Skepta won Best Video at the MOBOs in 2014 for ‘That’s Not Me’. If you’ve seen the video you won’t be surprised to hear it only cost about £80 to make. Some of the special effects look they’ve come straight off a free iPhone app. But that’s not really the point: there’s a rawness to it that matches Skepta’s rapping style.
“I said if there’s one award I want to win, it’s for this video,” said Skepta while picking up the award at Wembley Arena. “Coming from the streets, you feel like, ‘Ahh my man’s video cost a hundred thousand, my man’s video’s a million, I have to keep up with that!’ ‘That’s Not Me’ video cost me 80 English pounds.”
For a long time, music videos were, as Skepta says, all about how much money could be thrown at them. In the golden age of MTV, where a video could make or break a song, videos would regularly cost the GDP of a small African nation, the most expensive being the short that goes with Michael and Janet Jackson’s ‘Scream’ – which, adjusted for inflation, cost more than $10 million in today’s money.
Skepta’s video isn’t the only one that goes to show that money never guarantees success. Here are a few more low-budget promos that punch well and truly above their weight.
OK Go – ‘A Million Ways’
OK Go videos seem to follow a law of diminishing returns – the more elaborate (read: contrived) their videos get, the less impressive they are. ‘A Million Ways’ was the first, back in 2005, and kickstarted their obsession with making oh-so-quirky films to go with their middling music. It was apparently made for fun and not intended to be released, merely emailed to their friends and management team, who then shared it further until it went viral. In 2006, the band invited fans to submit their own versions of the video, with the winners invited to dance their routine on stage while the band performed.
Black Keys – ‘Lonely Boy’
Sometimes the simplest ideas happen by accident, and this is definitely one of then. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney confirmed they’d filmed a ‘proper’ video for ‘Lonely Boy’, although scrapped it when they decided it didn’t work. “It was supposed to be funny but it wasn’t,” is about all they’ve ever said about the canned film. What they did have, however, was footage of part-time security guard Derrick T Tuggle dancing to their hit song. Tuggle had an hour to listen to the song and learn the lyrics, and came up with the dance all by himself. This time, The Black Keys’ had a winner on their hands, with the video going viral and racking up almost 40 million YouTube views.
The White Stripes – ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’
An ingenious video directed by Michel Gondry, although it almost never was. Jack White apparently asked to work with the director of Beck’s ‘Devil’s Haircut’ short, but rather than booking Mark Romanek, who had actually made that video, Frenchman Michel Gondry was booked instead. White was also a fan of his work too, so didn’t mind the mistake.
The result – a painstakingly made stop-motion animation made using Lego – is as stunning as the primal garage song it accompanies. If there was any budget attached to this, it was used up buying the Lego as the toy manufacturer wouldn’t supply it for free. The Danish company also turned down an appeal from The White Stripes to provide a little pack of their iconic bricks with each single sold, offering the excuse that they don’t market Lego to the over-12s. Later realising they’d made a bit of a mistake, they went back to White having changed their minds, but this time he refused. Some of the bricks used in the video are now on display in the Third Man record shop in Nashville.
Florence + The Machine – ‘Dog Days Are Over’ (2008 version)
“I just made it on a whim,” says Florence Welch about this video, the original promo ‘Dog Days Are Over’, which looks like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, if the Mad Hatter had grown up with bohemian parents in South London, rather than spending all his time pissing off the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland. “We went down to the woods and we only had one camera. I got my dad to put on a clown costume and my friend’s nephew to dress up as the baby clown while we decorated the woods. Dog walkers gave us the weirdest looks. It was really fun.” A new video was made in 2010 when the song was re-released, a much slicker video with a bigger budget, but it wasn’t as enjoyable as this.
Eels – ‘Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)’
As E – that’s Mark Oliver Everett – from the band explains at the beginning of the video, he did have a budget to make an accompanying promo film for ‘Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)’ but actually spent the cash on making the album instead, leaving him with nothing to make the video with. The result which finds E dancing around is house, singing the song while holding the camera to his face, is an unlikely mix of intimate performance and Peep Show: The Musical episode.