OMGWTFLOL: Seether’s “Careless Whisper” Video
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 5, 2009
To be fair, it’s not really like Wham!–they of the Choose Life t-shirts and shufflecock-stuffed shorts–had an image of particular integrity to desecrate when it came to music videos. So my reflexive response to the clip that Seether deemed appropriate to make for their otherwise surprisingly faithful cover of George and Andrew’s 1985 #1 hit “Careless Whisper” is not one of anger, really, but rather one of almost unprecedented bewilderment. If you need a refresher for context, you might want to take a look at the original clip–far from a masterpiece of the medium, but a fairly representative video of the time period, with sweeping tracking shots, slow-motion drama, and lots of lip-sync preening. It looked like the song sounded, so fair enough. More importantly, it would’ve been a video easily transposed to the nu-metal aesthetic–get a dark-haired vixen with a couple tattoos lying half naked and asleep in a bed, with singer Shaun Morgan sitting up and looking guiltily over his shoulder at her, cut it with footage of the band performing the song in an empty warehouse or something, and boom, you just bought yourself three months’ of airplay on MTV2 and FUSE.
Suffice to say, Seether decided to go in a different direction with it. Possibly the most stunning thing about it to me is that they seem to have put such thought, effort and expense into the project. Ten years ago, a cover like “Careless Whisper” would’ve shown up on the back-end of some second-rate horror movie soundtrack, scraped the modern rock charts based mostly on name recognition, maybe gotten some MTV play with a vid laced with clips from the movie, and then faded into oblivion for all but the most devoted genre fans. But in 2009 we’ve apparently lost all sense of moderation, so here comes Seether with a video seemingly custom-made for the YouTube era–cute, mildly innovative and laden with pop-culture references, like a “Pork and Beans” designed for 80s babies. It’s a pretty solid idea, all things considered.
One problem, though–there’s still a song attached to this music video, and it couldn’t be much more inappropriate for the clip chosen to accompany it. It’s obvious the way that Seether has tried or will try to justify it–that the song reminds them of growing up in the 80s, playing 8-bit VGs and watching cheesy movies like the ones being referenced here. They even throw in a little namecheck to the original artist, as the early sound effects in the imaginary game are spelled out as “WHAM!,” as if to prove that they’re not ashamed to be covering a song by such generally unmetal dudes. Respectable, but fact of the matter is that if Seether were going to make a tongue-in-cheek “We Love the 80s”-type cover and music video, there are about a million songs they could’ve chosen that would’ve been more obvious and giggly than “Careless Whisper,” which isn’t only still a heartbreaking, classic torch song, but which (a couple of dancing references aside) sounds shockingly natural cast as a nu-metal song. The theatrics and overbearing emotion of it are a perfect fit within Seether’s normal brand of bombastic self-pity, and the song’s definitively 80s sax hook plays just as yearningly as a wailing guitar lick. I wouldn’t be surprised if legions of Seether fans out there under the age of 20 had no idea the song was even a cover–and if not, I doubt they’d double-take on the song in the slightest. For lack of a better word, it’s a good cover.
So it’s a little unnerving to see it get fitted with a video like this. The most logical thing for Seether to do in this situation might’ve been to completely disassociate the clip from the song it’s supposed to be promoting, and be almost unapologetic in saying “Hey, we had a good idea for a video, and we know this song might not really work so well with it, but it’s cool and you’ll like it so watch it anyway.” But not only are those “Wham” references snuck in, but the pixelated Shaun Morgan can occasionally be seen miming along to the song’s lyrics, and that just completely kills it. What do the Wall Street Bankers the band’s fighting off care about Shaun’s guilt over a one-night stand? Meanwhile, do we really want to imagine our favorite video game characters off having scandalous, short-lived affairs when they’re not on the hunt for coins and magic elixirs? It’s a little too literal of a way to look at the video, sure, but trust me–watch it, and the cognitive dissonance will be far too much for your little brain to handle either.
It all could maybe be forgiven with an undeniably great video–after all, I’m not entirely positive what the lyrics to “Californication” are about, but I doubt they have much to do with boarding on bridges and flying wasps or whatever, but we seemed to accept that video on its own terms. But the “Careless Whisper” clip is far too maddeningly inconsistent to be considered a classic on its own terms. The first half of the video is crammed with half-baked modern-day social commentary, with stuff about Wall Street, the environment, oil drilling and swine flu, but around two and a half minutes in, it just turns into an all-out orgy of senseless 80s pop culture references, including the band getting a ride from Mr. T, biking over the moon a la E.T., and even seeing Morgan morph into Teen Wolf for some random four-on-four against some evil hoops mavens. At the very end, the band parties with the California Raisins, Spuds MacKenzie, a bunch of keytars and George Michael himself. Watching the video for the first time, I thought my brain was going to come sliding out of my ears. It is the single most unexpected and ridiculous thing to happen in the 2009 calendar year.
I suppose I have to give a little credit to Seether here for at least trying to create some buzz with their music video–something a disturbingly small percentage of mainstream artists can be bothered to do these days. But man, the 80s were a totally unparalleled decade when it came to releasing goofy, bizarre, instantly-dated songs, the great majority would’ve been perfect for a video like this (well, a better-thought-out version of a video like this)–several of which were even done by Michael. Why’d they have to do it with one that was actually kind of a bummer?