EXPLORING 10 GREAT CITIES THROUGH ICONIC MUSIC VIDEOS
Generally clocking in between three and five minutes, a good music video is a wonderful little escape from wherever we’re sitting. Many videos just feature bouncing cars, bouncing women and sleeveless drummers. However, some take us on fun journeys around the world. Let’s take a look:
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA:
Solange, Losing You (2012)
The city as fashion. Inspired by the colors and textures of Cape Town’s townships, Solange and her video-friends are looking like beautiful curtains while bouncing around at the pool, the tailor, a barbershop and other ramshackle Cape Town locales. They explore local transportation in a taxi van and from atop the handlebars of a bicycle. Looks fun, eh?
The video was filmed around the neighborhood of Langa in Cape Town. Langa was established in the 1920s as a designated black African community and is today both poverty-stricken and colorful, as seen in the video.
best moment: 4:02, when the camera pans from the fashionable fantasy to the “real” neighborhood residents in normal everyday clothes, staring curiously at the dancing American
In Cape Town, I can see the DNA of another great city….
NEW ORLEANS, USA:
Juvenile, Ha (1998)
A portrait of New Orleans that tourists rarely see, Juvenile raps about daily life in the city’s worst housing project. The video is Jim Jarmusch by the way of Martin Scorcese. The song may be inaccesible and abrasive, but the video is a piece of art and a valuable preservation of life in a ghetto that is currently being demolished and redeveloped.
The video was filmed in the anything-but-flowery Magnolia Housing Projects in Uptown New Orleans, just a few blocks north of graceful oak-lined St. Charles Avenue and just two miles west of downtown New Orleans. The Magnolia Housing Projects (now renamed Harmony Oaks) has long been one of the America’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Juvenile grew up here, surrounded by gangs, drugs and the occasional visit from paramedics and the NOPD.
memorable moment: 1:03, when Juvenile is rapping in front of a painting by playful New Orleans sign painter Lester Carey. Carey’s warm paintings are seen throughout New Orleans colorful walls. In fact, I believe he was flown over to Cape Town to work on the Solange video (see above)
You can see a collection of Carey’s art here:
(thanks to Paul Sims for recollecting this one)
The Verve, Bittersweet Symphony (1997)
“I Can’t Change” is the theme here. Singing the blues, Richard Ashcroft reminds us that we come into this world on our own and we leave on our own. Charging against the futility of modern life, he seems to be trying to awaken people as they walk through their daily routine, by knocking them off their path and pissing them off. Venerable London politeness is put to the test here. But hell, if you write a song this affirming, you have my permission to knock me over on any street in any city.
The video was filmed in London, on Hoxton Street, in the borough of Hackney, which is just north of the financial district. The Golden Fried Chicken restaurant where Richard begins his procession is still there, but now called Hoxton Chicken and Pizza (who ever said England has bad food?): on the corner of Hoxton Street and Falkirk Street. Go knock someone over.
best moment: 1:04
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA:
Duran Duran, Hungry like the Wolf (1991)
The video that finally helped Duran Duran break into the US market. It was filmed in the capital of Colombo and the surrounding jungles.
best moment: 0:40, Simon le Bon, hepped up on Ceylon, flips over the table for no good reason
The Smiths, Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before (1987)
Like Solange just taught us, exploring cities in from inside cars is boring.
Today’s tour guide will be Morrissey, along with his virgin harem of lookalikes. For this appropriately gray video, Morrissey employed ten teens and ten bicycles, giving a group of puny, see-through Mancurians their first-ever physical activity (of any kind). None of the cast was harmed by the sun during the filming of this video.
Can you spot the real Morrissey? (hint: he’s the most reluctantly satisfied by all of this)
The video was filmed in the derelect Ordsall area of Manchester and heavily features The Salford Lads Club (a boys recreational sporting club for boys) and the Albert Finney Pub (apparently a now-defunct betting house).
best moment: 1:12, when Morrissey so coolly adjust his UK National Health Service glasses
YOUR HOUSE, YOU:
Arcade Fire, We Used to Wait (2010)
Arcade Fire approached this video from an interactive new angle, allowing you as the viewer to type in your home address so that the video floats above your very own home. Watching it affirms that you do, in fact, occupy at least small place in this big world and that there are birds flying above, for some reason or other.
take the ride here: http://thewildernessdowntown.com/
best moment: you, naked, collecting your mail
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC:
INXS, Never Tear Us Apart (1987)
The magical beauty of Europe’s most cherished eastern capital, Prague, competes with the mystical beauty of Austrailian curly hair. The wintery seriousness of the cityscape complements the devotion of the song’s lyrics. I always liked this one.
The majority of the scenes take place on the Charles Bridge (finished back in the year 1402. damn), crossing the Vltava River in the heart of the city. The opening sequence with the string quartet (when Michael Hutchence appears) was filmed on the island of Strelecky Ostrov, south of the Charles Bridge. The video ends in the Old Town Square looking up towards the old Astronomical clock.
best moment: 2:17, when Michael Hutchence nearly has a collision with a tree
SAN FRANCISCO, USA:
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Zero (2008)
This is the San Francisco my friends and I know so well. We begin the evening at The Warfield (seen so many amazing shows here), on up prowling the streets hungry and buzzed after the bars close. The only things open are corner stores, pizza joints and strip clubs. Our socks are wet, but we don’t have to work tomorrow. The mood is good.
The video begins at The Warfield Theater in The Tenderloin district (Market Street and Taylor Streets), then moves to a nearby alley (which?), and onto the twinkling strip clubs and busy pizza shops on Columbus Avenue in North Beach. Then, we’re jumping on a car (I’m not sure whose) in the Fillmore District. From there, onto Chinatown, truly a strange place late in the evening. Next we’re in the Stockton Street Tunnel under Nob Hill. Finally, we end our evening at the Cool Super Discount store @ 199 Eddy Street in the Financial District. Have I ruined the video for you?
best moment: 2:30, Karen O startling two Chinese ladies (no Chinese ladies were harmed during filming)
(another thanks to Paul Sims for suggesting this one)
NEW YORK CITY, USA:
Grandmaster Caz, South Bronx Subway Rap (1983)
The world’s root of hip hop culture, The Bronx was just beginning to change popular culture worldwide when this video was made. At the time, “The Bronx was burning”, but Caz put a good spin on it- showcasing smiles and some lighthearted goofing around.
A great look here at the graffiti-clad subway cars that were ubiquitous in the 1970s and early 1980s. At the time, signage and directions were often completely covered by graffiti, making any trip on the subway a confusing one. By the 1990s, the cars were clean of graffiti.
best moment: 0:52, when you get a good picture of New York City at its most difficult time
Bruce Springsteen, Streets of Philadelphia (1991)
Although shots of the iconic Liberty Bell and City Hall landmarks are peppered into the video, the bulk of the footage shows the “real” Philadelphia: streets of struggling, working class faces, boarded up shopfronts and encouraging graffiti. My favorite feature of the video is the live sound snippets of the city streets, along with Homeless Springsteen’s real singing (he had a microphone in his coat as he walked).
The vacant lots and empty buildings are mostly filmed in the Northern Liberties neighborhood. The Kensington neighborhood is also heavily featured in the video.
The “SOUTH PHILLY DON’T BELIEVE THE PIPE” mural seen at 1:35 is still located at Sacks Playground @ 4th and Washington. Springsteen would later donate $45,000 towards improvements of the park.
The video ends appropriately in Springsteen’s home state of New Jersey, the city’s skyline twinkling from across the Delaware River.
best moment: 2:39, when the camera looms on the Philadelphia skyline and the homeless in the foreground