[show=literalmusicvideos size=large]Sometimes, the figurative language used in songs is lost on me. It was many years, for example, before I learned that Hey Mr. Tambourine Man was about a drug dealer, and that Ben Folds Five’s Brick was about an abortion. Sometimes I need things spelled out to me slowly and carefully, using subtitles whenever possible. And I don’t think I’m the only one, either. How else to explain the success of Literal Music Videos?
Well, they are pretty hilarious. Created by Dustin McLean of Dust Films, each installment of the series takes a popular music video, swaps out the soundtrack with the karaoke version, and then rewrites the song to precisely relay the action on screen. So far, McLean has literal-ized Take On Me by a-Ha, Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Head Over Heels by Tears for Fears; the newest, just released today, is Billy Idol’s White Wedding, which describes the wedding in the video as a goth wedding, before reminding Idol that he needs to touch up his roots.
When CollegeHumor played with this concept in Metaphor-Free Radio, they were only able to make the joke sustain for a few seconds per tune. But McLean’s approach is able to endure over the course of an entire song because the ultimate intent is to satirize music video conventions, not explain to dummies like me that White Wedding is actually not about a wedding that is white. You would think that the format would only work when mocking the over-the-top antics of ’80s tunes, but it turns out that music videos are of all eras have some ridiculous elements — Under the Bridge is full of iconic ’90s touches that are just as mockable.
When the literal version of Take on Me went viral last fall, plenty of similar versions popped up immediately, but the original creations still stand out from the crowd. It doesn’t hurt that McLean’s singing voice is surprisingly versatile — both his Idol and Anthony Kiedis impressions are nearly flawless — but the series’ success really comes down to the clever spin put on all the dramatics packed into each piece. The big question McLean seems to be asking with each video is what, if anything, all the fancy visuals and costumes really add to a song. Because too often, the answer seems to be “nothing of value.”