There sometimes comes a point in a musician or bands’ musical career where they (or their management) get the crazy notion to produce a music video that involves some form of puppetry.
By puppetry, I don’t mean that the artist themselves decides to take up puppeteering – oh no of course not – rather, they usually “drop” a video that prominently features puppets, or, as it were, marionettes. Presumably, the desired effect here is a resounding WOW!
Indeed, this is the type of career move that neither a fan or casual music listener of said artist can ever be fully prepared for, with the effect of such as manoeuvre generally eliciting a variety of reactions – from hilarity to eye-rolling, to sheer wonder and amazement, depending on who is watching and their level of self-seriousness.
One thing that associating (or in some cases becoming) puppets does for a musician, good or bad, is that it generally does not go unnoticed by the public.
Reasons for making a music video featuring puppets are numerous – whether it’s a band who is generally seen as serious who would like people to know they have a sense of humour, to an artists’ Hail Mary attempt to get attention from the world that has ignored them for so long, to simply desiring to produce something different and creative, the impetus behind unleashing puppets on an unsuspecting fanbase is a desire that has long burned with unmatched brilliance in the hearts of entertainers around the world since the invention of the music video itself.
As a fan, you sometimes have to ponder what is behind such a decision, as the results of puppetry in music videos isn’t always 100% well received in the same way Jar Jar Binks and The Phantom Menace can, at their mere mention, lead to the overturning of tables and the sudden negation of civility and the disintegration of lifelong friendships.
Consider that recording artists, who are usually fairly eccentric to begin with, when combined with the unmitigated zaniness and creativity of puppets, tend to make a lasting impression one way or another. It is, logically, a decision that any recording artist of note will one day have to wrestle with themselves in their heart of hearts.
Hence, today, I want to present to you some of the most famous music videos featuring puppets, since these are videos which, once you see, you cannot un-see, such is the magnitude of sheer creativity in some of these videos, matched only by the level of ridiculousness at times. Enjoy!
Elton John – Crocodile Rock
If any one musical artist makes sense to be surrounded by puppets, whether it be for a music video shoot or just in every day life, it’s Reginald Kenneth Dwight, better known as Elton John!
Here is perhaps the most famous of all Muppet Show musical appearances, with Elton singing his signature song, Crocodile Rock, complete with Animal on drums and singing crocs.
The idea of a campy rocker such as Elton John and the wacky Muppets seem to go together here just like PB & J, making what is essentially a whole lot of unnatural things seem rather expected and totally believable. I’d almost expect every Elton performance to look something like this. As fate would have it, he would eventually enter the world of animation, bolstering his mega-stardom even that much more via The Lion King.
In terms of this appearance with the Muppets being a potentially risky career move, there was essentially no risk at all of Elton coming off looking ridiculous, as his inner weirdness has been fairly “out there” for his entire career. If anything, the Muppets were risking their reputation being seen with him.
Not only that, but Elton John has sort of earned a name for himself doing just about anything and everything, playing for crowds huge and small, and, if you’ve ever seen the biopic Rocketman, or are aware of his history with drugs, this appearance on the Muppet Show was probably one of the more mundane things that he experienced on that specific day.
Coldplay – Life In Technicolorr ii
Like U2 before them, Coldplay has garnered a reputation over the years as a fairly earnest band, who sings songs with universal themes for the Everyman, meaning no harm to anyone and preaching nothing but unity in their songs about Life and encouraging people to look to the night sky to see yellow stars.
As competent musically as they clearly are, they have been criticized by their detractors as being fairly self-serious and a little boring at times. You don’t say…
Enter – Coldplay as puppets. As mentioned in the intro to this article, there is the idea that a band, aware that they are considered decidedly un-funny by the press and a certain segment of the population, can re-present themselves in a new way to people, showing that yes, they too, like to have a laugh once in a while, displaying to all that they’re not really rich rock stars, but just regular guys. Yes, that’s right, if by “regular guys” at a pub you are referring to a puppet show spectacular guaranteed to flip your wig right off your head!
This video for Life In Technicolor ii does seem to show, at least to me, that it is possible to have puppets in a music video and have them not be totally ludicrous. As much as Coldplay plays the “we can be funny too” card here, I don’t find this video to be that funny (or even funny period), although I will say it’s creative and enjoyable even to a sullen whelp like me.
As a puppet video, I think they’ve managed to do the token puppet music video genre some justice, inserting just the right amount of silliness into the video concept, never reaching that career-compromising tipping point. Bravo!
Mastodon – Deathbound
In terms of clichés, the appearance of puppets in an artist’s music video tends to indicate a desire to make things more fun, or campy, or both. Perhaps have your band appeal to a new audience of doe-eyed youngsters via a playful charade featuring bobbing, laughing human and animal facsimiles.
But there is another road that may be taken… and that road sometimes points to emphasizing the inherent strange-ness of puppets, resulting in results which may be seen as somewhat “trippy”. Rarely, however, does an artist employ the use of puppets only to massacre them all. Such was the prerogative of the band Mastodon, who clearly has had it in for puppets since they were small puppet sized beings themselves.
That said, if you know the band Mastodon, and their style of music that they play being heavy and doom-y as it is, you probably weren’t expecting to see this video when it came out. Heavy bands like this don’t usually go full puppet-fest. The above video definitely draws a line in the sand when it comes to puppets, and suggests something to the effect of, the only good puppet is a dead puppet. Harsh message!
This video even goes as far as to destroy an entire puppet society, complete with puppets that resemble Fraggles, Muppets, and even hardworking Doozers! Yes, I did even notice that eclipse in the background – ominous. This is a very artistic video with very strong views, and amazingly it manages to embody the insanity of what would really happen in a puppet society if they were stricken mad, and attacked by larger, more violent puppets bent on destruction. Clearly there was never any chance of escape.
Genesis – Land of Confusion
Land of Confusion by Genesis is another one of those examples where we have a band that was normally (up until a point) taken quite seriously by their fans and the general music listening public, but then they come out with this.
There’s a few things about “this” to note. One is that, if you, like me, have grown up listening to the music of Phil Collins through the ’80’s, and sort of getting a sense of who he is, then this video appearing on the scene back when it did is far less surprising. It may have taken aback Genesis fans back when it came out, but actually, likely not as Phil had been cranking up the cheese over the previous several years with his solo work. Would the man that wrote “Sussudio” turn himself into a puppet? You’re darn right he would!
But “Land of Confusion” is more than just “band turns into weird puppet likenesses of themselves for comedic effect”. Back in the ’80’s, there was a show called Spitting Image, which was British satirical TV show, which had a very specific style of puppetry on display here in this Genesis video.
For many fans, Genesis wasn’t what they once were when they were fronted by Peter Gabriel. By the mid-80’s, some might say they were just another vehicle for Phil Collins, who, although he is a fantastic musician, also took what people liked about Genesis converted it into his kind of corny dad humour, typified by the Spitting Image puppets. On the other hand, many would defend Phil and saw the video for Land of Confusion as a landmark ’80’s music video that was just perfect for that era, in large part thanks to the puppets. What do you think?
Alice Cooper – School’s Out
When Alice Cooper was really a household name back in the 1970’s, whose persona rankled the establishment, this song was actually a symbol of his menace to the more reserved families around the United States. Can you imagine?
Why would this be? Well, just maybe he represented several things that members of the uptight establishment didn’t approve of – namely, the implication that being in school in some way isn’t good, and the scandalous idea of actually blowing it up (BOOM!).
That I know of, no schools were demolished as a result of this song, and to any reasonable person it is to be taken in good fun, but it must have been a thorn in some parents’ sides at the time just based on how much of an anti-school sentiment it carried. Whether you are pro or against this song basically depends on how much you yourself enjoy school. And, as people eventually came to understand over the years, Alice himself is a very educated and erudite man of the world, hehe. (cue clip).
The decision to pair up Alice Cooper with Jim Henson’s Monster Muppet Players must have been interesting at the time, since this combination would have simultaneously made Alice Cooper seem more kid-friendly, while making the normally “PG” muppets seem more “AA”. In any event, the above video shows a side of Alice Cooper that, prior to his appearance here with the muppets, many people may not have expected him to have – a certain playfulness.
Lily Allen – Alfie
Just think, Lily Allen’s real life brother Alfie had this song written about him because he was such a little stoner slacker, and these days he’s been nominated for an Emmy for portraying Theon Greyjoy in the hit series Game of Thrones. What a turnaround this guy has had!
But, back in those days, when he was the subject of a criticism by his own sister in the song “Alfie”, Lily decided (or someone decided) to portray young Alfie as a delinquent puppet, which then amazingly went on to become the hit that it was.
Lily Allen has done something here which we have yet to mention specifically, although everyone on this list so far has done it more or less, which is the subtle art of the main protagonist of the video not reacting to the fact that there is a puppet in their midst, and treating that totally obvious puppet like he / she / it is a normal person.
The result of this tactic has what must be the desired effect, which is to make the video, which has the gonadulars to parade a sloppily dressed puppet around doing trashy things, seem very cute and quaint by comparison to the perfectly coiffed star of the video. This is actually a great lesson in both acting and video production for all you young aspiring music video makers out there, which is to learn the age old trick of not breaking that fourth wall.
Overall, the employment of puppetry here is top notch, and by not reacting in any way whatsoever to the atrocious appearance of the puppet with its red eyelids, horse teeth, and suburban lowlife hoody, Lily Allen has entered herself into the pantheon of music videos containing a puppet, and managing to co-exist with it happily on screen.
Supergrass – Pumping On Your Stereo
When it comes to music videos, everyone knows there’s a certain alchemy that makes it a “hit”, but it can be hard for musicians or their creative team to know what that might be, or else there would be no such thing as bad music videos.
Back in the year before Y2K, a little English rock band known as Supergrass put out a song that would definitely try its best to become a “hit”, using all manner of methods that the band could muster, including using elements of puppetry.
This song, “Pumping On Your Stereo”, definitely was delivered with a certain wink and wolf-whistle charm, as it went for the trifecta, I believe, of hit song qualities.
First, it delivered a video that basically no one had ever seen anything like. Yes, there had been weird music videos throughout the previous decade of the 1980’s, and the 1990’s too had their share of one-hit wonder type videos, but simply visually, this video really is uniquely wacky.
Second, the song itself is very very hook-y, to the point where love it or hate it, you’re going to be humming it soon after hearing it. It uses the Rolling Stones proven recipe of banging out some chords and having a young upstart sneer his way throughout what essentially could be a jingle for just about any product ever made. Hard to resist!
Thirdly, and most significantly maybe, Supergrass did the ol’ “we’re pretending to say pumping but really we’re saying humping hahaha!” trick, which makes the song not only catch, but slightly more offensive than it has to be, in order to give it that certain “cool kid” snarky vibe that it has.
At the end of the day, it’s really hard to say what makes this song and video so irritatingly catchy. Is it the chords, is it the words, is it the very freaky puppet stuff? Is it all three? All I know is that I don’t know what to think of this, but I had to put it on the list.
Weezer – Keep Fishin’
We come at last to none other than Weezer. Why are they here? Well, by now they’ve tried all sorts of gimmicks for their videos, and so it wasn’t a real shocker to probably anyone with eyes and ears that Weezer, the band that needed the love of fandom more than any other band has needed love before, came out with a video featuring none other than the Muppets. Like, legit. It’s the Muppets and Weezer. Whoa.
By the time 2009 rolled around, it seemed almost as if that appearing with Muppets was a rite of passage for a band or artist. As in, you haven’t really made it unless the actual Muppets are your friends. Symbolically, it’s a sign that you are now truly a part of popular culture, even if you crammed yourself in there the same way a fat guy puts on jeans that don’t fit him.
Since we are more than a decade past this video now, we can clearly see that since the very beginning, the kind of band that Weezer is is the kind of band that would want to be around Muppets, Weird Al, the Fonz, and Tokyo drift motorcyclists, preferably all at the same time. Some might even say that they have no shame (that would be me saying that). Only maybe the Foo Fighters manage to self deprecate themselves with humour and deflate the whole rock star schtick while simultaneously and fairly obviously trying to embrace it.
All of that said, it’s really quite easy to forgive Weezer for any sort of perceived crimes against music they have committed, especially considering the level at which they rock has never really gone beyond just jamming out for their fans. The fact that Weezer at one point jammed out with the Muppets, while it doesn’t really tickle my pickle, is something that any $2 psychic could have predicted back in ’94 when the Buddy Holly was on MTV every 10 minutes. Did I mention I actually don’t mind Weezer?
Well, we did it, friends…we made it through some of the most famous puppet-centric music videos of all time. Did I miss any videos that you are aware of that feature puppets? What did you think of these videos? Tell me in the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Meanwhile, I couldn’t resist trying to make my own puppet-y video, with the help of the team over at Broadcast King. Let me know if I should be in the Hall of Fame, or the Hall of SHAME!?
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