“Maybe the words I say is just another way to pray”

           - Curtis Mayfield
Words On Spike Jonze

Words On Spike Jonze

Spike Jonze has had enough “careers” for three lifetimes. As a director he’s excelled in just about everything he does, starting with skate videos and eventually ending up as an Academy Award winner. In between projects executive producing Jackass and making films with Meryl Streep, Jonze has become a truly legendary music video director.

Jonze’s trained eye for biking and skating helped him become a premier photographer in the industry. When he started making skate videos, it only helped to raise his profile. The rock band Sonic Youth saw one of these skate tapes and wanted to include skating in an upcoming video.  Serendipitously enough, they called Jonze and he got his first gig on the set of a music video.

Within a few short years, Jonze was a top music video director, working with artists from The Beastie Boys to R.E.M. to Daft Punk. Although less often, Jonze still works with musical acts, as he was instrumental in filming Frank Ocean’s festival tour last summer. He also recently worked with Anderson .Paak and FKA Twigs on a music video/commercial for the Apple Homepod, crafting one of the more imaginative ads in recent memory.

 Jonze editing a video in 1992, with Andy Jenkins. 

Jonze editing a video in 1992, with Andy Jenkins. 

In his trademark incredibly inventive style, here are five of his best music videos.

"Drop"

The Pharcyde were always weird. They were one of the best West Coast alternative hip-hop groups, standing out in an era of gangsta rap. 1995's Labcabincalifornia is chock full of great early J Dilla production and mind-bending rhymes, so the videos had much to live up to. Whether they heard of Jonze through his past work or through the California skate scene, they enlisted him for the music video for their lead single for the album, called "Drop". 

The song itself is a gem with spacious production by Jay Dee, and Jonze produced a masterful video that captured the off-kilter Los Angeles rap quartet. According to Jonze, Dilla's use of a reversed sample inspired the concept for the video.

Filmed entirely backward, the video was an arduous task made to seem effortless by final cut. Thankfully they had the foresight to film a "making of" video, so we can look at a young Spike at work.

"It's Oh So Quiet"

Björk's Post was her sophomore solo project, when she stretched past the Icelandic childhood stardom and her past bands, blowing up internationally. Although widely known for her art-pop and electronic based music, Björk is an avid jazz fan. "It's Oh So Quiet" is actually a cover of a German song called "Und Jetzt ist es still" by Horst Winter and Hans Lang from 1948. The version Björk took inspiration from was by American actress and singer Betty Hutton, released in 1951 as a show tune.

Björk took the song and faithfully covered it, while still adding some of her distinct shrieks. The video also pays homage to Hollywood's Golden Era, when Hutton was at her peak. Chock full of dance breaks, slow-motion sequences, and good 'ol movie magic (like the ending crane shot), Jonze helped Björk recreate the mood for the classic.

"Undone (Sweater Song)"

The most popular Jonze/Weezer collaboration is definitely "Buddy Holly", but Happy Days means absolutely nothing to me...and I like this song more. 

According to his interview with The Nine Club, Jonze met Weezer through a friend of a friend, and the bassist Matt Sharp liked his videos. Rivers Cuomo wasn't excited about any of the concepts the label was giving them for videos, so when Sharp talked up Jonze's work Cuomo paid close attention.

Jonze was directed to make something that felt like the album cover, and in conversation with the group, he suggested this idea in passing. Weeks later when Cuomo called to ask him to make the original idea come to life he didn't even remember the concept. 

The video, all done in a single shot, seems to thoroughly sum up Weezer's nonchalance and playfulness, even when dealing with darker subject matter. The dogs were a great touch, but whoever told Pat Wilson (the drummer) to pull out the air drum fills is a bonafide genius.  

"What's Up Fatlip"

The Pharcyde, for as good as they were, didn't last with four members very long. After Labcabincalifornia one of the members, Fatlip, left the group because of issues with the other MCs. The following years weren't too kind, as he struggled with substance abuse issues. The pressure of trying to reach the same heights as he did with the Pharcyde seemed to weigh heavily on Fatlip.

"What's Up Fatlip" addresses how it feels to fall off, and the absurd aftermath of fame. Jonze's video for the song succinctly sums up the humiliation of being someone who used to be somebody. Fatlip is seen as a clown, a drunk, and a grown man getting bullied by small children, more or less a dweeb. While filming the music video Jonze also filmed a documentary about  Fatlip's plight.

It's definitely a glaringly honest look at the "forgotten ones" of rap.

"Otis"

One of the main sources of magic from the Watch The Throne era was just the joy that Kanye and Jay actually did it. They really made a whole album together, and it was actually really good. Everything about the project felt like a celebration, so the Otis video kept running with the feeling.

In his classic slow-motion style, Jonze captures the two rap titans as jubilant as they've ever been. For all the jokes about Kanye never smiling, it seems as if he's having a blast here. With so many GIF-able moments, this video captures the joy of being on top and knowing it too.  


Honorable Mention: HomePod BTS video

This is a worthy inclusion just because of how well the team Jonze brought together executed the concept. There are a lot less special effects than one might assume, showcasing Jonze's meticulous eye for detail and the beauty of collaboration. 

Thanks to Frank Ocean, we know his work with music isn't done, so we'll have to wait and see what's next from the legendary director.

Intangible Radio: Episode 6

Intangible Radio: Episode 6

Week 10

Week 10