VIDEO Song-Off: Cheerleaders

charger

In the 1988 film Tapeheads, aspiring video jockeys Ivan (John Cusack) and Josh (Tim Robbins) put together a ludicrous first effort for record producer Mo Fuzz (Don Cornelius) that features a band called Cube Squared performing the Devo song “Baby Doll” as Ivan drenches them with colored paint and feathers.  “I can’t do anything with this,” Mo tells them after he watches it, “I need production value.”  As Ivan and Josh react with confusion over the concept of obtaining production value with no budget, Mo explains, “There’s only one thing that adds real production value … tits and ass.”

The combination of cheerleading and music videos seems like a match made in heaven.  Cheerleading has always featured a healthy dose of “tits and ass” as Mo puts it, and it’s evolved a long way from its early days of long-sleeved sweaters, pom-poms, and rhythmic chants.  High school and college cheerleading is a full-on gymnastics show, and most professional cheerleading groups have morphed into “dance squads” that don’t even pretend to lead cheers anymore.  And certainly more than a few music videos have taken advantage of this synergy to grab a few cheap glances.  But strangely enough, there are only a few music videos where cheerleaders truly dominate the stage.  Here are my top five favorites:

Toni Basil – “Hey Mickey”

Created at almost exactly a year after the launch of MTV, Toni Basil’s 1982 video for “Hey Mickey” is the sweet, doting grandmother of all cheerleading videos.  Caked in makeup with their arms hidden by fabric, the cheerleaders here aren’t sex objects but are actually a well-drilled team of dancers that help Toni Basil show off her talents as a dancer and a choreographer.  The LVH logo on Toni’s uniform in the video is a sentimental nod to “Las Vegas High,” but the essential innocence of the song and the choreography brings to mind Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High series of teen romances, which was launched just a year after “Mickey” was released.  Toni’s recent appearances as a guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance have been unintentionally hilarious, as she peppers the contestants with bizarre commentary and constantly uses the word “street” as an adjective, but her video for “Mickey” was a grand success, cementing itself in pop culture memory as the first true cheerleading video.

Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Nirvana achieved an incredible breakthrough in 1991 with their video for “Smells Like Speen Spirit,” introducing grunge music and moshing to the suburbs and virtually changing the entire tone of MTV’s programming overnight.  The video’s director, Samuel Bayer, was reportedly chosen by the band because his test reel was so bad, and the ultimately basic nature of the production bears this out – and also accounts for the video’s charm.  The iconic opening shot of a single foot clad in a Converse All-Star sneaker tapping along to Kurt Cobain’s jangled riffs is only surpassed by the cheerleaders, dark-haired beauties adorned with red “anarchy” patches who half-heartedly try to inspire pep in the listless teens that fill the bleachers.  It’s not until the kids are released to rush the floor that the cheerleaders fulfill their true potential, throwing their heads back and raising their pom-poms to match the crowd’s intensity.

Nada Surf – “Popular”

Nada Surf gained instant popularity in 1996 with their video for “Popular,” which was their first single from their debut album High/Low.  It features a vampish teen (played by a very young Sarah Sebestyen, who these days is a country/blues singer in Nashville) skanking it up behind the back of her supposedly infallible quarterback boyfriend (played by a toothy Jason Priestley lookalike).  Matthew Caws’ increasingly frantic recitation of his dating advice to teens (cribbed from Gloria Winters’ 1964 book Penny’s Guide to Teen-Age Charm and Popularity) is the real hook for the song, but Sebestyen’s ponytail and seductive gazes at her oblivious boyfriend’s teammates (along with her willingness to follow through on her promises) are what really sells the video.

Ash – “Burn Baby Burn”

Even compared to other familiar songs from their catalogue like “Jack Names the Planets” and “Kung Fu,” Ash’s 2001 hit “Burn Baby Burn” has an incredibly high energy level.  Compared to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which closed its day of shooting with a near-riot from the extras, “Burn Baby Burn” was described by Ash as a particularly enjoyable video to shoot, and one of their favorites upon conclusion.  The cheerleaders featured here represent a new millenium of cheerleading, as hair is tossed, midriffs are bared, skimpier uniforms cling more tightly to more adult curves, and the pom-poms have practically disappeared.  Ash delivers a top-notch single, and in the process takes the sexualization of teenage cheerleaders to its logical conclusion.

Robbie Williams – “Radio”

And then former boy band sensation Robbie Williams takes it one step further.  The concept behind the video for “Radio” is relatively simple; an Antichrist cavorting with his minions.  But the video conception of the song, which would otherwise be forgotten as an unremarkable tack-on to a greatest hits compilation, is absolutely brilliant.  Robbie Williams, clad in a dapper white uniform, presides over a legion of cheerleaders as they toss each other through the air of a dimly lit warehouse decorated with inverted crosses.  The faceless cheerleaders, their identities obscured by black masks, appear to be little more than tattooed pieces of meat cavorting for their dark lord’s pleasure.   It’s an incredibly sexy effect, particularly when the directors turn on the hoses and get everyone wet.  Subliminal shots of Robbie Williams featuring a lizard’s eyes and sharpened teeth are spliced into the super-slow motion shots of the aerobatic maneuvers of the cheerleaders, the term “trouser snake” is interpreted very literally, and by the end it’s pretty hard to deny that eternal damnation looks pretty damned fun.

n
n
{democracy:52}

Last week the Beach Boys lived up to their name (and increased their Song-Off record to 2-0) by riding home a 36 percent wave of voters, followed by the Trashmen’s “Surfing Bird” with 31 percent. Join  us again next week as we match up songs about bad luck; if you’ve got suggestions, leave them in the comments. See you then!




  • laurence01

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Sara

    http://pianotutorial.net

  • http://jackfear.blogspot.com Jack Feerick

    The “essential innocence” of “Mickey”? Dude, have you listened to those lyrics? It's the same twisted scenario as Josie cotton's “Johnny, Are You Queer?”, only much, much dirtier.

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com DavidMedsker

    Damn, tough choice this week, but I gotta go with the devil girls.

  • http://www.popdose.com Zack

    I can't BELIEVE that Toni Basil is winning this thing over Ash and Robbie Williams.

  • http://www.popdose.com Zack

    The original song was actually written as “Kitty” and the only thing Basil changed was the one word – because apparently she had a big crush on Micky Dolenz.

  • http://jackfear.blogspot.com Jack Feerick

    Uh-huh. And are you telling me that the implications of “Come on and give it to me any way you can / Any way you wanna do it, I'll take it like a man” were totally lost on our sweet innocent li'l Toni?

  • http://www.popdose.com Zack

    If you'd Toni's nonsensical ramblings on SYTYCD, you'd know that yes, it is very much possible for concepts to be totally lost on poor addled Toni. Her command of her vocabulary is about as reliable as Lucille Austero's command of her sense of balance.

  • EricL

    Wow, tough call.

    Every time I see the Toni Basil clip I get creeped out. The cheerleader/dancers are iconic in a good way but Toni looks like an alter ego of Pennywise.

    Ash has a great song but I'm not sure the point of having cheerleaders (or the basketball team) in the video. It doesn't fit the music or lyrics.

    The bored slut cheerleaders in Popular are every jock's dream/nightmare as well as just exactly what we dorks thought they were. More importantly to me the song and lyrics fits the video's use of cheerleaders.

    Nirvana has an all time classic song and video. The cheerleaders fit the “pep rally gone awry” theme but are not featured enough to match the other songs.

    In the end I'm voting for Robbie Williams. His cheerleaders do amazing leaps that the slow motion enhances. They fit the video's theme, if not the song's, of Satan's Cheerleaders. The, er, snake tail that comes out of this, uh… yeah, and molests the girls just freaked the heck out of me. Visually it's the best of them all.

    I've obviously thought way more than is healthy about this.

  • http://www.popdose.com Zack

    There is nothing unhealthy about thinking long and hard about cheerleaders, particularly the ones featured in Robbie Williams' video. I applaud your vote.

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com DavidMedsker

    Careful what you say. Now Nada Surf is in the lead. (*punches a baby*)

  • Armenite

    There's just something a bit too Rex Manning about it tho'.

  • JonCummings

    I have a late addition to this cheerfest, courtesy of the new show “Glee” (whose return I await eagerly): http://www.hulu.com/watch/85101/glee-bust-your-

    I wouldn't necessarily rate it over Nada or Robbie, but it's worth a brief ogle if nothing else…

  • Old_Davy

    Ash has the best song, but the best video is Nada Surf. (As Mr. Mesker searches for another baby victim).

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com DavidMedsker

    Careful what you say. Now Nada Surf is in the lead. (*punches a baby*)

  • Armenite

    There's just something a bit too Rex Manning about it tho'.

  • JonCummings

    I have a late addition to this cheerfest, courtesy of the new show “Glee” (whose return I await eagerly): http://www.hulu.com/watch/85101/glee-bust-your-

    I wouldn't necessarily rate it over Nada or Robbie, but it's worth a brief ogle if nothing else…

  • Old_Davy

    Ash has the best song, but the best video is Nada Surf. (As Mr. Mesker searches for another baby victim).

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com DavidMedsker

    Careful what you say. Now Nada Surf is in the lead. (*punches a baby*)

  • Armenite

    There's just something a bit too Rex Manning about it tho'.

  • JonCummings

    I have a late addition to this cheerfest, courtesy of the new show “Glee” (whose return I await eagerly): http://www.hulu.com/watch/85101/glee-bust-your-

    I wouldn't necessarily rate it over Nada or Robbie, but it's worth a brief ogle if nothing else…

  • Old_Davy

    Ash has the best song, but the best video is Nada Surf. (As Mr. Mesker searches for another baby victim).

  • Pingback: Song-Off Jr.: Misfortune | Popdose

  • John Sturdy

    I’m sure there’s a music video somewhere out there with this really grate song. And like a cheerleading competition in, it. And this one bit where the guy doing the song like cartwheels or summer salts over the roof tops of a long line of buses. I thought it was sisco or something, only I can’t seem to find it. I know it’s from a good few years ago but does anyone out there know remember or have any idea which song or video I’m on about please? Bare in mind I could & most likely am completely wrong about who’s song it is