March 10, 2011


Why Lil Wayne's "6 Foot 7 Foot" Video Belongs in 1981

The first music videos simply actualized song lyrics; now they're sophisticated visual interpretations of a song's conceptual meaning. Weezy and Hype Williams get retro with a video that literally reminds CHRISTOPHER WEINGARTEN of the genre's early days. 

Lil Wayne is not vague or mysterious in “6 Foot 7 Foot.” The man has no functioning filter, no “off button,” no mincing of words, no patience for a chorus or hook. He’s a living waterfall of punchlines that range from the tossed off (“motherf---ers talkin’ crazy like they jaw broke”) to the clearly labored over (“real G's move in silence like lasagna”). The song’s Hype Williams-directed video reflects Wayne’s approach all too perfectly, the director working in similar gonzo, off-the-dome approach; making up his own visual puns as he goes along.

When I first saw “6 Foot 7 Foot,” I was shocked at how simple and straightforward it was. I wrote my first impressions for pop blog Popdust: “Williams seems intent on doing literal interpretations of Wayne’s lyrics. Wayne acts out losing his mind [with a plastic brain], he’s ‘running sh--’ on a racetrack, he ‘beats up the beat’ up on a punching bag. He says ‘Father Time’ and we see a grizzled old black dude—Mother Nature for some reason is a white chick with a flower in her hair.” Williams couldn’t resist making his own terrible joke off Wayne’s “stop playing, bitch” so he actually CGI’d a frolicking French bulldog.

This is not how rap videos—or any videos—function in 2011.

Surely, most videos contain some literal interpretation of a lyric to give a song new life—think about how Dr. Dre spends “I Need A Doctor” getting medical help or how Rihanna spends “S&M” in various states of bondage; how Kanye’s “All of the Lights” uses a lot of lights and Katy Perry’s “Firework” has plenty of fireworks. But Williams’ manic approach to Wayne’s imagery is markedly different, giddily tying almost every single lyric to its own a unique visual—“celebration” cues a girl popping from a cake, “under me” means a low P.O.V. shot, “sequins” means sequins, “lasagna” begets lasagna.

It’s a throwback to the earliest days of music video, when artists were still learning exactly how to link image to sound. One prime example is Robert Palmer’s clip for 1981’s “Looking for Clues.” 

One of the first 25 videos ever aired on MTV, “Looking for Clues” is a testament to the goofy spirit of labels, artists and directors learning what exactly to do with a new medium. Within the first 20 seconds, Palmer says “I’m frightened by the sound of the telephone” and a giant telephone appears; he says “who knows these days where all the money goes” and saunters past a stack of bills; and the “looking for clues” chorus means he peeks through binoculars.

This aesthetic would be fairly dominant in MTV’s first four years. The 1981 video for Tom Tom Club’s “Genius Of Love” had colorful, stretchy animation inspired by Brooklyn pop artist James Rizzi that basically spelled out the lyrics word-for-word. Men At Work’s 1982 clip for “Down Under” recreates the band’s lyrics of strange ladies offering breakfast and muscular men offering vegemite sandwiches.

Even “You Might Think” by the Cars, the very first video to win the MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year in 1984, features a slew of literal nods. The Charlex production company couldn’t resist dangling frontman Rik Ocasek on a hanger when he says “hang around,” or have him chilling on some teeth when he says “you flash that fragile smile” or dressing as the 1953 antagonist of The Robot Monster when he says “you think you’re in the movies.”

Eventually videos grew up, and directors started concocting fantastic new worlds that would not be tethered to the lyrics at all, and the “literal video” aesthetic became a relic. This is why the “Literal Music Video” trend became such a YouTube hit in 2009—check out the original one, a YouTube creation by animator and musician Dustin McLean, who wrote a new song that gives literal meaning to all the action that happens in a-ha’s “Take On Me.”

At first I thought the "6 Foot 7 Foot" video was corny, hacky and a dusty idea that somehow crawled out the vaults from the dawn of the ’80s. But upon further viewing, I’m starting to think it’s a good aesthetic for Wayne. His punchlines are goofy and fun—why dress them up with pretention? Why mask them with distracting side plots? The Hype Williams video lets you truly chew on Wayne’s jokes, lets them sink in, lets you ponder the type of gifted mind that comes up with them, lets you appreciate wordplay for what it is. It’s a video that not only focuses on lyrics, but celebrates them, treats each sentence like a unique world that deserves its own voice. Wayne raps “so misunderstood, but what's a world without enigma”—but the most refreshing part of this video is how plain-as-day everything really is.