What I saw in the video for “Wake Me Up” by Avicii: A young woman walks around in a small, possibly southern town — she’s apparently supposed to be an outsider; all the drably dressed townspeople, including a black woman, give her and her sister the stink eye (yay for diversity). The young woman wears a fashionable variation of a Union jacket. She walks alone by herself one morning when, in what I imagine tourist advertisements for tropical islands also include, a man with dreads reaches out for her hand and his small group whisks her away to the smiley, safely diverse crowd at some concert (yay for diversity). Aside from hippie-ish attire, they’re also distinguished by tattoos. After said concert, she gets her sister and rides a horse to a more urban land of slightly multicultural goodness.
Music videos generally seem like a made-by-corporate-committee affair. There’s lots of stuff to superficially and profitably appeal to a specific demographic. Anything with a more singular vision, skewed or not, stands out a little. The music video for the Black Key’s “Lonely Boy,” featuring the dancing of Derrick Tuggle to the rhythm and blues-drenched tune was a big hit. It wasn’t due on any intentional part of the Black Keys, but I always thought there was generally an undertone of amusement at how Tuggle seemed a bit square and yet his dancing was unbridled — this is mostly due to the way that rock is perceived now, as opposed to when it was rhythm and blues and performed by mostly black musicians whose cool affectations continue to be milked by rockers today.
So it was nice to see Tuggle in the video for Pharrell’s “Happy,” lip-synching on a music video with a kind of diversity not from some “hip” dream-reality. There’s a swath of different people in there, all looking like they’re having a genuinely happy moment. I haven’t followed his work too much, but it was the least cool thing I’ve seen Pharrell associated with and maybe it’s the better for it. The music video for Bruno Mars’ “Treasure,” in which the woman of a crooner’s dreams is black (and not mixed) and portrayed with all the sentimentality and admiration that comes with that, is also not in line with the most superficial notion of cool.