On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 AM, that phrase was uttered in a million homes, and the music business was changed forever. That day, the TV channel named MTV was unleashed on the world, and a relatively obscure style of music marketing suddenly became all the rage. What was this new fad? The music video!
Music videos have been around since the 1960s, but they were pretty hard for the typical viewing public to watch. Up until the age of MTV, most music videos were a random hodgepodge of recording studio footage, concert scenes, and candid shots of the band mugging. They were primarily made to be shown to record company executives, but generally, the only time the general public would see them would be during double features at the movies (and that was only if there was room between the newsreels, trailers, commercials, and animated shorts). However, with the advent of MTV, VH1, TNN, and other such channels, music videos were in the hands of anybody who happened to have cable TV. As a result, music videos got a lot glossier, and they made a big difference in how well an album sold.
In order to make their videos stand out, artists, directors, and executives used all sorts of techniques: hiring big-name directors (Brian De Palma on Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark,” for instance), making their videos into three-act short films (Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”), and celebrity guest stars (Chevy Chase in Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”). Other artists turned to an art form we all know and love: animation!
Below, you’ll find three great music videos that utilized animation perfectly. If you have any favorites that we may have missed, mention them in the comments!
Paula Abdul – “Opposites Attract” (1989)
Before Paula Abdul became American Idol‘s loopy counterpart to Simon Cowell’s blunt criticism, she had a fairly respectable career as a pop artist. She had several successful singles, but her best-remembered tune is probably her 1989 smash “Opposites Attract.” Why is that? Well, it has a lot to do with the video below!
Director Chris Bailey had worked closely with Don Bluth during the making of the video games Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, giving Bailey a solid basis in combining computer software with animation techniques. Bailey took that expertise to “Opposites Attract,” crafting a fun, colorful video about an animated cat, MC Skat Kat, and his relationship with the live-action Paula Abdul. Implied bestiality aside, the video is a fun ride, filled with smooth character animation (particularly during the dance scene that starts at 2:02)!
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – “Runnin’ Down A Dream” (1989)
Time to gush a little: I really love Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers! In my personal opinion, they represent a raw, red-blooded style of rock music that has been in increasingly short supply in recent years. Each of their songs are packed with emotion and an overwhelming respect for the remarkable genre that is rock n’ roll. However, Tom Petty’s passions spill over into many areas, including animation. That passion shines through most vividly in the video for the 1989 hit “Runnin’ Down A Dream!”
This video was directed by one of Tom Petty’s former band members, Jim Lenahan. To be honest, it’s obvious that the video wasn’t directed by a professional animator; the character animation is a little stiff and a little too heavily rotoscoped, and the character designs aren’t as appealing as they could have been. There’s a lot to like in this video, though! It was inspired by Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo comic strips, and that really shines through; the video retains the trippy, weird vibe that the Little Nemo strips were known for. It’s also reminiscent of the surreal imagery in the early Walt Disney shorts (particularly the Silly Symphonies shorts). It’s quite the interesting, rock n’ roll-flavored throwback!
A-Ha – “Take On Me” (1984)
A-Ha’s 1984 hit “Take On Me” is cheesy in a lot of ways, but it’s carefully aged ’80s cheese. It’s very synthesizer-ridden in its instrumentation, and the lyrics are corny too. There’s a lot of reasons this song could have aged badly, and it does feel a little dated. That definitely doesn’t mean it’s bad, though; it’s delightful in all its kitschy ’80s glory. The video’s great in the same way!
This four-minute opus revolves around a teenage girl, who sips coffee in a diner while reading a loosely-sketched comic book about motorcycle racers. The girl’s day takes a turn for the strange, though, when the dashing hero of the book winks at her from the page and reaches out and sucks her into the book. The two enjoy a romp together, all while being menaced by the other racers, who get angry for some reason and try to kill the young couple.
Like the Tom Petty video, the “Take On Me” video relies heavily on rotoscoping. However, I personally feel that the technique works better with A-Ha than it did with Petty; it gives the characters a stylized movement that meshes well with the unique artwork. Like the song itself, the video is dated, but it’s still a lot of fun!
Obviously, this list is only a very small selection of the many music videos that have utilized animation since the 1980s. What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!
AJ's love of movies began when his mom took him to see The Lion King on a warm California day in 1994. He left the theater with his mind blown and with a strong desire to become a filmmaker. AJ's fascinated with films of all kinds, but animated films have always held a special place in his heart, particularly Disney animation, the work of Chuck Jones, and Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson's Peanuts specials. His favorite animated films include (but aren't limited to) Frozen, Beauty And The Beast, Surf's Up, The Bugs Bunny/RoadRunner Movie, and Toy Story 3. Along with films, AJ also loves pop and rock music, hiking, the beach, comic books, traveling, writing, acting, and baseball.