by Vivian Obarski
The same day that tickets to U2’s Innocence+Experience tour went on sale, the band also released commissioned videos for every song from their new album, Songs of Experience. Perhaps learning from the whole iTunes debacle (which I didn’t see as a debacle, but I’m not the right person to talk to about that), the videos were sprinkled around various websites like Rollingstone.com, The Nerdist, Paper Magazine and NPR for twenty-four hours before being taken down. The videos can now be purchased from Apple and Amazon — methinks the band learned a little bit about giving stuff away.
But that’s probably better because I can imagine the indignant articles and tweets from people if suddenly eleven music videos appeared in their cloud.
So as I was licking my wounds and rueing the fact that I didn’t come away from Ticketmaster with a pair of shiny tickets to see U2, I managed to check out every single video. While it’s easy to compare what the band did with Beyonce’s stealth video drop at the end of last year, it’s not exactly the same thing. Beyonce’s videos were more traditional music videos in that they starred her and were produced and created around the individual songs.
In U2’s case, the songs are more framework per se — individual artists were given a song and they created a short film around their vision or what inspired them. It’s a bit more loosey-goosey than Beyonce’s in that it handles a range of topics and ideas (and you never see the band) and as a result, it’s also pretty hit-or-miss.
But if you compare it to Linear, which was the film released with No Line on the Horizon, I’d say it’s more successful than that, which was weighed down by its own pretensions. True, some of the videos, such as The Troubles are nothing more than colors and pictures blending in and out of each other and Raised by Wolves, while artistic, doesn’t feel as strongly connected to the lyrics, choosing to go a more literal sense as wolves dash about among humans.
But the ones that succeed bring another dimension to the songs themselves. D*Face’s animation for California (There is No End To Love) reminds me of Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, as the driver of a car (we never see his face) speeds through California in an ode to all the bright and beautiful as well as the dark and ugly about the state. But unlike Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, there’s a hopeful note at the end, even though I’m not certain if it’s a memory or reality.
Chloe Early’s Iris (Hold me Close) I also loved, but she perhaps had the song with the strongest theme of going from boy to man and the coming of age that happens. But what she did didn’t feel cloying to me. Juxtaposition between the natural and urban was an interesting choice thematically.
Dark and eerie, ROA’s Sleep Like a Baby may be heavy-handed in the idea of “what goes around comes around”, but I still enjoyed it. DALeast’s This is Where You Can Find Me Now was also another eerie piece, but it was also a great bit of urban fantasy.
I think what I find interesting is the reaction to these videos. The Guardian said it was another grandiose gesture by the band that is “ultimately undone by their desire to make a grandiose statement.” My only response to this is: Do you even know who you’re talking about? This is U2. Their lead singer is Bono. These grandiose statements make them either endearing or insufferable.
For some reason, that critique reminded me of when I watched Jay-Z’s Picasso Baby — a short film that basically has Hova rapping in an art gallery surrounded by both street and high art. He was discussing art and hip hop and the wall between those two and if you crossed over as a rapper, you were considered “bougie.”
The Guardian’s critique of U2’s Films of Innocence seems to smack of the same thing. It’s as if they expect U2 to have remained firmly in the gritty rock-n-roll-fuck-the-establishment camp, which the band catapulted out of more than 25 years ago. U2 has always mixed high art with what they’ve done — be it a bit of cheese with Keane and pop art in the 90s or some of the videos (All I Want Is You is basically a high art French film). If you know the band, you know they’re playing around with high art and things considered bougie. Sometimes it’s a success, sometimes it’s a failure. But it no matter what, it’s going to be grandiose.