When Realness Fails
n what will hopefully be regular feature on Stylus (as long as that dude who filmed Reginald Denny getting beaten from a helicopter doesn’t get his way), we present our stash of YouTube clips worth watching. Or not worth watching. Or worth watching because they’re not worth watching. You get the point. On with the show…
Imagination – Just An Illusion
Hello there. On today’s YT/IT/WT, we look at the theme of the pop video as a medium for the telling of gigantic stinking FIBS. “Just An Illusion” seems like a decent enough place to start, given its lyrics:
Touching many hearts along the way
Hoping I won’t have to hear them say
It’s just an illusion…
B*Witched – C’est La Vie
In terms of British pop, I can’t really think of a video to which the idea of it all being just an illusion applies more than “C’est La Vie”. In many ways, this might well have been the last true manufactured bubblegum pop #1 in Britain. You could argue for Steps and S Club being squeaky-clean and so on, but there was always a touch of something else to them—Steps knew their naffness all too well, and S Club traded fairly heavily on the lad-mag dollar. B*Witched really were four hugely interchangeable Irish girls who made pop records for the kids, and that was pretty much it.
Look at how they’re dressed here—jeans and denim jackets with t-shirts, showing no flesh whatsoever. The dance routine involves them wobbling about a lot in a St Vitus-tastic kind of way, with a token spot of Irish dancing lobbed in for the grandparents. Every time I see this video, it strikes me that this couldn’t happen now—or at least, it couldn’t succeed to the extent that it did back in 1998, when their first four singles went straight to number one. It’s almost as though “C’est La Vie” was a kind of watershed point, as though it was decided that pop music had become too plastic—B*Witched were almost entirely front and nothing else, a big, shiny construction with nothing behind them. They were fake, and it was decided that we were disgusted.
Bryan McFadden – Real to Me
So what happened next? Well, we got real. And none got more real than Bryan McFadden, former member of B*Witched’s stablemates Westlife. He quit them in 2004 on grounds of Insufficient Realness, and then released a solo single about it, which got to #1. The video illustrates fakeness and realness very clearly indeed. Fakeness includes being clean-shaven and the wearing of sunglasses, a suit, and a leather flat-cap, as well as being photographed by Filthy Paparazzi Scum. Realness consists of not shaving, wearing a parka, and smashing a vase of flowers. As grand declarations of artistic and personal liberty go, it’s a bloody boring one, but probably worth watching just for the bit where Bryan lists the things that are real to him.
Westlife – Ain’t That a Kick in the Head
The group that Bryan left behind pretty much carried on steamrolling the charts in a spectacularly joyous fashion, as they are generally wont to do. Westlife, like B*Witched, are a group without sex appeal, without irony—without any evident sense of humour at all, really. What they do is release slushy, identikit ballads that their massive fanbase propel to number one. They then release albums full of said ballads, and these albums also go to number one.
They’ve deviated from that pattern once—this, a Dean Martin cover taken from Allow Us to Be Frank, their album of Rat Pack covers. Marvel at the care with which they recreate the Las Vegas atmosphere—right down to there being absolutely no smoking in the auditorium—and successfully boil down the Rat Pack aesthetic until all that’s left is some intensely punchable tossers pretend-staggering about with their top two shirt buttons undone, swigging a beverage that is meant to look like champagne but is probably Appletise. B*Witched were genuinely quite fun and entertaining. Westlife never even pretended at it.
Ronan Keating – If Tomorrow Never Comes
Just because I feel it squares the circle nicely, here’s Westlife and B*Witched’s fellow Louis Walsh discovery, Ronan Keating. This particular video has been chosen because it features Ronan Keating being repeatedly run over by a car, or rather falling over in front of car, in slow motion, while looking into the camera and singing. I don’t know if it ties in or what… let’s pretend it does, eh?
Marc Almond & Gene Pitney – Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart
Anyway—counterpoint to all the above is this wonderful, wonderful piece of work. Marc Almond, clad in leather jacket and skintight jeans, and Gene Pitney, in white tuxedo and red cummerbund, stalk about the scenery on Sunset Strip, because Las Vegas is a wonderland where magic happens and dreams come true thirty times a second—yes, I know, but here it actually happens, or at least it seems to.
This video takes image and delights in it—everything is doused in artificial light, Almond struts beneath a flashbulb-lit awning as Pitney’s limousine snakes around, through the backstreets and gutters, past the casinos and theatres till it reaches the red carpet. Almond perches behind one of the casino signs and casts gold dust onto a showgirl from above, with this incredible smile on his face, nodding: “I’ve got to know if this is the real thing…” Does he know it isn’t? Probably. But that’s not an ironic nod, or a mocking one—it’s one that can see the glitz and glamour and is in awe of the beauty.
And then it cuts to Pitney on a stage somewhere: “I’ve got to know what’s making my heart sing, whoa-ho-oh, yeah-eh-eh-ea-ah…” And that last trembling yeah is delivered with a smile that’s almost grudging, but just because the joy’s almost too much to bear—he hadn’t had a proper hit in about fifteen years, but here he was, bellowing his heart out, back on top… and then he flings his arms out and starts doing a kind of airplane dance.
An illusion? Well, given that the streets of LA appear to be deserted for the entirety of this video, probably, and it’s not as though either Pitney or Almond would ever be headlining Caesar’s Palace. But the dream is real, and Almond and Pitney take advantage—they don’t have to let the viewer know that it’s fake, there doesn’t have to be some nagging cunt in a parka hitting an acoustic guitar, because for the duration of the video Las Vegas is the most beautiful place on Earth, everything can be taken at face value, and when the Stardust sign sparkles at the end…
The Delgados – American Trilogy
So what have we learned? Well… dunno. Here’s The Best Delgados video ever, anyhow. It features Alun Woodward being stretchered away from a velodrome while some man-size teddy bears laugh at him, and Emma Pollock smiles. Enjoy the illusions, kids…