Director Michel Gondry turned 52 Friday, and this seems like a good time to look back at some of the brilliant music videos he’s made. Over his nearly 30-year career, the French director has made countless detailed, complex videos for artists ranging from Radiohead to Kanye West to the Rolling Stones, bringing his signature style to each of them. Now, let’s look at some of his very best work.
The White Stripes – “Fell In Love With A Girl,” “The Hardest Button to Button,” and “The Denial Twist”
First off, let’s explore Gondry’s relationship with the White Stripes, which gave us three of the most inventive videos of the 2000s. In “Fell In Love With A Girl,” the song that introduced many people to the band, we see Jack and Meg rocking out as Lego creations in a video that has a DIY fee, yet simultaneously feels incredibly complex. Then, in “The Hardest Button To Button,” Meg leaves a trail of drum sets whereever she goes, while Jack just slides along with her. This surreal scene became so iconic that it was parodied on The Simpsons. Finally, in “The Denial Twist,” we see the band as cardboard cutouts in a rather strange appearance on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. Gondry’s incredibly original video concepts are an inextricable part of the White Stripes’ legacy. By presenting them in such creative ways, he made people who would have otherwise ignored the band pay attention.
Kanye West ft. Adam Levine – “Heard ‘Em Say”
This clip, for one of the more subtle songs off Late Registration, features an intriguing juxtaposition. At certain points in the video, we simply see Kanye and Adam Levine performing behind an all-white background. But that gets interrupted by an animated sequence, in which a young black child — presumably a young Kanye — travels around a depressing urban landscape, and learns the harsh realities of America. It’s a fascinating mixture of fantasy and reality that manages to be whimsical and dreary at the same time.
Bjork – “Bachelorette”
Let’s be honest: Gondry and Bjork, while both brilliant, are also both incredibly weird. That’s why they are a perfect fit for each other. Gondry has directed multiple videos for Bjork, but this one is particularly notable for the complex, and frankly, confusing story it tells. Bjork finds a book buried deep in the ground. Why was she randomly digging? Because she’s Bjork, OK?! The book starts writing itself, with her narration appearing on the page. From here, it starts to get really weird. She takes the book to a publisher, where it becomes a stage play, and then it becomes a play within a play. Then all the words begin disappearing from the pages, and we find out the entire thing was just a figment of Bjork’s imagination. It’s funny; “Bachelorette” and “Heard ‘Em Say” couldn’t be more different in terms of tone, and their videos certainly have different aesthetics, and yet, we can find a similar theme: the ever-blurred line where fantasy ends and reality begins.
Radiohead – “Knives Out”
What starts as a simple train ride (that just happens to take place within a television set) quickly turns into a nightmare. We quickly find that the woman riding on the train with Thom Yorke early in the video is now being operated on in what appears to be a human version of the classic board game “Operation.” Eventually, a swarm of doctors come in, and all begin working on her. Whether they touched the sides remains to be seen.
Daft Punk – “Around The World”
Certainly a logical collaboration. France’s most famous dance act collaborates with their most famous video director. Unlike some of the other videos here, this video isn’t telling some complex ultra-surreal, dark-yet-whimsical story. It’s just a wacky dance routine featuring Daft Punk in the robot costumes, along with some people in skeleton outfits and a few female dancers, as they all dance in a circle going … well, around the world.
The Rolling Stones – “Like A Rolling Stone”
Yes, the Rolling Stones did in fact cover Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” for their 1995 album Stripped. It’s a solid enough cover, but the video really stands out, perfectly capturing the alienation described in the lyrics. We see a fancy party full of well-dressed people who seem bored and disinterested by their elegant lifestyle, and those scenes are interspersed with scenes of a party girl walking the street, presumably after a hard night out. When Dylan wrote the song, he was mocking the vanity of high society, and how that scene can leave you high and dry. This video is a spot-on portrait of that feeling.