Sometime in the distant past music videos played all day on MTV. Unfortunately, however, reality TV was invented and put an end to that. Still, before various music stations completely gave up on videos, they helped a fledgling genre mature from a quaint novelty to a full-blown art form. Though artists had long added visuals to their work, it wasn’t until the early ’80s that the music video became an integral — and then essential — part of a hit song.
Surprisingly, as MTV has spiraled toward irrelevance the music video has survived, largely thanks to the Internet. On the other hand, with billions of videos out there (on trillions of websites), it can be a pain to find anything new or worth watching. In that spirit, I bring you “Video Dose,” which I hope will be a remedy for our growing music video deficiency.
This column won’t purport to highlight only the best or most obscure music videos out there, but will look at new and classic material that deserves watching or re-watching. It will also focus specifically on a song’s video, as opposed to the music itself. I’m sure we’ve all seen videos that made or broke a song, and I hope to highlight videos that make mediocre songs good and good songs great.
With Christmas coming up, I’d like to use the first few weeks of Video Dose to look at holiday-themed music videos. Christmas songs are something of a double-edged sword: they’re fun and people are pretty forgiving when it comes to quality, but since they only get played once a year musicians sometimes rush production and skimp on effort. Christmas videos have an even harder time. If a band actually chooses to make a Christmas video, it often has a low budget, simple concept, and becomes immediately hard to find.
In that light, it’s especially refreshing to see a high quality Christmas video and this week’s Video Dose is the The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York.” The Pogues are an Irish folk-punk band that sounds kind of like The Clash playing traditional Celtic songs in a bar while slightly drunk. “Fairytale of New York” is an angsty duet between front man Shane MacGowan and English singer-songwriter Kristy MacColl. MacGowan’s vocals are rough and angry, while MacColl’s are sweet and bright — and together they make the song feel both nostalgic and ironic.
The video for “Fairytale of New York” capitalizes on the song’s subject matter and casts the two vocalists as a down-on-their luck couple in New York City. Shot entirely in black and white, it also features images of the band, a cameo by Matt Dillion (playing a cop), and the NYPD’s Pipe and Drums unit. Overall, the visuals are cinematic in their orientation, but appropriately understated and tap into New York’s iconic association with immigration, romance and, of course, Christmas. They also make the point that for all the glamour of the city, the season is also remarkable for its simple, bittersweet pleasures.
Jim Dalrymple is a regular popular culture correspondent for Rhombus.
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