Goin' Viral A close reading of the year's most...distinctive music videos

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Too often, music video exegesis gets left to the agrammatical hordes of the comments section on YouTube. Does a vid only merit critical analysis if the director is Michel Gondry or Spike Lee? We say no! Below you'll find our take on some of 2008's most uncanny videos.

Watch at your peril and, if we've missed a big one, let us know in the comments.

Best Use of Post-Soviet Propaganda: ANJ, "Gorbachev"

VIDEO: "Gorbachev"
Tracing the plight of busty Russian broads from agro-industrial serfdom through an ambuscade of Stalinist zombies, this video—part political allegory, part snuff flick—is the clearest expression of class and gender dynamics under the Soviets since Doctor Zhivago. It's also a fitting panegyric to its namesake (herein portrayed, birthmark and all, by a ca. nine foot-tall bodybuilder). Since Tom Stern—the visionary director behind the video—cut his teeth directing arthouse luminosities for folks like Marilyn Manson and Butthole Surfers, it's little surprise that "Gorbachev" is such a masterstroke.

What sold us: The zeppelins that airlift various symbols of capitalism—Twinkies, popsicles, and a generic bottle of Cola—to Gorbachev and his harem on the beach.
Best moment: A tie between (a) Gorbachev flexing his pecs and (b) Gorbachev shooting death rays from his eyes.
Hat Tip: Brandon Wu

–Ted Scheinman

Best Use of Hologram Technology: Radiohead "House of Cards"

VIDEO: "House of Cards"
Leave it to Radiohead, a band that managed to profit off a free album, to make a music video that rivals (and predates) CNN's election-night hologram stunt. "House of Cards," from 2007's In Rainbows, uses "3D plotting technologies" to render Thom Yorke and friends as featureless, staticky ghosts. Having a hard time seeing that in your mind's eye? Imagine a photo image of Thom Yorke's face pressed into one of those PinPressions nail sculptures; now imagine a painted adaptation of that photograph in the style of Louis Wain's schizophrenic cats; now imagine a photographic negative of that painting. With trippy-ass music.

What sold us: The ever-creeping possibility of seeing Yorke but not seeing his droopy eye
Best Moment: Moment of realization that Yorke's lazy eye is more powerful than 3D technology

-Mike Riggs

Best Use of the Numa Numa Guy: Weezer, "Pork & Beans"

VIDEO: "Pork & Beans"
In the context of Rivers Cuomo's ambivalent views on mass taste, "Pork & Beans" is like the middle finger that scratches the public's back in the hope that the public will return the favor. Nominated for "Best Editing" at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, this intricately layered tribute to viral video VIPs—Miss South Carolina, the Numa Numa guy, the kid behind "Chocolate Rain," and Britney Spears' creepiest fan, among many others—gleefully synthesizes its pop obsessions into a treatise on the very meaning of stardom. "Timbaland knows the way to reach the top of the charts / Maybe if I work for him I can perfect the art," Cuomo muses, before declaring "I'mma do the things that I wanna do / I ain't got a thing to prove to you." Here, pandering is a mode of self-expression, the viral vid a mode of artistic emancipation. And rather than railing, it accepts the possiblity: in the era of free downloads, has the pop star been relegated to the sphere of the YouTube phenom?

What sold us: "Dramatic Prairie Dog"
Best moment: Eating cereal with the Numa Numa guy

Music 2008 Contents
In Record Time
If full-length albums are dead, why do so many people still want them?
A Rap Old Age
Is hip-hop growing up or having its Yacht Rock moment?
Bargain Binge
Labels cut back in 2008, but that's only good news for mainstream hip-hop.
Let's Go to the Tape
How to reel in listeners in the digital age.
Beats Working
Local DJs on why D.C.'s dance scene flourished in 2008
Decks Support
For those putting their turntables to good use, local vinyl retailers reveal their bestselling LPs of the year.
Goin' Viral
A close reading of the year's most...distinctive music videos
Top Ten Albums of 2008

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