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POP MUSIC | MUSIC VIDEO RACK

Running afoul of success

June 19, 2005|Baz Dreisinger | Special to The Times

Big & Rich

"Big Time"

Directors: Deaton Flanigen,

Marc Oswald

* 1/2

Sugarland

"Baby Girl"

Director: Peter Zavidil

* 1/2

Rappers aren't the only ones hung up on keeping it real. Country music acts also play the authenticity game, zealously insisting that despite their success in the bright-lights-big-city scene, they're really just down-home folks from the block -- er, homestead.

Take, for instance, Big & Rich. Their platinum-selling "Horse of a Different Color" album made the irreverent, campy duo -- Big Kenny, a former carpenter from Nashville, and John Rich, a brash Texan -- last year's breakout country stars. Their latest video is a kind of apology for that: It's slapstick-style nostalgia for the good ol' days before the fame came.

And so, enter Big & Rich -- on horses. They're riding into Deadwood, S.D., where once upon a time they played for beers at a saloon. Then they're inside that saloon, sporting long hair and overalls, strumming on guitars, soliciting tips from hoity-toity cowboys and singing about the joy of it all: "In my simple way, guess you can say I'm living in the big time."

Amid shots of this scene, and one in which the duo performs on the veranda of Deadwood's Franklin Hotel, are nods to the real-life fact of the matter: Big & Rich actually are living in the big time. Photos on the wall -- the duo posing with Gretchen Wilson or Tim McGraw, gleefully boarding a private jet, lounging on a yacht -- come to life. But whether hanging out of a limousine, playing pranks on the streets of London or simulating the Beatles' "Abbey Road" album cover, the pair yuk it up like a dumbed-down Laurel & Hardy. The point is indelicately -- and thus annoyingly -- made: Fame hasn't changed these simpletons one bit.

The final shot has Big & Rich galloping off into the sunset, and the message is plain: Who needs fame? Who needs London? A saddle and a song and the U.S. of A. are enough for this pair. The video's sheer goofiness, which could be fun, is overshadowed by its cheap use of almost every stereotype in the book of Americana: Meet the anti-intellectuals, the clueless Americans abroad, the cowboy buddies content with a dollar and a dream.

Atlanta-based trio Sugarland shares that dream. Its "Baby Girl" was the highest-charting debut single by a country group in more than a decade, and its video recently topped the Country Music Television charts.

Not that fame and glory matter, though -- they'd trade the Ritz for "the place where the home fires burn" any day. Or so they suggest in "Baby Girl," written as a wry letter to the folks from a daughter angling for fame in the big city, home to hollow people and hollower promises.

Like "Big Time," the "Baby Girl" video makes extensive use of photographs. It opens in a Nashville diner, where singer Jennifer Nettles, blue eyes rolling and slim shoulders shrugging, sings glibly about urban phoniness. "Sugarland" club posters and Polaroids (set on gingham tablecloths or wood-paneled backdrops) become mini screens, depicting the road and the city lights and the band playing feverishly and, well, that's about it.

The shots are generic and dull; the overused screens-within-a-screen approach evokes crude '80s-era videos. It's a shame that so droll a song -- its chorus runs, "Hey, Mom and Dad, please send money / I'm so broke that it ain't funny" -- begot so insipid a video. Who knew the pursuit of big-city dreams could seem so bland?

*

A pessimistic boy-meets-world

Gavin DeGraw

"Chariot"

Director: Zach Braff

**

Here's a dose of cynicism about fame, courtesy of two artists who recently acquired it: pop-rock newcomer DeGraw and actor-director Braff, who follows up his feature-film directorial debut on the well-received "Garden State" with a music video that won't tarnish his reputation but isn't quite riveting enough to boost it, either.

The story line is as basic as it comes, especially in music industry land: Boy (DeGraw) meets record-label exec (played by actress Jamie King). Snatching him from the piano at a local club, she promptly leads him to the starving artist's promised land: a gleaming conference table presided over by men in suits who point hungrily at the dotted line.

Next she guides him through a series of rapidly transforming sets, from a luminous L.A.-style party (air kisses and fake smiles) to a music-video shoot that's a caricature of rap videos (booty, both financial and anatomical), to the stage, where our hero pulls back the curtain to discover that his fans and fame are as real as the illusions conjured by the man behind the curtain in "The Wizard of Oz."

What's rich about "Chariot" is not its trite narrative but its smooth pace: Braff reportedly scrapped a plan to film the video in a single continuous shot, instead creating a rotating set that evokes the hyper-slick feel of the entertainment industry -- which often runs like a well-oiled machine and is never short on smoke and mirrors.

*

Unspoiled by success

Trey Songz featuring Twista

"Gotta Make It"

Director: Marc Webb

***

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