The Popstream: Blackstreet ft. Janet Jackson, "Girlfriend/Boyfriend"


The music industry's going down the toilet. I know it, you know it, and everyone who follows popular culture has at least the vaguest sense it's happening. I'm trying to think positive about this development: hey, maybe the majors are suffering, and it's a bit less meaningful (and fun) to follow the pop charts when an artist can hit the top 20 by selling 20,000 copies of an album, but there's a glut of product out there that makes avoiding shit you don't like and finding stuff you do a lot easier, and independent labels and artists don't seem to be suffering that badly yet (at least not if I'm going from the number of breathlessly excited SXSW promo e-mails that I wind up tossing into my trash folder every hour). Best of all, maybe labels will think twice about dumping exorbitant amounts of money into music videos that 95% of viewers will see in a 400-pixel-wide window on their computer screen. There's only one track less than five years old on this list of the 20 most expensive music videos ever -- for Kanye West, naturally, who seems to be the only current superstar capable of justifying a million-plus budget -- so this roster creaks mightily under the weight of the industry's pre-iPod, pre-Rapidshare, Hype Williams-fueled late '90s excesses. (Or, in the case of Kanye, Hype Williams-fueled mid '00s excesses.) At least most of these videos at least look like they got their money's worth, albeit by the standards of the time; you could probably burn a lot less than $7 million of today's dollars to create something as slick as Mark Romanek's 1996 video for Michael Jackson's "Scream," but it still looks pretty decent. This million-and-a-half-dollar Blackstreet video, though... not so much.

This video was directed by Joseph Kahn, who gave us both the super-classic clip for the Wu-Tang Clan's "Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)" and, uh, Torque. (You know, the shitty superbike retort to The Fast and the Furious? Ring any bells?) The Wu-Tang video looks like it could've been shot for twenty grand (including Kangol budget) and was great, while Torque cost about $40 million and went over about as well as a mustard fart in an airlock, so you might deduce the possibility that Kahn + money = crap. Well, yeah: Blackstreet and Janet Jackson and Eve and Ja Rule are all thrown into a gigantic, incoherently flashy pinball machine, where they're superimposed on the surfaces of balls and bumpers and dropped into the cockpits of virtual sports cars and motorcycles. It's amazing how badly the circa-1999 CGI effects have aged -- the polygonal 3D dude who we occasionally see playing the machine is a grotesque resident of the Uncanny Valley, and the Ja Rule/Eve motorcycle sequence would get laughed out of the room if it was a cutscene in a budget-title Wii game. It's all just a big huge mess, especially considering how poorly the hyperkinetic super-fast-cut directing fits the relatively mellow, borderline-neo-soul music. Even the quarter that starts the machine up has no goddamned idea what's going on.

Maybe they should've gone with a cheaper option, and rehired the animation studio that did this old-school Sesame Street clip.