For the dying art form that is the music video, celebrity cameos are proving to be the Elixir of Life. Ever heard of the band Slow Club? If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you watched that music video of their song “Beginners” in which Daniel Radcliffe (also known as Harry Potter) gets drunk and dances on a table.
Back in the olden days (you know, when MTV was actually “Music Television” and not a soul-sucking wasteland of Teen Mom and Jersey Shore), a plum role opposite a famous rock band was often a launching pad to super stardom. Alicia Silverstone (pre-Clueless) got her big break as the pubescent femme fatale in a string of Aerosmith videos, and Courtney Cox (pre-Friends) was the lucky fan that got pulled on stage by Bruce Springsteen for “Dancing in the Dark.”
Sadly, the romance of an undiscovered actor catapulting to fame in a music video appears to be a pipe dream of the past. Nowadays, musicians (whether just starting out, approaching their zenith, or suffering a desperate career slump) want big names to draw even bigger audiences. In the age of the 140-character tweet, how else are they going to attract the short attention spans of their target audience without the words “Natalie Portman” and “Johnny Depp?”
Yes, these A-Listers were featured in a Paul McCartney video for his song “My Valentine”—performing sign language to his lyrics and looking very pretty in black and white. But McCartney is one of the most prolific musicians alive today. Surely he didn’t need their help to make his music video a YouTube sensation, or did he?
The recent spike of famous actors appearing in music videos raises the question: do musicians really need that extra star power to attract an audience these days? Heck, even Mischa Barton (a D-lister at best) got to scurry around half-naked in the video for Noel Gallagher’s new single “Everybody’s on the Run.”
Speaking of naked, Shia LeBoeuf’s “artistic” stripdown for Sigur Ros was a marketing coup of epic proportions. Never mind the fact that the music video (for the beautiful “Fjögur Píanó”) is really vacuous hipster pretension masquerading as high art. The video has over 2 million hits on YouTube, and unless one’s been living under a rock, they have clicked on the link because Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and every other social media website on the planet told audiences that the penis of a former teen heatthrob would be on prominent display.
Occasionally big-name stars appear in music videos to help out their friends (like Kristen Stewart for Marcus Foster’s “I Was Broken” video) or to appease their significant others (like Ben Affleck for J.Lo’s unforgettable “Jenny From the Block”). While the first reason could be construed as admirable, the second is almost as silly as the sight of Bennifer canoodling.
However, when actors throw their already-established audience for a loop—like when Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation played a dramatic and destructive bad girl for Father John Misty’s “Hollywood Cemetary Sings”—the effect is somehow less gimmicky. Perhaps because the actor is clearly striving for creative fulfillment, not a fatter paycheck.
Another example of an actor having fun with audience expectations is Christopher Walken in FatBoy Slim’s video for “Weapon of Choice.” For a glorious three and a half minutes, Walken dances around his hotel with surprising agility and sassy enthusiasm. The video is hyper-aware of it’s own irony and overall ridiculousness—which is exactly why audiences love it so much (it won six MTV Video Music Awards, after all). So don’t judge James Van Der Beek for appearing in “Blow” with Ke$ha. He’s not Dawson from the Creek anymore!