Pop Screen

Music videos have not historically been a valuable commodity. First dubbed “promos” by the record industry, they have always served as vessels for communicating the music and (more importantly) the image of artists, available free of charge to the masses on television or via free viewing sites like Yahoo! Music.

Things started to change in 2003 with the release of the first three Directors Label DVDs, each a collection of videos from some of the best directors in the business.

Last week, iTunes took music video retail to the next level, charging $1.99 for a single video which can then be downloaded onto one’s $300+ video iPod.

Whether this will ultimately result in higher budgets (which can presently exceed a cool million for a three-minute clip) or higher quality videos remains to be seen. For now, we take a look at the three top-selling music videos on iTunes at press date of Wednesday, Oct. 26.

—Ben B. Chung

1. Weapon of Choice

Fatboy Slim

We all have our favorite Christopher Walken characters. This Academy Award-winning actor has played a number of hard-boiled criminals, he’s scared audiences as a headless horseman, infamously asked for “more cowbell,” and made Owen Wilson squirm in this summer’s comedy hit “Wedding Crashers.”

It’s often forgotten, however, that he began his career on Broadway as a song-and-dance man, and a gifted one at that. Fittingly, due to his early skills, Walken can now add the music video to the list of art forms he has conquered.

In the video for Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice,” the screen veteran sashays as if a Lord of the Dance title depended upon it. Helmed by big-shot director Spike Jonze, of “Being John Malkovich” fame, the video is a compendium of quintessential Walken moments, as the veteran actor glides, taps, leaps, and literally flies through the frame.

The video opens up to a suit-clad Walken sitting alone in an empty hotel lobby. The music, like Walken’s crisp red tie, is perfectly tailored to his movements, with its quick pulses over a steady dance tempo. As the music starts, he starts bopping his head to the beat, and that characteristic Walken gleam enters his eye.

He’s got a lot to gleam about; the man has more pizzazz than Mikhail Baryshnikov, Napoleon Dynamite, and Jennifer Lopez combined. Walken is inexplicably adroit, and appears to not even break a sweat. He darts from scene to scene with such natural exuberance, it’s a wonder no music video auteur has thought of casting him before.

One minute he’s dancing down the escalator, the next he’s prancing through an elevator hallway, culminating in a surreal Peter Pan-like flight through the air in the final minute of the video. As absurd as it may be, if there is one human being who could actually fly and sustain acrobatic aerials through the air, it would be Christopher Walken.

—Jessica C. Coggins

2. Thriller

Michael Jackson

According to iTunes statistics, “Thriller” is its second most downloaded video.

I think this fact illustrates why the world needs Pop Screen. Because we are the only thing standing between you morons and financial ruin.

I can hear your objections now. “‘Thriller’ is a pop classic!” “It has amazing special effects!” “I’m an emotionally stunted man-child just like Michael!” And I agree with most of them—especially the last.

“Thriller” is a masterpiece of pop songcraft, compliments of Rod Temperton’s songwriting and Quincy Jones’s legendary production.

And the video’s creature effects are spectacular: Jon Landis, the director of “An American Werewolf in London,” helmed the shoot, and brought his horror film expertise to the production.

The unrelentingly long video, however, begins as a pastiche of ’50s era teen melodramas: a varsity-jacketed Michael professes his eternal love to his poodle skirt-clad girlfriend (already straining believability to the contemporary observer) on a starlit night.

He then grows somber and intones: “I’m not like other guys.” This is surely one of history’s greatest understatements.

The poor girl dismisses Michael’s warning (bad move), and Michael transforms into a gruesome wolf-man before her very eyes. Then, surprise!

This turns out to be a movie that Michael and his date are watching. Then, double surprise!

It was actually all a dream! How refreshingly über-meta. How astoundingly moronic.

At the blissful end of this travesty, I have nothing but sympathy for the girl. I too know what it’s like to witness Michael’s unholy transformation into a monstrosity, but I’m pretty sure his condition is the result of bad plastic surgery, not lycanthropy.

While “Thriller” is well-crafted entertainment, it’s no more incredible than the events in Michael’s real life—and those come free of charge on the evening news.

—Bernard L. Parham

3. Gold Digger

Kanye West

It’s just inexplicable. Every girl at the party is yelping like they were watching someone being brutally consumed by a gang of rats. No need to worry though, it’s probably just “Gold Digger.”

One time (of many) I was mid-conversation with a girl, when suddenly she froze as if we were playing a game of Dr. Pepper at a third cousin’s bat mitzvah. I looked at her as I would at an epileptic Hmong child (very curiously, that is), and she proceeded to rap every word of the entire song. I immediately felt the symptoms of “quab dab peg” (Hmong for “The spirit catches you and you fall down.”)

Wow, “Gold Digger” must be some song, right? It must be if this girl would sacrifice three minutes of conversation (with me, no less) to recite song lyrics. But while the song is pretty good; it is certainly not the best on Kanye’s latest album.

Personally, I don’t think it holds a candle to the likes of “Gone,” that “Heard ’Em Say” song with the dude from Maroon 5, or even “Hey Mama” for that matter (I have always been a sucker for ballads about mothers).

There are a few fantastic lines, like when West creepily whispers, “While you’re watching, WATCH HIM,” or when he acutely points out that you can’t smoke weed if you don’t have cash, but on the whole, the track quickly grows stale.

Luckily, the video is a different story. Hype Williams, known for his work on the film “Belly,” (which runs like an exceedingly long music video), really captures Kanye’s overstated elegance. Pin-up girls and West’s violent gyrations careen around powerful background colors, beautiful women, and some genuinely nice shots of Jamie Foxx (see left for an example).

It won’t stay with you forever, but it also won’t leave you feeling like you raised a child for 18 years but then found out it wasn’t yours. In the end, I think that’s all you can really hope for in a video.

So if you haven’t yet seen Kanye in “Gold Digger,” WATCH HIM!

—Teddy M. Bressman