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: Because Britpop icons, Oasis, were not renowned for their music video prowess, not much was expected from Noel Gallagher’s post-Oasis project, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. However, the video to third single, “If I Had a Gun…” delivered in spades. It centers around Peyton List (Mad Men, Frequency) as a bride whose wedding is interrupted by a horse-riding cowboy from her past. Sparks immediately rekindle between the pair, leaving Gallagher (in a hilarious cameo as the wedding officiant) to shrug in confusion. Devoid of dialogue, perfectly executed details—a bridesmaid’s telling laugh, the best man preparing for fisticuffs by removing his cuff links—make this video the authoritative guide to wordlessly ruining a wedding.
What a strange, enigmatic pop star Lana Del Rey is. Despite nearly torpedo-ing her career before it even started with that infamous SNL performance, she’s carved her niche as a YouTube-generation torch singer, thanks to the atmospheric “Video Games” off 2012’s Born to Die.
Subsequent releases have been rapturously received by both critics and her rabid fanbase, yet excepting a fluke remix of “Summertime Sadness,” her songs rarely grace top 40 radio. Unburdened with the need to generate huge singles, Del Rey’s albums instead function as masterclasses in evocative dream-pop.
Del Rey’s fifth LP, Lust For Life, continues this trend, with each track infused with her trademark lush, Wall-of-Sound production. Booming lead single, “Love” exemplifies this best, with the song’s nearly operatic grandiosity enveloping you like a warm embrace on a cold evening.
Likewise, the Max-Martin-penned title track shines, as Del Rey and the Weeknd trade surreal lines about “dancing on the H of the Hollywood sign” against the best production this side of a Phil Spector song. And as always, Del Rey’s vocals stun and enchant with effortless beauty, allowing her to glaze over some of the album’s so-so lyrics (“high tops in the summer/don’t be a bummer”).
Despite largely preaching to the choir, Lust For Life still manages some subtle surprises: the confident, hip-hop swagger of “Summer Bummer” recalls past Born to Die glories. The echo-y “In My Feelings” is a brilliant fuck-off, with Del Rey sneering, “get that cigarette smoke outta my face.” And while she normally sings solo, the album is sprinkled with surprising guest vocalists, including Sean Lennon on ‘60s-love-letter, “Tomorrow Never Came,” and a meeting-of-ethereal-minds duet with Stevie Nicks on “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems.”
Also, while the album tackles familiar terrain (summer in “White Mustang,” love in “Groupie Love,” and America in “God Bless America—And All the Beautiful Women in It”), Del Rey struggles with an existential millennial dilemma in “Coachella—Woodstock on My Mind,” as she fails to reconcile a weekend of music festival bliss against mounting tensions with North Korea. This small, toe-dip into politics—along with her recent announcement that she’ll stop using American flag imagery because of President Trump—stands in stark contrast to Del Rey’s typically unrelenting Americana obsession, whilst expertly showcasing her growth as an artist.
Because so many of Lust For Life’s songs sound like silky smooth stoner anthems, the album lacks the dramatics peaks and valley associated with more traditionally-pop albums (and it’s about three songs too long). This relative uniformity won’t convert any newcomers, but to her slavishly devoted fans, Lust For Life perfectly encapsulates Del Rey’s enigmatic, singular brilliance.
On July 20th, 2017, singer, Chester Bennington, committed suicide. Bennington rose to prominence in 2000 as the lead singer of Linkin Park. The band’s debut album, Hybrid Theory, was the perfect distillation of alternative rock, nü metal, and rap, and went on to sell over ten million copies in the U.S.
Subsequent albums—including 2003’s Meteora and 2007’s Minutes to Midnight—solidified the band’s sound and cemented their status as America’s favorite hard-rock band. Bennington played a key role in the band’s success, his striking vocals acting as the perfect foil to Mike Shinoda’s MC-skills.
Despite Linkin Park’s success, Bennington’s personal life was embroiled in chaos. Sexually abused by an older male friend, and the product of childhood divorce, he fell into alcohol and drug addiction at an early age. As an adult, he was plagued by health issues, including a recluse spider bite during OzzFest 2001, a hatial hernia that sidelined him in 2003, and a shoulder injury that required surgery in 2011. Even with all his fame and fortune, he couldn’t catch a break.
It’s heartbreaking to imagine the demons Bennington battled, but I hope he’s finally found peace. To commemorate his talent, here’s a look back at five of his most impressive vocals:
Crawling—Linkin Park: “One Step Closer” was Linkin Park’s introduction, and “In the End” became the massive single, but “Crawling” provided Hybrid Theory’s most stunning vocal. Utilizing a familiar ‘90s alt-rock sonic template, Bennington delivered deceptively quiet verses before detonating in the throat-shredding chorus. Despite being a literal pain for Bennington to sing live, “Crawling” marked Linkin Park first step towards world domination.
Numb—Linkin Park: Built around an unforgettable keyboard-synth hook, “Numb” is the ultimate outsider anthem. Bennington’s searing vocal raged his frustrations in the verses (“Every step that I take / is another mistake to you”) before exploding in the cathartic chorus, with a generation of disaffected youths finally finding their voice when he screamed, “All I want to do / is be more like me / and be less like you.”
Shadow of the Day—Linkin Park: One of Linkin Park’s best ballads found Bennington surprisingly restrained. Stripped of the rap and electronica elements they built their empire on—and borrowing liberally from U2’s “With or Without You”—the track’s sparse production perfectly showcased Bennington’s sweet vocals in this delicious lullaby of a song.
Waiting For the End—Linkin Park: Later Linkin Park singles suffered from the law of diminishing returns, but “Waiting For the End” is their mid-period masterpiece. The soaring, alt-rock power ballad is best remembered for Shinoda’s impassioned reggae-inflected verses (including the epic line, “the hardest part of ending is starting again”), but Bennington’s crystal-clear chorus provided the bedrock from which Shinoda soared.
Crawl Back In—Dead By Sunrise: While writing for Minutes to Midnight, Bennington found some of his songs were too dark and personal for Linkin Park. Rather than tossing them aside, Bennington formed a side-project, Dead by Sunrise, with members of industrial-rock group, Orgy. Sadly, the super-group’s lead single, “Crawl Back In,” is generic post-grunge rock, but the conviction of Bennington’s distinct vocal saves it from the bargain bin.
Kesha started this decade as one of pop’s brightest stars. Though initially signed as a songwriter, she parlayed her guest vocal on Flo Rida’s 2009 hit, “Right Round,” into her own music career, launching her debut single, “Tik Tok” later that same year. The Auto-Tuned, half-rapped/half-sung vocal and her trashy, poor-man’s-Lady-Gaga aesthetic polarized critics, but the song was a runaway smash, sailing to #1 for nine weeks and kick-starting an impressive run of hit singles.
Then, of course, came Kesha’s claims of sexual assault and battery against her producer, Lukas “Dr. Luke” Gottwald. Gottwald denied the allegations, hitting back with a defamation countersuit, and the resultant legal brouhaha sidelined Kesha’s once-blossoming career. In 2016, a New York judge dismissed all of her claims—keeping her chained to Gottwald’s contract—though near-unanimous support from A-listers like Adele, Kelly Clarkson, and Taylor Swift granted her victory in the court of public opinion.
Kesha returns under these dramatic circumstances with “Praying,” the lead single from Rainbow, her first album in five years. The song’s simple piano introduction immediately differentiates it from the party anthems that built her career; “Your Love is My Drug” this most certainly is not. Against this stark production, Kesha details the struggle of surviving—and being strengthened by—a tormentor (obviously Gottwald). Despite one understandably bitter lyric—“when I’m finished, they won’t even know your name”—the song stands as a testament to empowerment and even forgiveness, as she sings, “I hope you find your peace, falling on your knees.” Eventually the piano bleeds into a gospel-organ, weepy strings, and a big, stomping drumbeat to match the rawest, most righteous vocal of her career. And I dare the most cynical of hearts not to tear up when she hits that high note after musing, “some things, only God can forgive.”
The stunning music video also perfectly showcases her recent struggles. It starts with Kesha asking, “Am I dead? Or is this one of those dreams?” as pig-masked, suited men hover over her casket. In between symbolic black and white images of the singer adrift at open sea upon a raft, she successfully escapes her piggy antagonists through a thrilling Technicolor, desert trash-scape dash. The heroic, cathartic video concludes with the words “the beginning” announcing Kesha’s rebirth.
“Praying” is a perfect, rise-from-the-ashes reinvention. Stripped of Auto-Tune, shorn of the ironic “$” that once stylized her name, and baptized by the fires of her legal trials, the real Kesha Sebert finally shines. It’s a glorious, triumphant return, and I cannot wait to hear what she does next.
Hard to believe, but 2017 marks ten years in the biz for Calvin Harris. While the former Adam Wiles was an instant U.K. success, it took his massive, 2011 Rihanna-collaboration, “We Found Love,” to break him Stateside.
Since then, an irresistible run of dance-pop hits has crowned him as the world’s top paid DJ, with a Las Vegas residency, a steamy Calvin Klein underwear ad, and high-profile romances with pop chanteuses like Rita Ora and Taylor Swift further expanding Harris’ brand.
Having reached the apex of the EDM empire, Harris uses his fifth album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, to experiment with nu-disco. While his former compositions bounced with big beat exuberance fit for cavernous clubs, the ten languid, tropical songs on this compact collection are aimed at sound-tracking summer barbecues and chilled, stoner beach parties.
To achieve his new sound, Harris traded his normally-British cast of rotating vocalists (Ellie Goulding, John Newman) for rap and R&B heavyweights (Snoop Doog, Migos), infusing each Funk track with a decidedly hip-hop flavor. Unfortunately, most of these new collaborators fail to deliver. Pharrell adds the excellent, silky smooth hook to the “Get Lucky”-esque “Heatstroke,” but similar attempts by John Legend and Nicki Minaj fizzle rather than sizzle. Contributions from the occasional pop vocalist are especially underwhelming: Katy Perry’s dreadful, “baby, I know you ain’t afraid to catch feels” chorus to “Feels,” surely has Harris’ former flame (and Katy Perry-antagonist), Taylor Swift, cackling.
Strangely, it’s the lesser-known talents who shine brightest on Funk. Up-and-coming Oakland hip-hop singer, Kehlani, rap-sings with convincing spite on “Faking It,” while Canadian newbie, Jessie Reyez, ups the emotional ante when she sings, “I’d rather be hard to love than easy to leave,” in album-closing slow-jam, “Hard to Love.” Harris’ quirky vocal, which previously powered hits like, “I’m Not Alone” and “Summer” is also conspicuous in its absence.
Despite the album’s shortcomings, Funk succeeds in providing a relatively cohesive summer playlist that connects with fans: the album debuted at #2 in both the U.S. and the U.K. Whether Harris has permanently traded dance-y beats for tropical vibes remains to be seen (although the Vol. 1 in the title suggests as much), but for now, EDM’s Golden Boy can light a spliff and bask in the summery glow of his continued success.