Flash and special effects rule the video landscape. But every once in a while an artist steps out of the glam zone to shoot a video that has a deeper meaning — that aims for a longer-lasting impact.
MTV will once again honor the clips that take that extra step this year at Sunday night’s 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, where Rihanna and Big Sean will face off against Jennifer Hudson, Colbie Caillat and Wale in the Video with a Social Message category.
From American history 101 montages to touching tributes to badass relatives to a de-glammed look at how we all look under our daily masks, each clip reaches beyond glamour and eye-popping FX shots to grab hold of a few minutes where the world is bigger than the song.
Rihanna, “American Oxygen”
The message: The American dream was built on the backs of strivers and fighters of all colors, who worked their fingers to the bone, put their bodies on the line, dared to question authority and would not stop until the notion of true equality was a reality.
Iconic images: From the swearing-in of President Obama to the civil rights fight to the American moon landing to the sacrifices of veterans to the plight of undocumented immigrants to the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter protests to the devastation of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the video spans decades.
Key Lyric: “Breathe out, breathe in/ American oxygen/ Every breath I breathe/ Chasin’ the American dream/ We sweat for a nickel and dime/ Turn it into an empire.”
Jennifer Hudson, “I Still Love You”
The Message: Love is love. The celebration of marriage equality centers on a gay couple preparing for their wedding as one of the men wonders if his old-school veteran dad is going to make it to the ceremony. In the end, love wins the day.
Iconic Images: The couple lying in bed and goofing around in their apartment, while the man’s father agonizes over the invite to their wedding. Later, the unspoken love in the father’s eyes as he sees his son exchange a kiss at the end of the wedding. Oh, and pops dancing his butt off with JHud and a group of fabulous drag performers and assorted guests at the afterparty.
Key Lyric: “You made it so true/ I would risk my high if you risk yours again/ Boy I’m letting go, I’m giving in.”
Colbie Caillat, “Try”
The Message: You are beautiful, no matter what they say. Whether your hair is done, you wear makeup or just woke up like this. You don’t have to try to fit into anyone else’s notion of what you’re “supposed” to look like.
Iconic Images: Before and after images of the women in the video au naturel and made-up, including a makeover in reverse of Caillat, who goes from being camera glam with fake eyelashes and hair extensions to the real her.
Key Lyrics: “Take your makeup off/ Let your hair down/ Take a breath/ Look into the mirror at yourself/ Don’t you like you, cuz I like you.”
Big Sean ft. Kanye West and John Legend, “One Man Can Change the World”
The Message: This one is personal. The stark black-and-white clip pays emotional homage to Sean’s late grandmother Mildred V. Leonard with the lesson that all it takes is one person with the heart and a dream to make a change.
Iconic Images: Lil Sean watching drug dealers on the block and riot police blocking the streets mixed with images of a grown Sean at the pulpit eulogizing his grandmother, who was a female captain in WWII and became one of the first black officers in Detroit.
Key Lyrics: “I hope you learn to make it on your own/ And if you love yourself just know you’ll never be alone/ I hope that you get everything you want and that you chose /I hope that it’s the realest thing that you ever know.”
Wale, “The White Shoes”
The Message: There’s more to life than image. Take it from a guy who used to work at Foot Locker — it’s great to have fresh kicks all the time, but keep your eye on what’s really important.
Iconic Images: A young kid walking proud in his new white Penny foams… and then getting jumped for them.
Key Lyrics: “Take this good advice/ If they’re gonna judge you for life/ Say we can’t always be fly/ We ton’ be good long as them sneakers white.”