When Childish Gambino's video for "This Is America" dropped May 5, it sparked a conversation about race and the morality of United States culture. And the artist, who will be performing in Denver in October, demonstrated that music videos continue to have enormous creative potential.
The following five videos by bands who will be playing Denver in the months ahead demonstrate a variety of approaches to the art form. Some of these artists, like Gambino and Janelle Monáe, are members of the pop-culture pantheon. Others, like Le Butcherettes, Demo Taped and Denver's own Compass & Cavern, are rising.
If you don't already suffer from arachnophobia, there's a good chance you will after watching Le Butcherettes' latest video. The Mexico-born, Texas-based band is celebrating its signing to Rise Records, the punk/metal label, with the release of this new and utterly terrifying music video for the song "spider/Waves." The act, which will be returning to Denver for a concert at the Oriental Theater on May 18, has been touring aggressively over the past year. In the video, Terry Butcherettes, the garage-punk band's fierce lead singer, wears her grandmother's Chichimecan warrior outfit. The singer says of the video: "Lyrically, it's like this big delicious spider has its wave. In a way, we're all caught in it. This thing wants to devour as much as it can, but you have to make sure you're okay. You're trying to protect yourself from something that wants to get in."
Being spit out and discarded is no fun. But when two people share that experience, they can fall in love. That's the not-so-original premise of Demo Taped's "Pack of Gum." What is original — and delightfully bizarre — is that the two characters in the song's music video aren't people: They're spit-out pieces of animated chewing gum wandering a city, falling in love, being squished along the way, and ultimately finding redemption with each other. It's certainly a wacky premise, but it works — as does the Atlanta-based neosoul artist's palatable approach to tackling mental illness, depression, anxiety and despair through song. Neither preachy nor prescriptive, he is deeply compassionate.
Compass & Cavern
Compass & Cavern's twee pop song "Before It Begins" almost parodies itself. The music video shows an earnest white guy singing about love and environmental collapse — two of the most boring things an earnest white guy can sing about, right? Not so fast. The Denver band's lyrics are witty. The music is catchy and surprisingly dynamic. And the video is beautifully shot, if not a touch out of sync. Then again, sync problems come with the territory: The whole thing is shot in reverse. The effect is somewhat awkward, an awkwardness that matches the theme of finding love in an era of climate change and mass extinction. While Compass & Cavern's punk predecessors used environmental crises as a chance to rail against the system or scream out in primal despair, this band has already accepted that the end is near, and uses it as a tongue-in-cheek background for desperate seduction. Hopeless, sure. But it's catchy and a touch cheerful.
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Janelle Monáe is a queer goddess who has spent the past few months talking to the media about her pansexuality — an identity that comes as no surprise to her fans. Her latest video for "Make Me Feel" is a coming-out song that evokes an ’80s pop palette with garish costumes and backdrops. It's unapologetic. It's unafraid. And it's bold. In an era in which so many pop divas boost their careers as LGBTQ allies, Monáe is all in as one of the gang.
Childish Gambino's "This Is America" is the latest example of hip-hop as cultural criticism. It's a troubling satirical look at American culture, in which happy-happy-joy-joy consumerism is peppered with cold-blooded, off-the-cuff murder. The whole thing is set in an empty warehouse, a space of infinite possibility. But all Gambino can muster is grotesque partying and random acts of violence. It's a dystopian video — hip-hop dance, lyricism and filmmaking at their best — and at the same time a critique of an art form that too often does little more than celebrate empty consumption and unmotivated violence.