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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Steve Erickson presents … My top 15 music videos of 2017

1. Ghost-“He Is”
This makes references to Michael Jackson and Jim Jones, but its director Zev Deans directly based its parody of evangelical Christianity on disgraced pedophile preacher Tony Alamo. However, the surface creepiness of the video, which comes from the fact that it shows Ghost singer Tobias Forge conducting a church service in corpse paint and the song is a power ballad offering praise to Lucifer, conceals the fact that its depiction of cult-like devotion (especially among young women offering themselves to an older man) and people giving money to a church (where some of it gets pocketed by the collector) barely hides the fact that this eerie aura also applies to genuine Christian fundamentalism. There’s really nothing here that couldn’t take place at a real church service.

 

2. Vince Staples-“Big Fish”
Staples’ song is an ambivalent celebration of his rise from a gun-riddled neighborhood to minor success in the film industry, set to a chilled-out house music beat. The video, in which he performs it from a sinking boat surrounded by sharks, takes the paranoid vibe implicit in the lyrics all the way from subtext to text. Staples seems to be represented by a goldfish in the video’s opening shot; the video returns to the goldfish bowl in its closing shot and suggests something far darker.

 

3. St. Vincent-“Pills”
A song that offers a critical perspective on medical and recreational prescription drug abuse gets a video that takes the central metaphor of THE STEPFORD WIVES very literally. I am still not sure whether it ever depicts real women’s bodies or consists of stop-motion animation of female mannequins. I do know that the robotic vibe perfectly matches the early ‘80s Devo feel of the song’s first half.

 

4. Buy Muy Drugs-“MZKFT”
Seemingly made for a budget around $2,000, “MZKFT” turns the celebrations of coke dealing from rappers like Jeezy and Rick Ross into something nightmarish. Part of an Afro-futurist concept album about a new drug as addictive as crack that turns out to be a metaphor for the cruelty of capitalism, the video alternates between showing MC Denmark Vessey cooking up powder on his stove and brief inserts of sci-fi imagery (including John Carpenter’s classic pulp agitprop THEY LIVE.) The sinister feel of the beat and samples are matched by the grittiness of the video.

 

5. Spoon-“I Ain’t the One”
For a long time, performance clips were the bane of rock videos. The blue-tinted cinematography and moody lighting take “I Ain’t the One” as close to film noir as one can get without a narrative, just showing Spoon playing the song near an elevator.

 

6. Algiers-“Cleveland”
Algiers’ other video of 2017, “The Underside of Power,” attacked the FBI while paying tribute to Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. “Cleveland” goes for an even more ferocious attack on racism, seamlessly integrating footage of the band’s singer Franklin James Fisher with images of the KKK and protests from the ‘60s to the present, while mourning African-Americans who have been killed by the police in on-screen text.

 

7. U. S. Girls-“Velvet 4 Sale”
Here, U. S. Girls singer Meg Remy plays a cop who reminisces about her ineffective confrontations with abusive men while walking through Toronto. The song’s lyrics consist of a dialogue between two women about gun ownership. Out of uniform, Remy finally manages to drive her nemesis to recognize the harm he has done, sending him to suicide off a cliff in the video’s final moments.

 

8. Charli XCX-“Boys”
If you’ve watched many music videos in the past few years, you’ve seen plenty set in strip clubs or consisting of fully dressed male vocalists surrounded by women in bikinis. “Boys” turns the tables in a way that’s genuinely fun and playful, not just a feminist statement. The video films men like actor/rapper Riz Ahmed and producer Diplo (and many, many more) in sensual situations, obviously reflecting Charli XCX’s libido but with a sense of humor throughout.

 

9. Kendrick Lamar-“D.N.A.,”
10. Kendrick Lamar featuring Rhianna-“Loyalty”
11. Kendrick Lamar-“Humble”
At this point, Lamar’s album DAMN, which made it to #1 on almost every music critic’s 2017 top 10 list, is a bit overrated. Nevertheless, it’s a very thoughtful engagement with his own capacity for cruelty and violence and the difficulty of maintaining faith in such a dark world. These themes are illustrated in these videos. In “Loyalty,” he plays a gangster who beats up a man in front of his car and then orders Rhianna to suffocate another man with a plastic bag. However, if one pays closer attention, the second man is actually Lamar himself, wearing a white jacket and a black shirt, while the violent version of Lamar wears a black jacket and white shirt. The theme of doppelgangers continues in a more subtle form in his extremely celebrated “D.N.A.” video, which begins with Don Cheadle playing a cop starting to interrogate Lamar but lip-synching the song’s first few lines instead. Then the video completely changes course halfway through as the song’s beat shifts and ends with Lamar’s crew member Schoolboy Q punching out the camera. “Humble” is the video equivalent of prog-rock, with religious symbolism galore and so many locations and extras that it looks like it took several weeks and a $400,000 budget to shoot.

 

12. The National-“The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness”
This might be the most experimental video on the list, consisting of jumpy images of buildings taken from a drone and jarringly edited. There’s nothing approaching a narrative, and none of the band members appear in it. Nor does it add up to the political statement implied by the song’s title. However, it conveys the eerie quality of the credits sequence of many horror movies; it would work well if the National layered the spoken word text about the death of facts and consensus reality credited to Karl Rove and used on their song “Walk It Back” here.

 

13. Childish Gambino-“Redbone”
Despite ”Redbone” becoming a huge hit, Childish Gambino seems to have never made an official music video for his falsetto soul ballad. The production company Outfitted stepped in with an extremely slick unofficial one that evokes ‘90s neo-noir. Three criminals decide to kill one of their partners, and the main portion of the video shows one of them, now tortured with regret, lip-synching “Redbone” in the back seat of a car as a man dies while tied up in the trunk behind him. The video perfectly captures the paranoid mood of “Redbone,” which Jordan Peele played twice in his film GET OUT.

 

14, Lil Uzi Vert featuring Nicki Minaj-“The Way Life Goes”:
“The Way Life Goes” suggested that emo-inspired “SoundCloud rap” might lead to a new masculine persona in hip-hop after all; while Minaj seems full of life confidently rapping in a cabin, Uzi lip-syncs his part of the song tied to a tree with his eyes closed most of the time, next to an open grave, and winds up eventually killed by a woman. One could read this as a misogynist metaphor for a breakup, but the way life goes for all of us ends in a graveyard and way too many people live as though they may as well be tied up and half-asleep.

 

15. Yaeji-“Drink I’m Sippin On”
Korean-American singer/rapper/producer Yaeji’s video consists of her riding a bike and walking around Seoul, and having an innocent good night out that matches this song’s exceedingly mellow mood. There’s a matter-of-fact quality to the video that suits her music’s relaxed quality, and I appreciate the facts that she makes no attempt to sexualize herself or pretend she has any direct connection to “the streets,” despite the fact that she raps her way through “Drink I’m Sippin On” in Korean.

 

The year’s low point: Post Malone and 21 Savage’s “Rockstar,” in which they massacre dozens of Asian people, with buckets of blood, in a setting obviously inspired by samurai movies. So it’s OK to borrow from Asian culture while killing off faceless Asians outside of any narrative context or justification? Imagine the outcry if Malone had teamed up with Korean boyband BTS for a video in which they shoot African-Americans filled with tropes lifted from blaxploitation films.

 

 

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p.s. Hey. Today the honourable Steve Erickson would like to share his top 15 music videos of the year with you. You are hereby kindly requested to watch and listen to what all of his fuss is about then give your opinions perhaps, counter with your favorites perhaps, or have some other response that you alone can devise. In any case, please let Steve know you care in your comments today, thank you. And thank you, Steve, for considering this place its home. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Welcome back! Nice Xmas you had there, food-wise and reading-wise. Yes, ‘The Sarah Book’ was great, right? My Xmas was very sort of nothing much other than the part where I ate some buche, which was very delicious and chocolatey, and I still have a third of it left to go. Like almost any other day, but quieter. Only two more job days to go! You can do it, Dóra! Ha ha. Me, I have a bunch of of work I need to do that I’m really not in the mood to do, so I’ll keep trying to get in the right mood to do that, hopefully today. Working on the new film script, which is what I should not be distracting myself by doing, but I can’t seem to help myself. Pretty lowkey otherwise. Did your second to last day of work have any highlights? ** Wolf, Wolfie!!!! Oh, shit, far better late than never. Damn my weirdly behaving blog. I didn’t have a Xmas tree either although the concierge put a little teeny fake one on top of our building’s mailboxes, so that was kind of nice. Other than part of a delicious buche cooked up by Hotel Shangri-La, I ate the same tofu-hotdogs, etc., I always eat. I didn’t mind. I thought ‘Wonder Woman’ was dark, or rather it made me feel dark that a mediocre superhero movie helmed by a female director was novel enough to have caused such a celebration. I’m good, working hard on stuff, or trying to. Paris is prettier than fuck. No complaints that I can think of. Yes, I do know of that Snow/Ice Festival. I did a post about it, but, whoa, like 8 years ago or something. It is absolutely due another, you’re right. Thank you! Dude, it’s awesomeness incarnate to get to see you! Love that explodes the word galore, me. ** David Ehrenstein, Mm, I hope you’re right about ‘not much longer’. I remain unconvinced of that for now. Congratulations on your Jon Swift Award! ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Thank you personally for this glorious day here. Thank you for noting the Link post. Do I know Moonshake? I can’t remember. I’ll go find out. ** Sypha, Well, you can’t get well without slogging through the mucus filled purgatory, I guess. Your book list is epic. It could be published as an experimental novel, and I would make a post about it probably. You must be the only person in the world who would have both Skullflower and Kesha on your best music list. Well, except for possibly Philip Best. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. Oh, even instant slush snow sounds good to me. Ha ha, only because I couldn’t find a shot of link in a snowy landscape wherein he radiated loneliness, which is interesting, isn’t it? Nice Xmas haul, duh. ** Kinkton, Hey, man. I loved your Xmas gift. It was my favourite Xmas gift. Word. Plus your Xmas kind of wins my Best Xmas of 2017 Contest that I just decided to hold based on your Xmas’s greatness. See me in Paris? Sweet. What kind of trouble? ** Misanthrope, Hi. Oh, my post got love! And from you no less! It’s pretty rare that a post wherein I actually use my personal creativity gets much love around here, so accept a gaze from my slightly teary eyes. Oh, okay, your cube is a pure cube. Or almost except for that disruptive book. No, that’s good, like the flaw in a Persian rug kind of good. Aww, really, awwwww about that twin. Such sweetness. ** Right. The post has been introduced. You have been urged to comment in its regard. We’re all ship-shape here for today. See you tomorrow.

15 Comments

  1. Hey Steve, thanks for that! That Vince Staples video was well eerie; and the St Vincent one was like some offshoot from Black Mirror, creepy as fuck!

    Cooporama!
    Haha ok so you didn’t like Wonder Woman. Yeah, I think I have lowered my expectations of, if not 99% of the world, at least super-hero movies. The only way I reckon a superhero movie can actually be Good is if it delves into the problem of what is means for a character to be both outside a world and inside of it, and that’s been done, and people are clearly sick of that dark stuff, so ‘entertaining’ is the best we’re going to get now. I accept that. I thought it was fun. But to be honest I cannot think of much film-wise in 2017 that really did much more than entertain me. All the fantastic TV that came out just blew the big screen way, way out of the water. We saw… let me check my list… 37 movies in 2017, and 13 series. The only movie that actually ~stayed~ with me was Paterson. But even that is nothing compared to Twin Peaks. What would you say was the movie/video work that stayed with you the most in 2017 (old or new)? Do you think that’s also what you would say was the ‘best’? And what would a super-hero movie directed by Dennis Cooper be like?

  2. David Ehrenstein

    December 28, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    Great work, Steevee. The “Boys” video is especially superb.

    I’m convinced it’s “not much longer” Dennis because if you’ve been following events closely (and there’s no reason why you should it’s so time-consuming) you’d know that things are coming together ona number of fronts to shorten his days. The rug will be pulled out from under Trump. The question is “which rug ?)” and “how hard?” The Russia probe has already resulted in snagging Flynn. And after defending him — and firing James Comey from the FBI as part of said defense — Trump is now throwing Flynn under the bus. Amd then there’s all the money laundering Trump and his criminal cabal have been engaged in. Not just the Rancid Orange Julius himself but Jared the Anti-Semitic Jew and his wifey Ivanka, the daughter that Daddy’s fucking. (I’m certain Jared’s gay) The chickens are coming home to roost and Mueller appears to be making sure they’re “Extra Crispy”

  3. @Wolf–Thanks.

    I’m very sorry to be a downer on the day I curated, but 1)my apartment has no heat despite ultra-frigid conditions outside (the super says the boiler will be fixed today) and 2)I threw up 4 times last night and I’m sure I have either the flu or food poisoning. Between those two things, I got about 2 and 1/2 hours sleep last night. I am hoping to be able to see my doctor today.

  4. Steve E: Thanks–and hope you feel better. I hope you are getting some clear liquids; if you can’t keep down water, that’s a pretty clear sign you need IV hydration, even after only a day. Ive been there, and the worst part medically is the dehydration. But your doctor will take care of that.
    I didn’t track down the original comment here, but the fact that you endorsed “The Sarah Book” sent me off to it, since I’ve been kind of interested in that McClanahan dude for a while. Since I’ve been working with Colby on Asheville stuff, I’ve gotten very interested in how contemporary Appalachia defines itself. It’s obviously a key area for a lot of American politics: especially because its economy has to transform or die (and right-wing ideology is hastening death, while progressives have had great proposals for making it a lab for green planning and alternative energy). It’s a whole lot more diverse than public media have depicted it, and always has been: There’s a whole band down the Appalachians that opposed the Confederacy–remember that’s how West Virginia broke off, and western North Carolina almost did the same–so it’s just a crime that white supremacist ideology has been allowed to metastasize there. Its cultural roots owe a lot more to Indians and African-Americans than people seem to know. And it’s kind of proof of how the state/nation concept, in contrast to cultural affinities, creates a lot of the problems of modern states. And I hear that McClanahan is kind of the Poet of Appalachia these days. It’s interesting where the lively stuff in contemporary lit comes from.
    I’m sorry to hear you don’t get a whole lotta love on your creative Days. My first thought yesterday was I didn’t even know Caspar David Friedrich designed video games. Do you remember Donald Britton writing a poem called “Caspar David Friedrich is Sad”? I do–unless I mixed it up with someone else–but it’s not in the collected book. I expect I’ll turn it up in some DC-based zine from the 70s. I felt like the editor of the book left out poems that didn’t fit his image.

  5. I like how Tom Daley made a cameo in the “Boys” video.

    The good thing about all the reading I’ve done the last decade or so is that I’ve read maybe 90% of the previously published books that I’ve ever wanted to read. So, going forward I can focus more on reading recently published material (as it is, this year nearly half my list was books published in 2017, though some of those were reprints of older books), books put out by friends, and so on. That reminds me, I should post my list of some of my favorite books of 2017 soon, now that I’ve done my end of year music list. Well, I can at least do my end of year film list: favorite film: IT. That’s all I got so far for that one, ha ha… though Misantrophe keeps bugging me to catch “Call Me by Your Name.” He’s even got me reading the book now… but I don’t mind, I’m enjoying it so far.

    I’m not sure if Philip Best is a Kesha fan, but he certainly is a Skullflower fan! But you know me, when it comes to music I either gravitate towards very mainstream poppy stuff or experimental noise material.

  6. I was ultra-thirsty and obviously dehydratred when I woke up. I haven’t thrown up in 6 hours, and I’ve been drinking lots of water and keeping it down. My doctors appointment’s at 4.

  7. Hi!

    @ Steve Erickson: thank you for this collection! I have a day off tomorrow – I’ll give my full attention to it then!

    Actually, the “like almost any other day, but quieter” kind of Christmas doesn’t sound bad at all. Especially in the company of a delicious, chocolatey Buche!
    Thank you, haha! I guess I can only tell you the same thing now! You can do it! Even though I understand that working on your new film script kind of makes everything else seem dull and tedious…

    I had a quiet and pretty slow day at the gallery today. There were hardly any visitors so I worked a bit but I had the time to write a long letter to Christin and to read a little, too. No complaints. Half an hour ’til I can start my way home!

    How was your day? Did you manage to work some on the must-do?

  8. I enjoyed “Drink I’m Sippin On” very much. Thank you to Steve for finding and sharing it. It’s the perfect chill while getting psyched to go out song, which is where I’m at now. As someone who’s spent a lot of time in New York and a decent amount of time in Seoul, I’m 99.9% positive that the video was filmed in Manhattan Chinatown. If you watch with that in mind you’ll see signage in English and Chinese rather than Korean (including light-up signs advertising buses to Albany, NY and Wilmington, DE), and a structure that is almost definitely the Manhattan Bridge and anyhow is unlike anything in Seoul.

    Have you seen Black Mirror? I admit that I’ll probably binge watch the new season when it comes out tomorrow. I don’t think it’s any more or less fun, flawed, or profound than The Twilight Zone.

  9. @ Steve, thank you for this day and I really enjoyed the Yaeji video wherever it was filmed!

    Had a good friend from Leeds school days round to visit today. We’d not met IRL since my spinal fracture ordeal in summer last year, and she’s gotten divorced (again) since then, so we had plenty to catch up on. Her 2 young boys both made art up in the attic while we went over our respective situations and guess what, we’re both looking forward to seeing what the New Year brings.

  10. Steve. You woke as fuck, bruh! I’m kidding (I think you know that, right?). I listened to all of them. For some reason, I really like “Boys.” (Cameron Dallas is hot as fuck in that. I’m shallow, what can I say?) Quite the mix, though. The Spoon was pretty good too. The other videos were interesting, though I’d be lying if I said I liked the music itself that much.

    Dennis, As soon as I looked up the blog on my phone at work, I was like, “WOW! This is the shit!” I shared it with my niece, as she’s a big Zelda fan. She hasn’t told me what she thinks yet. But damn, you really got into something that’s always kind of bugged me but that I didn’t have words for. Link is soooo solitary and alone, no?

    Yeah, that twin is a special little guy. Really bright and funny. His brothers are sweet kids too. I love them all. The other two don’t seem to need the…tactile interaction that the one does. It makes his aunt wonder if something happened or didn’t happen to him that’s made him like that. She got them from their mother about 5 or 6 years ago after a lengthy battle. The mother is a hardcore drug addict who’d leave them alone by themselves for a couple days at a time…when they were 4 and 5. Fucking kids sitting on the floor, eating peanut butter out of a jar with their hands because they’re so hungry. Tons of strange men coming and going. Etc.

    But yeah, really great kids. My friend, who never intended to have kids at all, stepped up and has done great by them. I admire her.

  11. Btw, the DVDs for Call Me by Your Name and Lady Bird have leaked online and people are downloading them…and making mashups set to music about the movies and the relationships in them. I kind of admire the people who take the time to make those videos. So unnecessary but they do them anyway.

  12. I feel better physically now, but I am in a really weird state of mind psychologically and feel rather depressed and lonely. The heat came back in my apartment, but it is still too cold.

    I have an idea for a new script for a short film I want to start writing in early January. This is a departure – it’s set in 1971, and it depicts an Army general and a hippie who are attracted to each other but too closeted to admit it having dinner and realizing how much they have in common. This might sound weird, but as I get older, I have been thinking a lot about how my life would’ve been different were I born 20 years earlier, and given how angry and divided the present day’s political and cultural climate is (and how many people have said this is a return to the U.S. circa 1968), I want to show people with different political views actually getting along. I think I am abandoning the ”
    Sessions and Pence tripping” script, because it was based in experiences I haven’t had and don’t think I would be too good at writing about, and it’s also about real-life politicians I despise. I don’t think grounding a script in hatred is a good launching pad.

  13. Hi Dennis — that lonely link yesterday was very nice. I meditated on it for a bit, it’s still lingering — thank you! Is your year coming to a close? Mine feels a little off…

    Hi Steve — thanks for the fun post, and that Yaeji video isn’t filmed in Seoul, no. But it’s a chill video!

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