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MTV 20 Collection – Pop/Rap/Jams/Beats (A Music Video Review)

MTV 20 Collection

Pop/Rap/Jams/Beats (Image Entertainment-2001)

Although music videos are no longer important, they still hold the power to mesmerize. MTV – the art director’s dream – hardly anticipated the influence that this frenetic form would hold over the popular culture when it debuted in 1981. Call it art or call it crass commercialism, music videos wormed their way into the worldview of young lives, morphed into a cottage industry, and threatened the very status of record albums and non-photogenic pop singers. Music and television were married at last, in the stylistically visual way that was always meant to be but was somehow never given the old college try until decades into the technology.

The beloved music channel offers this 20th anniversary retrospective, but it’s a cheat. Thanks to MTV’s obsession with youth and what’s new, there is very little retro here and lots of current and near-current crowd pleasers (at least current for 2001, when this DVD was first introduced). Sure, you have your obvious nods to video history: your Flock of Seagulls (“I Ran”) and your Robert Palmers (“Addicted to Love”), but if you’re going to call it 20, then don’t tip the scales in favor of videos that have barely yet cooled off.

It’s not complicated: an MTV 20th anniversary video retrospective should always include The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the prophetic song which kicked off the music channel on opening night. As well, there is no sign of Michael Jackson or Peter Gabriel, two video pioneers, nor is there a trace of Cyndi Lauper, Madonna or any character connected with David Lee Roth’s “Just a Gigolo.” However, the Blink-182 music video parody, “All the Small Things,” is included, but completists will be jonesing for the missing links.

Possibly the rights to these artists’ videos could not be obtained, but even so, MTV is squeamish about anything not too new – that’s why VH1 was created.

Still, there are plenty of tasty nuggets to harvest. Gary Numan’s “Cars” and Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” are hootable like old videos should be, but Digible Planets’ “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like That)” and The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Higher Ground” are awesomely powerful, intensely beautiful, and downright exciting. In addition, Lisa Stanfield’s “All Around the World,” is a satisfying example of song-to-video perfection.

If you are to learn any lessons at all about this unique history, it’s that there is a huge rift in sensibilities between 80s and 90s artists on video. The 80s pop stars (Tears for Fears and the Thompson Twins) are feeling their way – obviously, glaringly attempting to figure out how to fill up three minutes of video time; the 90s artists (Chumbawamba and Smash Mouth, in their Cosmo Kramer wardrobe) are broadening the art’s horizons while, at the same time, minimizing their own style. The common denominator: all are posing. However, the old dependable music video staple remains consistent throughout: hot girls.

You’ll learn that time flies too: was it really almost ten years ago that Soundgarden recorded “Black Hole Sun?” And prepare yourself: it’s been over a decade since House of Pain jumped around to “Jump Around.”

You’ll also enjoy another music constant: the vague itch of “what the hell is going on?” Okay, Godspeed participates in a wiccan ceremony, so we’re not required to know what’s happening, but attempt to explain The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another,” or Elvis Costello apparently singing about Princess Di and Prince Charles in “Everyday I Write the Book.” Okay, we grant them poetic and artistic license, but unfortunately, not all art scores. And the ultimate in “what the hell is going on?” is the self-conscious mugging of Steven Tyler and Aerosmith, trying to relate to The Kids as late as the 1990s.

We also get a complete glimpse of “jams,” featuring hip-hop artists and rhythm-and-blues singers, with their casts of thousands. Most of what we are served is more lukewarm than piping hot; most of it is from the 90s, which is not surprising for this retrospective: MTV was notorious for barring many black artists and rap singers from their well-watched playlist for quite a number of years. Still, you get your share of bouncing cars and bouncing booties (“Back That Thing Up” is not referring to a Brinks' truck).

We also get some deep insight from the artists themselves, MTV style. For instance, on 9.21.99, the rapper Juvenile stated, “I thought I was Run DMC, LL Cool J, or somebody back in the day. I was into it all. If there was making money and it looked good and it was dealing with rap, I was always with it.” We also get some pop-up factoids that may only appeal to young people (or may not): “[Brian] McKnight began his acting career by appearing as a recurring character on the WB network’s sitcom, Sister Sister.”

Rarely on this collection is a piece of history for history’s sake. One possible exception is the Jesus Jones classic “Right Here, Right Now,” which apparently is about the fall of communism. It’s one of those rare videos that transcends disposability and takes on a whole new power in its retro phase.

We are also given a semi-generous portion of “bonus beats,” including Technotronic’s “Pump up the Jam” and The Chemical Brothers’ “Setting Sun.” Again, we’re having fun, but are we learning?

Today, in order to be swept up by wall-to-wall music videos, you would have to tune in to MTV2 (if you can find it). However, the feeling is not the same as it was back in the day. Although videos continue to find imaginative ways to lure you in, the novelty has long-ago worn off.

For a network that came out of nowhere and revolutionized youth culture and media sensibility, we’re expecting more than the pretty but skimpy hodgepodge of this collection.

Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: December 23, 2005.

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