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Music videos: A year in review

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Last fall, when Pearl Jam opted not to make a video to promote Vs., the move seemed like commercial suicide. After all, aren’t videos essential to selling records? Five million copies of Vs. later, the band made its point-and maybe a larger one as well. Music videos are as plentiful as ever, but not only have they not replaced records and concerts, most of them seem to add less to songs than ever before. Like the empty skits that clutter much of Saturday Night Live, they seem utterly random, conscious of their role in pop culture but content to let viewers fill in the blanks. As a result, zapping around MTV, the Box, VH-1, BET, and other outlets has become an almost futile exercise in finding something, anything, to keep your attention. A few noteworthy moments from an otherwise bleak year on the videodrone front:

Best Unintentional Throwback to the Heyday of Music Videos: With its toothy frontmen, antiseptic cinematography, and the-Dow-Jones-is-up party atmosphere, General Public’s ”I’ll Take You There” (a lackluster remake of the great Staples Singers hit, taken from the soundtrack of Threesome) could be a Howard Jones outtake-not surprising given that General Public are ’80s survivors themselves. Watch it a few times and you’ll think Ronald Reagan is still President.

Most Glaring Reminder That the Heyday of Music Videos Is Over: Those smile lines around (Prince)’s mouth in ”The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” Small wonder (no pun intended) the name Prince, with its youthful implications, no longer applies in the ’90s.

Most Contrived Plot: On record, Aaron Hall’s ”I Miss You” is a suave, lovelorn ballad from the lead singer of new jack swing kings Guy. The video, a big regional favorite on the Box, can’t leave well enough alone. The scenario finds Hall romping playfully with his pregnant mate, who, halfway through, collapses in their kitchen and dies on the operating table. The jarring final image-Hall and his infant in front of her tombstone-looks like something out of a soap opera.

Scariest Video Image: In Meat Loaf’s ”Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through,” the requisite buxom babe walks up to a jukebox, wipes the dust from the glass, and sees-yikes!-Meat Loaf’s heavily made-up head inside. Just a rock dream? More like a nightmare.

Most Likely to Become a New Age Club Med Commercial: Can’t you just imagine Enigma’s artful, black-and-white ”Return to Innocence” clip, with its upward- flying fruit and ocean vistas, reborn as a ”get away from it all” TV ad?

Best Supporting Role by a Star in His Own Video: In ”Doggy Dogg World,” we see as much of Snoop Doggy Dogg’s posse as we do of the stone-cold man himself. In this case, though, that’s not such a bad thing. This loving, cast- of-thousands homage to early-’70s African-American pop culture starts with Snoop as a pimp and features cameos by Fred Berry (back as Rerun from the sitcom What’s Happening!!) and blaxploitation-flick stars like Pam Grier, Ron O’Neal, and Fred Williamson. Try to catch it on the Box, which shows the version that identifies each of the cameos.

Most Jarring Juxtaposition in a Video: In ”I’ll Remember,” the quick cuts between pensive flapper Madonna (singing the pleasant theme song to With Honors in a recording studio) and an overacting-as-usual Joe Pesci.

Most Compelling Video: Performing ”live” with a band in what looks like the world’s cleanest rehearsal space, Trent Reznor stalks his microphone, kicks it over, and acts like a black-garbed brat in Nine Inch Nails’ ”March of the Pigs.” The handheld-camera feel of this video-verite clip makes Reznor’s mannered angst both tolerable and oddly fascinating.

Most Inadvertently Compelling Video: In the opening shots of Hole’s ”Miss World,” a glassy-eyed Courtney Love powder-puffs herself into numbness. In doing so, she looks just like all those photos of her in the wake of husband Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Eerie.

Best Homage to Another Video: Memo to Hammer, regarding his ”Pumps and a Bump” clip, a blatant rip-off of Wreckx-N-Effect’s babe-ogling ”Rump Shaker” video: Is that really a cucumber in your bathing suit, or are you just happy to be able to make another video?

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