Thriller is the greatest music video of all time. The Beastie Boys’ Sabotage comes a close second (followed by everything else directed by Spike Jonze), but Thriller is number one. And why shouldn’t it be? It has zombies dancing in unison for Christ’s sake; IN UNISON! Did you think of that?
The first time I saw Thriller I was scared shitless. That’s not surprising as I was 10 years old and scared of most things, including (but not limited to): trains; yoghurt; the colour orange; failure. I didn’t sleep for a week after watching Michael Jackson (who I subsequently discovered was the same as “White Michael Jackson” with whom I was familiar in 1992) turn into a zombie and perform a spectacular dance routine with his zombie counterparts in unison. IN UNISON!!! But something about that music video stuck with me; I’d never seen anything like it before. I need not reference the dancing zombies for a third time, but this video told a story, introduced us to characters, took us on a journey. It was the first “short film” I had ever seen, and it had ZOMBIES DANCING IN F***ING UNISON!!! Sorry.
There were two very distinct yet interconnected reasons why Thriller worked so well and why it had such a profound impact on its audience:
1. It was made in 1982
2. It was made by Michael Jackson.
No era represented “excess” and “indulgence” more than the 80’s. From the hair, to the clothes, and back to the hair, the 80s were utterly ridiculous; had everyone not been on cocaine the whole time they would have realised how stupid they all looked! And no musical artist summed up the true essence of 80’s excess more than Michael Jackson…well, except maybe Mötley Crüe. MJ may have been a drug-addicted child-molester, but he was also a musical genius; when he did something, he did it perfectly, and he did it big. Really “big”. Giant-gold-plated-statue-of-himself “big”. He was the perfect manifestation of everything that was happening around him, but he had the balls (or whatever he had down there) to push it to the limit. Thriller was exactly what 1982 needed, and has remained contextually relevant for that reason.
HOWEVER, whilst Thriller is clearly the greatest music video of all time, it also killed the very medium it revolutionised. Allow me to explain…
The pop music of today sucks. Not all of it, but most of it. I sometimes question whether any art form can truly be appreciated at the time of its creation, or maybe we’ll all look back in 20 years time and realise that Will.i.am was actually a genius? And then I stop sniffing glue.
No, the majority of today’s popular artists lack inspiration, creativity, and most of all, talent; they’re not even manufactured like they were in the 90s, they’re just boring. I find it difficult to distinguish between songs on the radio, and am bewildered that people consensually pay real currency to watch a DJ press play on his iPod and fist pump for 4 hours.
But this I can handle, because there are still a handful of artists who remain fresh, original and refuse to work with David “Get a haircut, you’re like 40 years-old” Guetta. What I CAN’T handle and have difficulty stomaching are the music videos of today. It seems that every second video played on Channel V / VH1 (not MTV) is an 18 minute art-house epic with dramatic sequences and monologues interspersed throughout, incessantly interrupting the (albeit awful) music; it pains me to admit this, but Thriller is to blame.
Like me, the popstars of today grew up listening to Michael Jackson (although I’m pretty sure Selena Gomez was born in 2007); they studied his moves and dreamed of one day achieving his level of fame and influence. Whilst Justin Beiber, Usher and Chris “worst human being ever” Brown have LITERALLY tried to become Michael Jackson, the rest have merely adopted his methods. The problem is, Michael Jackson was brilliant, and Miley Cyrus is not. Thriller was a brilliant song, and #LIVEITUP feat. Pitbull is not. What the artists of today don’t seem to understand is that to make a bombastic, indulgent, over-the-top film clip with MOTHER F***ING ZOMBIES DANCING IN MOTHER F***ING UNISON, you need to possess the artistic street-cred to warrant a pushing (or in MJ’s case, annihilating) of the boundaries of pop culture. Today’s hip-hop-electro-dub-step-doof-doof-eeeh-aaah-oooooooh crossovers need to take the advice my dad gave me following my first stand-up comedy performance –”work on your material”. They should remove their heads from Hype Williams’ anus (along with his own) and focus on making music that doesn’t sound like a bunch of cats carrying out a suicide pact. I want to resent being made to listen to Taylor Swift without interruption… is that so much to ask?
Whether these wannabes accept it or not, History cannot repeat itself.