The Gorillaz are an admittedly weird concept for a band. A motley collection of cartoon characters dreamed up by the writer responsible for Tank Girl (which is a really good comic you should check out as soon you finish reading this) and the lead singer of Blur. By all rights, such a bizarre creative pairing had only one reason to work: Damon Albarn’s skills as a master creative curator.
That’s a pretty damn good reason, which explains why 20 years after the musician and the artist first shared a flat in London, not only are Gorillaz still one of the most impressive (and lucrative) creative forces in music, they’re so popular that they’ve got their own music festival, Demon Dayz, kicking off its inaugural LA show this weekend at Pico Rivera Sports Arena with stars like Erykah Badu, The Internet, DRAM, and Little Simz.
In honor of both the upcoming festival and the continued popularity of the cartoon band’s surreal, ever-expanding animated universe, we’ve collected 10 of their very best music videos, because how else do you pay tribute to a band that “exists” almost entirely on the screen? However, we won’t be getting into the increasingly convoluted storyline that has unfurled since the band’s 2001 debut with “Clint Eastwood” — that would require a lot of explanation and I’m still not entirely sure what’s going on myself. As the band’s musical scope has expanded and evolved, so have their visuals, which have become more complex, surreal, and focused on a winding narrative of the band’s adventures. I just know it’s a lot of fun to watch, even without completely clocking the plot, and I can’t wait to see what 2-D, Murdoc, Noodle, and Russell do next.
The Now Now
Wait! Who is that playing bass? That’s not Murdoc!*
Which is exactly why I had to dock points and drop this otherwise groovy jam from their latest album, The Now Now, at the number ten spot. It’s a relatively straightforward clip, as far as Gorillaz videos go, which is a kind of endearing quality. After nearly ten years of psychedelic, high-art fantasies, it’s nice to just sit back and see the band perform. The relative lack of chaos can be chalked up to Ace on bass there, filling in for Murdoc, the troublemaker who often acts as the catalyst for some of the group’s more off-the-wall shenanigans.
*It’s Ace from the Powerpuff Girls. Powerpuff Girls and Gorillaz share a universe. Take that, Marvel!
9. “Dirty Harry”
There was a point in Gorillaz’ history — mostly on Demon Days — where they were really into road trips. Where exactly they managed to procure an armored personnel carrier is beyond me, but their sand-hopping adventure through a desert wasteland is the closest the band has come to their spiritual predecessor, Tank Girl. The Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown drops in — literally — for a cameo to deliver his verse, blurring the line between fantasy and reality — a theme that would recur throughout the band’s catalog.
This one’s kind of a departure for the group’s usual visual direction — insomuch as anything they do can be considered a departure with all their eclectic experimentation. The band hardly appears in this video, which instead finds British soul singer Daley piloting a submarine through shark-infested waters, seeking the safe harbor of Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach. Again, the visual aesthetic is very live-action Tank Girl, only 1,000 times better than the oddball ’90s adaptation, which wasn’t nearly bonkers enough in retrospect.
It’s always super fun to watch 2-D, Noodle, and the gang interact with actual Humanz, in a Who Framed Roger Rabbit?-esque way. It’s even more fun to watch them cut a rug in a crowded disco while trying to catch the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos sprinkled like Easter eggs throughout the dazzling imagery.
The Now Now
This track from The Now Now is summery and light, so the video’s Venice Beach setting perfectly reflects the breezy vibe of the George Benson-featuring single from their latest album. Come for Jack Black’s enthusiastic cameo, stay for the somehow relax imagery of 2-D roller skating along the coast in his 1980s short shorts and the conspiracy theories about why his eyes changed colors after being tripped by Russel.
5. “Feel Good Inc.”
The first single from Demon Days proved that Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood” reception wasn’t a fluke. They were a sustainable creation, with even more luscious, slightly demented visuals in store for their fantasy-loving fans. However, they also put a slick new spin on their formula, subbing in De La Soul’s hallucinogenic verse for the established lyrical wizardry of Del The Funky Homosapien, who’d voiced Russel in their previous entry. Feel Good Inc. appears to be a hedonistic establishment inside of a giant smokestack, where Murdoc is right at home, and as usual, 2-D seems pretty miserable, while Noodle cruises by on a flying island with a windmill.
Car chases are also a recurring image in Gorillaz’ videos and this is the video that started off the trend. The group joyrides along a partially demolished, warped, post-apocalyptic highway in their buggy, dodging the fallout from a flying saucer’s ray gun, making tremendous stunt jumps, and trying to blow up a giant moose blocking their path. Their attempts go awry, ending up with them getting blown up themselves at the end of this bouncy Demon Days single.
3. “On Melancholy Hill”
This Plastic Beach standout is one of the more elaborate videos the band has done, with a plotline that only vaguely makes sense, but that’s pretty par for the course. Noodle tries to shoot down her bandmates with a Tommy gun, gets her cruise ship sunk, and ends up crammed in a submarine with an anxious 2-D and a typically-unhinged Murdoc. They are flanked on all sides by animated versions of their Plastic Beach collaborators, and CGI clashes with traditional animation in what might be the crew’s most epic adventure to date.
It’s another car chase, this time accompanied by Yasiin Bey on another Plastic Beach standout, but this time, the team is gruesomely rendered in a hyperrealistic style that’s actually a bit unsettling as they are pursued down a deserted highway by… Bruce Willis!?
Also, they’re driving the greatest car ever produced on American shores, a ’69 Chevy Camaro. It’s a pretty typically wacky, borderline nonsensical set from a band that’s made wacky and borerline nonsensical their stock in trade.
1. “Clint Eastwood”
The first is the almost always the best. The debut single from the group’s self-titled first album kicked off the group’s run as one of the most innovative multimedia efforts ever. It helps that “Clint Eastwood” bangs from start to finish thanks to its Spaghetti Western-hijacking beat, and Del’s dizzying verse, all soundtracking one of the most mind-boggling and eye-catching music videos ever. The band dukes it out with zombie gorillas in a graveyard while Russel is possessed by the rapping spirit of Del The Funky Ghost. Then, of course, it all wraps up with individual introductions to the group members we’d come to know and love as they misadventured their way through one album after another, all while proving that cartoons aren’t just for kids.
Demon Dayz Festival LA kicks off this Saturday, October 20. Get tickets and more info here.
Gorillaz are a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music.