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Videos: an Alien Concept

April 12, 1998|Lorraine Ali | Lorraine Ali writes about pop music for Calendar

Alien space themes and kitschy '50s futurism dominate this month's Sound & Vision, in which we rate music videos on a scale of 0 to 100.

Why are artists and directors turning toward the UFO-dotted skies for inspiration? Perhaps it's the success of "Men in Black," the Galileo Jupitor mission, Missy Elliott's puffy astronaut outfit or the eerie allure of "The X-Files" that have spurred this meeting of pop stars and men from Mars.

Artists such as Scott Weiland, kinetic rapper Busta Rhymes and deejay Dimitri From Paris assume the role of aliens, battle otherworldly forces or send animated characters to the moon in their newest videos. Our top video, by the Propellerheads, is not in sync with the space theme, but the group's name alone evokes images of Flash Gordon's puttering rocket, so count them in.

Boldly going where many have gone before, these videos are the product of a generation raised on "Star Wars," Quisp cereal and Asteroids video games. But now, like HAL, they're in control.

The Propellerheads Featuring Miss Shirley Bassey, "History Repeating." This black-and-white video, directed by Pedro Romhanyi, is staged as a '50s talk show. A rather dry Englishman introduces the Propellerheads as "a new wave of musician called the disc jockey.

Pop diva Bassey sings such techno-pertinent lines as "Some people say they don't know who's singing / Why ask your head when it's your hips that are swinging" while the Propellerheads play their smooth blend of dance beat and jazzy swing. The contagious song causes the very square television band and crew to tap their Red Wing shoes and eventually break-dance. This video is cast, set and executed so well that its seamless morphing of two pop-culture eras is not only revealing, but also sparkles with the naive appeal of an old "Ed Sullivan Show" clip. 98

Busta Rhymes, "Turn It Up/Fire It Up." Director Paul Hunter mixes gloomy, Orwellian imagery with the post-nuclear landscape of "Mad Max." The scenes shift as abruptly as the rhythms and grooves in the song. In some spots, the rapper plays a warrior who battles legions of space aliens. In others, he's a specimen floating in a huge beaker. There's probably some master plan in here that's way too twisted for the average mortal to figure out, but this stark yet intricate video is so dynamic that it doesn't really matter. Its elaborate set, arbitrary changes and crisp cinematography provide a place weird enough for even George Clinton's spaceship to land. 81

Scott Weiland, "Barbarella." The Stone Temple Pilots frontman has reemerged as a solo artist with a Bowie-esque image, and his video follows suit. Like Bowie in "The Man Who Fell to Earth," he is an alien whose spaceship crashes in the desert. He is saved by Earthlings who eventually drop the well-dressed singer in Vegas, where he picks up the arts of panhandling, poker and levitation. Symbolic of the ups and downs in Weiland's real life, he ends up on the floor of an empty hotel room surrounded by bags of money before being taken away by men in black. Eerie, depressing and occatsionally ridiculous, "Barbarella" is also powerfully effective. 78

Dimitri From Paris, "Sacre Francais." This French deejay and producer's first American single is animated in a kitschy '50s style. It features a stereotypical Frenchman, complete with beret and striped shirt, tailing a leggy woman through Paris. Abstract images and brightly colored monuments reel through the background as Dimitri's Electronic Age Muzak adds zesty zip to the scene. He chases her across France and around the world until she escapes into space. A good idea--unless she finds herself pursued by Weiland. 75

Daft Punk, "Revolution 909." This video documents the fascinating journey of tomatoes from the farm to the supermarket and into a simmering pot of spaghetti sauce. Daft Punk's linear electronic song fits tightly with the instructional-film feel of the video. The humorously dry premise works until the video's concluding chase scene. The tomatoes themselves are far more scintillating. 62

Sneaker Pimps, "Post Modern Sleaze." Chrome trailers, dry prairie, fat sheriffs, sweaty rednecks and vintage convertibles are a few of the elements that make up this cliched assortment of all things trashy Americana. This video is one big been-there-done-that experience that lacks only a UFO landing in a cornfield. 45

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