Take A Study Break To Watch The Best Music Videos Without The Performers In Them

Last Thursday was the debut of a new Beach House music video for the song “Wishes.” Directed by Eric Wareheim of Awesome Show Great Job fame, the video stars Twin Peak‘s Ray Wise lip-syncing to Victoria Legrand’s woozy vocals on a football field in the maelstrom of cheerleaders, horse iconography, enthusiastic fans, and a real life white horse, all of which match the surreal quality of the mismatched voice. What’s absent from the video is any sign of the song’s performers, who could probably never live up to Ray Wise’s performance anyways. We know from the past that Beach House knows what’s up with those weird videos, but they’re by no means the only band to release videos and then never show up in them. Here’s some of our favorites.

Celeb lip-syncing and more

Luckily for us viewers, Ray Wise is not alone in his lip-syncing. Plenty of music videos pair the performers’ recording with video of an actor, whether it be a close friend or collaborator or an unrelated celebrity. The practice can be played up for humor or other emotions, depending on what actor gets subbed in to mouth along to the words.

Zach Galifianakis is a seasoned pro at music videos, having lip synced on a tractor alongside alt-folk artist Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy in the video for Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and also in bed with Fiona Apple for Apple’s song “Not About Love.” Lonely Island member and Girls actor Jorma Taccone goes a little weirder and darker with Gnarls Barkley’s “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” although the real dark character in that one is the animated lip-syncing heart standing in for Cee-Lo. Daniel Franzese (Damien from Mean Girls) and Kyle Mooney of the web series GoodNeighborStuff explore a haunted house in a Toro y Moi video, and early last year when former Fleet Foxes drummer J. Tillman released his dark debut single under the name Father John Misty, it starred a goth’d-up, drugged-out Aubrey Plaza. (Tillman comes in just for a little bit at the end as well as a few seconds in the middle to kiss Goth-Plaza.)

Sometimes one or two characters is not enough — Tom Sharpling’s video for The New Pornographers’ Moves takes the celeb/performer substitute to the next level by having a lookalike comedian or musician playing each member of the indie rock supergroup, and in 2011 a similarly-minded video for the Beastie Boys’ “Make Some Noise” featured Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, and Elijah Wood portraying Mike D, MCA, and Ad-Rock, respectively, in a sequel to “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” Although all three Beasties show up along with a billion other celebrity cameos plus some DeLorean time travel in the brilliant 30-minute long version that MCA both wrote and directed, the short five-minute video features a lot of quality stuff, too. Also Elijah Wood as Ad-Rock is the cutest.

Comedians aren’t the only option when it comes to people who can lip sync, time travel, or walk through your video while stoned, though — sometimes appearances from dramatic actors make a huge difference in emotion. See for example an inebriated Daniel Radcliffe singing the lady-parts to a Slow Club song in an empty pub for the English folk duo’s song “Beginners” and a pre-second wave Robert Downey Jr. lip-syncing Elton John for his first gig after rehab in 2001. Also there’s that very NSFW Sigur Ros video of Shia LaBeouf crying while nude. Yet if we are being totally honest, all are amateurs compared to Christopher Walken in the Fatboy Slim’s Spike Jonze-directed “Weapon of Choice” video.

The non-celeb lip syncing

Sometimes, though, the music video maker sidesteps the familiar face in favor of a slew of unfamiliar ones. The variety of people can make the song message seem more universal, or more of a commentary on society, rather than just a singer in sunglasses singing sunglasses songs into a microphone.

Swedish duo The Knife knows this, and their most recent video for the single “A Tooth For An Eye” gets the artful lip-sync treatment from a young girl in braids leading a group of male dancers in workout clothes. Upon its release, the band issued a statement saying that the video “deconstructs images of maleness, power and leadership.”

The video for George Michael’s “Freedom ’90” may have a message, too, but it’s distracting with all the young beautiful people lip syncing and water and gowns.

Hot Chip’s “I Feel Better” video, directed by British actor-director Peter Serafinowicz, features a boy band performing Hot Chip’s song, a scary bald guy, and lasers, with the real Hot Chip in the audience standing by. The video is intriguing, funny, and

Music videos sans-lipsyncing 

Finally some videos eschew the lip syncing of any kind just to show some people doing stuff or whatever, which can be cool, too.

Case in point is the sickeningly cute video for Bright Eyes’s “First Day of My Life,” which just shows a bunch of couples listening to the song on headphones as they fall deeper in love with each other. That video’s gush is better though once you see the other videos of lots of people doing things, like Ratatat’s trippy video for “Drugs” that is over-saturated old people posing together and progressively freaking out more and more, Gold Panda’s video for Marriage which is a lot of artsy and lovely people holding lanterns all over the place, and Suckers’ video for “Turn on the Sunshine” which is delightfully clever and features NYU Local editor-in-chief Zoë!

Metalheads who want to see a video without the band in it can enjoy Between the Buried and Me’s “Obfuscation” video that includes an epic tale of cars and kids and guns and knives and circus magic, and also the way scarier and more extreme video from Swedish metal band Meshuggah. Also scary is M.I.A.’s “Born Free” because red hair genocide is scary and not cool.

For a little of the darkness but less of the head banging, try The Shins’ Tim Burton-esque stop-motion video for “The Rifle’s Spiral,” which is in good company with other animated videos like Grizzly Bear’s “Ready, Able.”

The release of Arcade Fire’s album The Suburbs came with multiple videos and short films, including an interactive film by Chris Milk set to “We Used to Wait.” At the film’s website, a viewer enters the address of his or her childhood home, and then the film takes over your browser, with windows playing both pre-recorded footage and images from your neighborhood, giving you an experience of your own suburbs, and begging the question: who needs a band in the video when you have Google Maps?

Once again, though, Spike Jonze pretty much blows everything else out of the water, though, with Wax’s “Southern California” which he pairs with a one-shot video of a man running on fire. On that note, pretty much any video by Jonze or Michel Gondry is at the highest caliber of this art form.

We’ve definitely missed a few videos, so let us know in the comment section what your favorite clip sans-band are!

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  1. Daniel Kankel says

    If you’re able to change the settings from Normal speed to 1.5x on the Beach House – Wishes video, I highly suggest it.