Music Videos of the Day: To be Cheap is Glorious

Posted on March 17, 2012


Captain Cheep surveys his domain foto@me

I love being cheap! Being painfully stingy is the only way I can indulge guilt-free in important things like 30rmb Baker and Spice mochas and 35rmb Hof chocolate cupcakes. How else would I be able to support the behemoths of capitalism that keep the world running wastefully and often very unethically? St*rbucks needs your help, y’all.

And Shanghai is one of those places in which you can go painfully cheap or splashingly expensive. I’ve gone from 12rmb noodles to 250rmb 3-course dinners within a week. It’s ridiculous. You could buy a coat for 85rmb or 5000rmb in two different shops on the same street. So what’s a girl to do? I can behave myself most of the time but now and then I drop my sweet ca$hne$$e$ on some mad indulgence. After that it’s a week of penny-pinching self-flagellation.

Since I have to be a cheap piece of shit most of the time, I’m always glad to meet other people who share my life goals. Since we are being musically-inclined here, by “other people” I mean bands and such, and by “meet” I mean watch on youtube. And so behold, this list of bands that made me go, Wow, they sure didn’t spend a lot on that eh! Only aural-and-visual awesomeness made the list, of course.

Some history first. Meet My Grand-daddy:

I was first made aware of the cheap-and-cool mv “genre” with the band everyone now loves to hate. It’s Coldplay’s “Yellow”, of course. As far as cheap vids go, this was probably made on a budget of $5. But – despite my dislike of Coldplay and its smug blond First Lady – I thought this was Chris Martin at his most honest. So raw, young and emotional. I loved it when I first heard and saw it, and oohed and aahed over Chris Martin’s wide mouth with my equally impressed friends, but now in retrospect I do think the lyrics are a bit shit. But the vid still makes the list for being my virgin experience with cheap vids.



Right, then! Now on to the good stuff.

I’ve picked a few mvs that I think represent the different ways musicians bust out the cheap. Think of these as a sampling, rather than a best-of.

1.Do crazy shit (usually mad dancing) in an ordinary setting

Cheap Convict: OK Go “A Million Ways”

A bunch of boys hamming it up in their backyard. Seriously fun. Incredibly cheap – the mv cost $25 to produce, if this ridiculous figure can be trusted. The song is equally fun. It’s not an astounding idea, obviously – in fact maybe conceptually a bit cliched – yeah we gonna do something cheap so we gonna be so campy and stupid people will love it! But it works. Alright, boys, this one you got. (A commenter noted that the dance was actually an eclectic mix of styles, including “disco, russian dancing, 40s style stuff, a little West Side Story, the Matrix slow-mo fight, bits of MJ’s Beat It fight”. According to ABC News, the pop rock group’s efforts were overseen by a pro ballroom dancer.) It’s prolly inspired by Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice”, where zany dancing was taken to inspired levels. That vid looked a tad too sleek to be cheap, though.



Actually, these boys turn being cheap into an art form. Check out their other funny, low-budget vids on the ‘tube. Another cheap convict in this category: Pavement’s “Gold Soundz” aka Santas Gone Wild.

2. Do ordinary things in a crazy setting (usually underwater)

Cheap Convict: Wild Beasts “Hooting and Howling”

Water is a great way to be cheap and entertaining. You get to look ethereal floating about, and people don’t get tired of looking at your scrunched-up faces. Even better when you start “playing” instruments under water. Hmm, maybe it did cost money cos all their equipment must’ve been ruined. In any case, for playing-your-shit underwater vids, The Cure’s “Close to Me” is still my number one, and I’ve written about it before. Still, I deeply appreciate the full-lunged yowling by these English indie-rock boys. I especially love Hayden Thorpe for managing to be melodramatic and theatrical in plaid shirts and nerd jeans.



3. Be beautiful, then just close the fuck up with the camz

Cheap Convict: Sinead O’ Connor “Nothing Compares 2 U”

Speaking of melodrama. I say, never underestimate the power of a beautiful face (and a butch haircut). I’d like to think Whitney Houston tried to channel this in her Shoop-shoop song. She looked beautiful, but I hate that song. Sinead is awesome. Sinead rules anytime. She doesn’t let you look away. Bravo to your skincare regimen, lady.



To add on, I’d like to say having someone’s face in yours beats having someone’s abs in it. For pure shamelessness, check out D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does it Feel)”. Sample of vid comments: “I think I just got pregnant”/ “baby-making”. This should also win an award for Most Pointless Parenthesis. I can’t link the vid here, it probably got removed for being too gross.

4. Go nuts with an everyday object

Cheap convict: Field Music “In Context”

Aka the Magic Marker. Obviously, the punchline (yes there is one) is at the end of the mv.



Field Music, by the way, is one of those low-key, not-in-your-face-but-totally-in-your-ears bands. From Sunderland, England, these boys are refreshingly chilled out.  Here’s their response to news that they were splitting up: “Field Music aren’t going to be over because we’ve already got a bank account under the name, so we’ll just continue as a company. It’s time to go and do some real work.” The Fantastic Hope provides a great playlist and introduction to the band.

Other honorary mentions in this category: Daft Hands “Harder Better Faster Stronger” (awesome fingers) and The Weepies “The World Spins Madly On” (Playdoh, and it’s actually a commandeered fan vid)

And of course…

5. Use cheap equipment. Duuuh!

Cheap Convict: Goldfrapp “Yellow Halo”

Shot entirely on an iphone by Lisa Gunning, this comes on the heels of a whole slew of iphone mvs. Goldfrapp’s is the most cheapskate, I think. It’s not like it’s a down-and-out/ up-and-coming band, y’know? I don’t know what to think of the whole shot on a mobile phone/ crappy camera and I’m soooo proud of it thing. I mean, Goldfrapp’s was well put together and had a suitably nostalgic feel that gelled with the gentle, ethereal song, but at what point does following oneself/ one’s band mates around with a phone cam go from oooh-so-ethereal to pay-for-a-fucking-director-already?



I also love The Magic Number’s Love’s A Game. I’m not sure what equipment it was shot on – maybe it’s even one of those vids that look friggin cheap but cost the earth, although that doesn’t quite gel with their vibe. There’s a Hanimar projection device in it, but I can’t tell anything about the film equipment. In any case the whole mv is gloriously washed out and discoloured. All the reasons why I heart lomo.

I can’t resist throwing in a last one – what equipment could be cheaper than recycling your old shit? Take That’s “Never Forget” is a 1995 self-made self-tribute that shamelessly consists of mom and pop’s baby shots, rehearsal footage, screaming teens chasing after the tour bus, concert clips and such. It’s so embarrassingly self-loving, it’s great. Highly recommended for anyone with self-esteem issues.



An interesting aside – the director of the mv was also the camera man for Madonna, Diana Krall, Deep Purple, and uh, a documentary called “The Crimean War: A Most Desperate Undertaking”. The man is also a fine arts nude photog. Never let it be said that he has narrow interests.

Anyhoodle, so there is it, 5 awesome ways to be super cheap in making mvs. According to Mike Doughty, cheap music videos these days are a necessity, rather than a stylistic (or stinginess) choice, due to slashed budgets of record companies. Read about it, and see Mike’s top 12 cheap video choices (he also digs Sinead!) here.