Madonna featuring Massive Attack, “I Want You” (Earle Sebastian)
The video for her cover of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” finds Madonna immersed in civil rights-era black culture. The black-and-white clip’s backdrop is a 1960s hotel room, in which a seemingly tortured Madonna waits impatiently for a phone call. A photograph of Muhammad Ali hangs on the wall; the spine of a hardcover book reads “NEGRO.” In what might be one of her most restrained performances, Madonna removes her fake eyelashes, listlessly tidies up the room and then rummages through her dresser and frantically tries on different clothes like a junkie bidding for some semblance of control. All the while, she waits for the phone to ring. There are subtle implications that she’s waiting for more than just a scorned lover. But like all things Madonna, the video’s dualities are far less important than her final message of liberation: The call finally comes and she hangs up the receiver.
Radiohead, “Karma Police” (Jonathan Glazer)
Before Jonathan Glazer made the successful transition from music videos to feature films, he was directing commercials for Levi’s, Volkswagen, and Nike. The London native has also produced some of the more cinematic videos to hit the MTV airwaves. Though his clip for Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity” won the 1997 Video Music Award for Video of the Year, it is his work for Radiohead and U.N.K.L.E. that remains his most daring. Glazer claims that his video for Radiohead’s “Karma Police” was inspired by a bad dream. In this creepy revenge clip, a car slowly follows a man running down a desolate road. When the man turns to face his potential killer, the car pulls back only to reveal a gas leakage in its wake. Glazer’s remarkable use of point of view implicates the spectator in the clip’s action but it’s the spooky way with which he fashions a Möbius strip from karmic irony that makes “Karma Police” one of the more memorable clips of the last few years.
Annie Lennox, “Why” (Sophie Muller)
In 1992, Annie Lennox emerged with her first post-Eurythmics solo effort, “Why.” The no-frills video presented the image-driven diva simply and delicately, echoing the solemn sentiments of the song and building gradually with it. Bereft, Lennox sits before a mirror and seemingly contemplates the complexities of life and love with aching sincerity. Like a painter, she slowly applies her makeup and redesigns herself as a diva one brush-stroke at a time. Directed by longtime associate Sophie Muller, the clip strikes an arresting balance between the feminine and powerful.
k.d. lang, “Constant Craving” (Mark Romanek)
In this luxurious, deeply personal black-and-white carnivalesque clip for k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving,” Mark Romanek subtly yet hauntingly evokes the complex relationship between genuine human emotion and performance art. Romanek seemingly indicts an audience for enjoying a series of circus acts without proper regard for the humanity of the show’s performers. Without ever garnering true sympathy or understanding from the crowd, the actors stand onstage advertising their big emotions like grotesque drama masks.
Nine Inch Nails, “The Perfect Drug” (Mark Romanek)
Mark Romanek’s million-dollar video for the Nine Inch Nails song “The Perfect Drug” is inspired in part by the late Edward Gorey’s macabre illustrations. Previously, Gorey’s drawings had informed the opening title sequence and stage sets of PBS’s famed “Mystery!” series. Though critics have scoured for deep meaning within his works, Gorey always distanced himself from such scrutiny. (Curiously, Gorey titled one of his collections Amphigorey, a play on the word amphigory, meaning a nonsense verb or composition.) True to its inspiration, Romanek’s breathtaking video is not unlike a collection of gothic tableaus. The titular drug here is both Trent Reznor’s love for his dead girlfriend and the absinthe he drinks to drown out her memory. His struggle invites endless comparisons to other gothic figureheads who turned to drugs in times of crisis: Rimbaud, Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent Van Gogh and Jack the Ripper investigator Frederick Abberline (immortalized in the graphic novel From Hell and played in the Hughes Brothers film by none other than director Tim Burton’s favorite thespian, Mr. Johnny Depp).