Throughout the month, we’ll highlight music videos that tread into darker territory, sometimes unexpectedly. Perhaps needless to say…assume that they are all NSFW. See part 1.
The kids are not alright: The “creepy kid” as a horror trope is common, but rarely well done. This selection of videos features children prominently—and not as a cheery picture of innocence.
Spoek Mathambo – “Control,” directed by Pieter Hugo and Michael Cleary
This cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” is done in a style that artist Spoek Mathambo calls “darkwave township house.” It could have easily been paired with a jarring vision of one’s person instability, but that would be too on the nose. Instead, Pieter Hugo and Michael Cleary worked with Mathambo to make the issue of control and its loss about entire populations—how they are ruled and represented. All involved artists are from South Africa, where apartheid (and post-apartheid) politics give the high-contrast black and white-photography a base political charge. Throw in ritualistic hair-shearing, street gang hazing and mayhem, stark white costuming and the smearing of skin with white paint and powder, all in the midst of an industrial ruin, and you have an arresting video that punches back at fictions of race, class and the entire continent of Africa. It’s a loaded work, and its unsettled images drive home a more unsettling, vital critique of how we view and discuss one another.
Sigur Rós – “(Untitled)” AKA “Vaka,” directed by Floria Sigismondi
Move from the pounding bass of Mathambo to the lilting orchestration of Sigur Rós—but even with a change of tune, the kids aren’t getting off easy. Most of Sigur Rós’ dream-like videos fixate on youth, and a lot of them end with some sort of trauma or transformation. In this video directed by Floria Sigismondi, there is an oppressive air from the start—and then the kids are fitted with gas masks and set free into an ashen wasteland. Their antics and roughhousing are undiminished by the apparent apocalypse (and poisonous air), until recess ends with tragedy. It’s not unexpected; the world already seems doomed in the video, and music just a lullaby before extinction. How…sweet?
MGMT – “Kids,” directed by Ray Tintori
Is this song overplayed? Yes. Apt for this list? Definitely. The sound of MGMT walks a line between catchy rock and twee pop—an inherently youthful sound that has inspired plenty of youthful videos to match, often with surreal aspects. In terms of tormented children, though, they will probably never top “Kids,” which seems to draw genuine terror from its pint-sized star: a baby who sees a monster in everything but mama. Even in the final moments of the animated end of the video, the benign visage of lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden (seen earlier in the video with the whole band, soothing the child) erupts into a mass of monstrous parts that devour the child whole. Paired with a somewhat pan-handed quote from Mark Twain at the very start of the video, I guess the lesson is: Don’t trust anyone over twenty.
Aphex Twin – “Come to Daddy,” directed by Chris Cunningham
For this list, I tried to stick with songs whose lyrics didn’t have overt horror elements, which disqualifies “Come to Daddy,” even though as horrific music videos go, its rather the granddaddy of them all. The real horror for Richard D James (AKA Aphex Twin) was that the song was actually written as a joke, a send-up of bad metal so prevalent on airwaves at the time—but it got picked up and became a hit all the same. Director Chris Cunningham and James have many collaborations, often superimposing James’ wicked grin on other bodies. (For the most hilarious version of this, see the cinematic wonder of “Windowlicker,” a parody of Gangsta Rap by James.) “Come to Daddy” puts the musician’s face on a horde of unruly children led by an emaciated demon. It’s absolutely darling, really.
(On a final note, Chris Cunningham’s video for “Come On My Selector” by Squarepusher might have made the list for its use of disturbed children, but the song is too much broken up by goings-on of the video. It’s campy and slapstick, and it has a cute dog, so if that appeals, check it out.)