Wednesday, November 18, 2009

RAISED ON VIDEO, PART 1

I started to compile a list of my all-time favorite videos, and then I thought: Too soon. I'm still recovering from counting down my favorite singles of the '00s, so instead I'll post regular individual tributes to videos I have loved over the years. First up, "Still A Thrill," by Jody Watley. Remember how huge she was supposed to be after she released her self-titled solo debut in 1987? So major that she won the Best New Artist Grammy in 1988, despite having spent seven years as a member of the hit-making R&B trio Shalamar.

Jody was the most exciting black female solo singer to come along since Janet Jackson. And the innovation and high quality of her early videos -- from "Looking For A New Love" to "Real Love," which was directed by an upstart director named David Fincher and was nominated for seven 1989 MTV VMAs, to "Friends" -- made her a sort of black Madonna.

Like the Material Girl, she was a uniquely beautiful star who loved to play dress up. Both incorporated dance in their videos without turning them into generic group dance-offs a la Michael and Janet Jackson and, later, Britney Spears and her fellow former Mickey Mouse club costars. And unlike Lady Gaga and even, at times, Madonna herself, you never saw the strain of effort in Jody's videos. If she was trying too hard, she never let you see her sweat. I'm not sure what happened with her once-so-promising career, but somewhere along the way -- I'd say about halfway through her third solo album, 1991's Affairs Of The Heart (her peek-a-boo power suit on the cover suggested a battle of creative sensibilities) -- she lost her edge.

The "Still A Thrill" video was the high point of Jody's days of thunder, ahead of its time, or more accurately, out of its time. Yes, the fashion, even the dancing, is very much of the late 1980s. But the black and white cinematography, the Vogue-ready art direction, the gorgeous baroque mansion, the minimalism of it all is simultaneously of a more classic era and one that had yet to come. I love the use of shadows, the dances a deux, the way the black and white turns to color in the final frame. It's all so classy, so very European. And it doesn't hurt that the song is beyond fantastic.

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