"The Great, Unnerving Science Fictional, History-Warping, Body Horror Videos Of Gnarls Barkley"
I have some quibbles with TIME’s 30-best music videos list, most notably, the total OutKast lockout, but I am grateful that it reminded me of how fantastic Gnarls Barkley’s video for “Going On” is:
Is there any group who produced so many brilliant videos out of such a small pool of songs? There’s a density to their accomplishment, and also a wonderful coherence to Gnarls Barkley’s videos, which tend to introduce an element of the strange or unsettling into a familiar door. What works so well about the video for “Going On” is the way it adds depth and power to a song that otherwise doesn’t have very specific lyrics, the total commitment of the actors to the concept — when the two main characters exchange a look before they run through their portal, the significance of their decision to cross over is clear.
The same thing was true of the video for “Crazy,” the first single off Gnarls Barkley’s first album. Rorschach blots are sort of definitionally unsettling, but they’re general, vague. “Crazy” added an eerie specificity to the images, which by turn provided unsettling shadows to the real people who were represented in them.
Then, there’s perhaps my favorite Gnarls Barkley video, the one for “Smiley Faces.” It’s much more whimsical than the previous two I’ve mentioned, an alternative history of American music (among other things) that sneaks Cee Lo Green and Danger Mouse into as many frames as possible:
The past is different when you recognize the people in the pictures. Or, in the case of the video for “Run,” the cheesy ’80s dance shows:
This is pretty clearly a hallmark of Cee Lo’s — if there was one thing that was clear about his performances and his coaching on The Voice, it was how much he loves to invoke different eras.
In stark contrast to the period throwbacks, another one of their staples seems to be body horror, delivered in variable doses. There’s the delightfully weird “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul,” which manages to take the cliche of an awkward couple in a diner and do something really strange and wonderful with it — I’d love to watch a romantic comedy this sad and frank. And Gnarls Barkley did something similarly body-horror-y in the clip for “Gone Daddy Gone,” where we’re expected to sympathize with insects and dust mites (I don’t think this is nearly as much of an accomplishment as the others, but the colors are fun, as is the inversion of the annoyingly perfect housewife trope):
I don’t know if that’s something that comes from Danger Mouse, though the video for Broken Bells’ “The Ghost Inside” derives a lot of its power from forcing us to watch Christina Hendricks dismantle her own body:
Obviously, much credit is due to the directors of all of these videos. But it’s still really impressive to see how hot Gnarls Barkley’s streak was there for a while.