The return of fun with music videos

“Hey There Delilah,” Plain White T’s; “What’s a Girl to Do,” Bat For Lashes; and “Teenagers,” My Chemical Romance.

I haven’t written about music videos in a while, but the heat and humidity of summertime shortens my attention span and makes bumming around inside on the Internet that much more appealing. So once again, here are a few of the videos that made me pause in my compulsive YouTube clicking.

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“Hey There Delilah,” Plain White T’s.

There’s nothing particularly profound about the song “Hey There Delilah.” It’s just a gentle, conversational, long-distance love song, but the simplicity of the video has grown on me, and I find myself watching it again with a smile. What can I say? It’s sweet.

Charmed as I am by “Hey There Delilah,” I was sort of shocked to realize that Plain White T’s is the same band that sang “Hate (I Really Don’t Like You),” an ugly, bitter break-up song with a spiteful video that seethes with suppressed rage. “Delilah,” by contrast, is tender and unassumingly earnest, and the video is similarly modest. Thin white bars subdivide the screen into two or three rectangles, each of which plays images of the lead singer strumming his guitar alone in an empty apartment and a girl (Delilah, we assume) walking through the rain down big-city streets.

It’s simple, and it doesn’t push the emotion. Even when the lead singer looks directly into the camera, he doesn’t wallow in loneliness or attempt to eye-fuck anyone. He just sings with warmth and openness, and the result is surprisingly intimate—not in a lusty, carnal way but in a way that makes you believe that Delilah is a real person and hope that everything works out for them.*

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“What’s a Girl to Do,” Bat For Lashes.

Eerie and haunting, “What’s a Girl to Do” sticks with me. I’m not sure why the coordinated trick-bicycle riders in creepy animal costumes are following Bat For Lashes down a dark, isolated road, but it’s a memorable sight, made all the more memorable by the plaintive, dulcet tones of the singer’s voice.

So enchanting is the video that I didn’t realize until the second time through that there must be some sort of special effect to make the half dozen furries file behind Bat For Lashes (apparently it’s a stage name, not a band name, so the name refers only to the singer) and then simply disappear until the next chorus. It’s not showy, and the music has such an other-worldly quality that is seems perfectly natural for the bike riders to melt away into the darkness as Bat’s voice fades into silence.

Sure, the dull-eyed animal costumes are sort of random (and, thanks to the inevitable association with Donnie Darko, even spookier than they might otherwise have been), but the aura of sullied innocence they create works well with the lyrics about withered love. Less than three minutes in length, “What’s a Girl to Do” mesmerizes me. I’d never heard of Bat For Lashes before I saw this video, but I’ll certainly be looking for her now.

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“Teenagers,” My Chemical Romance.

I’ll give My Chemical Romance this: It takes a lot of nerve to set your music video about disaffected youth at an apocalyptic pep rally. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is so iconic that comparisons leapt to mind the moment I saw this new video’s cheerleaders. They weren’t complimentary comparisons, of course. The video for “Teenagers” is glossier, but it doesn’t have a tenth of the emotional impact of the raw, chaotic classic.

Lack of real emotion is a recurring problem in My Chemical Romance’s videos. The band uses would-be affecting, even maudlin settings—a funeral (“Helena”), a deathbed (“Welcome to the Black Parade”), a final USO dance before a D-Day-esque battle (“The Ghost of You”)—but the emotion of the scenes inevitably feels hollow. I put the lion’s share of the blame for that on lead singer Gerard Way, a dreadfully hammy performer. His bug-eyed, histrionic attempts to emote are obnoxious and off-putting, and I never, ever believe the sentiments he tries to convey. It’s like watching a kid who has never dealt with real loss adopt the poses of grief. It’s a sham. (For the record, I know absolutely nothing about Way’s personal life—for all I know, he was orphaned at age 12—but regardless of his experiences, he seems incapable of expressing emotion in a way that goes deeper than empty, over-the-top theatrics.)

That said, “Teenagers” is marginally less obnoxious (though not as ambitious in its scope) than some of the band’s previous efforts because it, at least, seems to be slightly ironic in its imagery. (Cheerleaders are jumping around the stage wearing gas masks, for god’s sake.) In that context, Way’s exaggerated expressions seem more at home, and one can even imagine that he’s deliberately exaggerating them. I still think, though, that the ideal My Chemical Romance video would be one in which the band—or at least Way—did not appear.

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*Apparently Delilah is a real person, but she and the lead singer (who wrote the song) never dated, and she feels kind of weird about the whole thing. Whatever. In the context of the video, the song works, even if real life isn’t so tidy.

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