The art of making something cool: OK Go's favorite music videos
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OK Go is still cranking out music videos like they're going out of style. Which, thanks to OK Go, they most certainly are not. In a time without a central hub for video-watching (a "music television," if you will), the band's innovative clips still manage to crack the mainstream consciousness on a regular basis. Which got us thinking: Since OK Go is so dang good at making videos, which videos make the band feel all warm and fuzzy? Prior to the band's appearance at Rock The Garden on Saturday, The A.V. Club asked bassist Tim Nordwind to choose some all-time favorites.
Firekites, “Autumn Story” (Chalk animation directed by Lucinda Schreiber and Yanni Kronenberg)
The A.V. Club: This is a surprising way to start the list, just because it seems a little emo for you guys.
Tim Nordwind: [Laughs] Well, it’s a great example of a video that is just about the video. I just love it on pure aesthetics; it’s beautiful, and it was one of those projects that was made for the art of making something cool. Ever since the '80s especially, labels and people have been making videos as advertisements. For OK Go, [the video] is part of the art that we make. That incredibly detailed process reminded me a lot of how we make our videos. Apparently it took them six months to make.
AVC: Kind of like your Rube Goldberg video for "This Too Shall Pass."
TN: Yeah. For that, there were two straight months of fiddling with a whiteboard drawing of different machines we could make. We had a group of 12 engineers and scientists, people shouting out ideas, writing things down, trying things out. It took 89 takes, and we only got to the end of the video three times. The challenge in ours was not just the Rube Goldberg, but also to sync it with the video, and on top of that, it had to look like something your mother could make if your mother had a lot of time and was crazy enough. So there’s a lot of attention to detail while having the big picture.
Vitalic, "Birds" (directed by Pleix and Vitalic)
AVC: You like dogs, don’t you?
TN: We’re definitely all dog lovers. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so smiley while watching a video. It’s funny to me that it’s called "Birds" and it’s a bunch of dogs—the inside joke there is funny enough. And the camerawork is stunning. It’s absolutely gorgeous to watch this dog fly up in slow motion—you get such a detailed look at what these dogs are going through: part wonderment, part fear, and a little bit of excitement, all at once. You’re right there, every step of the way. I think it’s a good example of how a simple, good idea is often more fun to watch than quick cuts and girls in bikinis. It’s pure joy. And it’s fucking dogs.
The Jacksons, "Blame It On The Boogie"
AVC: This one is reminiscent of an OK Go video.
TN: Yeah, the "Blame It On The Boogie" video is very similar to [our video] "WTF." I had forgotten about that song, but of course I like it, and when someone showed us the similarities between it and "WTF," it became that much more special to me. It’s such a great song, and a simple concept that he pulls off really well. It’s always fun to watch him perform, and when there’s not a lot going on otherwise, it makes it that much more cool.
Fortknight Productions, "How To Make A Beat"
AVC: Another simple concept that goes a long way.
TN: The first time I saw this was at a short-film festival that our video "A Million Ways" was in. I was tickled by it. So many people have done puppets, but to see this thugged-out B-boy puppet who has a basic beat, there’s something incredibly charming about that. It wouldn’t have been charming if it were a real person in there, but since it’s a like a sock-puppety thug... And I like a music video that’s fun for adults and kids. This video has that universal, fun appeal, and it’s actually showing you how to do something. That is how you make a very simple beat. It’s educational entertainment.
AVC: Edutainment. And speaking of puppets...
The Muppets, "Stand By Me"
TN: The Muppets are making a comeback these days, and that video is part of the new Muppet campaign, I think. It’s so macabre and scary: This super-freaky Muppet eating a bunch of rabbit Muppets. ... There’s that funny play between the violence and the sweetness of the song, which the Muppets do really well.
AVC: You’re a fan.
TN: I’m a huge Muppet fan. We covered a Muppet song, actually, for a Muppet album coming out next year. They really haven’t lost their touch at all. They have a wicked sense of humor, but it’s always buffered by the fact that there are cute puppets delivering the wicked humor. I thought this video was sort of the epitome of that Muppet formula.
Major Lazer, "Pon De Floor" (directed by Eric Wareheim)
AVC: What is it about Eric Wareheim that makes him such a popular video director these days?
TN: He’s definitely pinned down a very specific aesthetic: like Candyland, only with these hyper-sexualized dancers pulling off these crazy moves. For our video "WTF," we played with green screen for the first time, with all these super colorful sets and clothes. After the shoot, a friend sent a link to the Major Lazer video, like, “I thought you’d want to see this.” I was floored. Just the chaos and colorful energy, going fucking balls-out. Like, “We’re gonna do a green screen, and everything’s gonna look super-crazy off the charts, and you’re all gonna dance like you’re fucking. That’s all you can ask in a video.
AVC: It would be interesting to see how Wareheim directs. Like, “Now you play her ass cheeks like turntables.”
TN: Oh, I think that he’s really serious when he directs. In order for it to work, he has to take it very seriously. The stuff he’s making isn’t a joke.
Eduard Khil, "Trololo"
TN: He takes himself really seriously. I think that’s what I’m drawn to. There’s no irony. From an outsider’s perspective, the look and feel is chintzy, and the song is just this weird, folkie, Russian pop song from the '70s or something. And it’s a full-on performance—there aren’t any cuts or anything. I have props for him. It is kind of the same thing I like about our videos. We set up treadmills, and we take that seriously. When we’re in it, we think about it as the raddest thing you can do on treadmills. It’s about just going for it.
Björk, "It's Oh So Quiet" (directed by Spike Jonze)
AVC: So OK Go likes that Björk video where they dance around like they're in a musical. Makes sense.
TN: I’m a fan of musical theater, which makes a lot of people hate me, but this video is a fantastic homage to musical theater and Busby Berkley films—that style of filmmaking. And as far as Björk is concerned, I had never really seen her let her hair down like that. Everything else I had seen of hers is a lot more serious and avant, and this is the perfect song to be playful with. It feels good to see her respect that and come up with something special.
AVC: Do you feel like that’s what making a music video should be about? Bringing out the “special” in good tracks?
TN: Actually, no. For us, we come up with the concept first and then figure out what would be the best soundtrack. When videos are at their best, you’re adding a whole new dimension to the song, where the video and the song give life to each other in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise have. That’s what good video making is about: upping the experience, visually and sonically. Rock-n-roll has always had a visual element: Elvis Presley with his hips, Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire. That doesn’t mean Hendrix wasn’t the best guitar player in the world, because he was, but that visual element gives a new notion of what you’re interested in expressing. That’s what it’s about for us.