Here Are Some Of The Best Video Game Inspired Music Videos
That video games would become relatively standard-issue inspiration, particularly for dance music, is unsurprising–all music is in the business of conjuring images or emotions, and video games are in the business of conjuring entire worlds. Here are some of the best instances where the two collide.
Ikonika, “Mr. Cake”
Much of Ikonika’s music and aesthetic is derived from video games; her first album, Contact, Love, Want, Have, was a deliberately sparse palette of bleeps and bloops, in which each song is conceived as a level in a game. “Mr. Cake,” from her second album Aerotropolis, pushed Ikonika’s sound in a more developed, sonically richer direction. The visuals for “Mr. Cake” have an array of postmodern influences; The Sims, Grand Theft Auto, emojis, commodity culture, and fourth wave feminism.
NERD, “Everyone Nose” (All The Girls Standing In The Line For The Bathroom) (Remix)
Everything about the “Everyone Nose” remix is 2008: pre-dreadlocked and more cheerful Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West making obvious, innuendo-laden puns, and a beat begging to be included on defunct blog Mass Hyperbole. (Raise your hand if you remember when “bloghouse” was a thing! Nobody? OK.) The video for the “Everyone Nose” remix involves ample, rainbow-colored explosions, and visuals taken from Donkey Kong and Galaga. Of this list, the video for the “Everyone Nose” remix is perhaps the most “video game-y,” but it’s also the most visually cluttered and grating.
50 Cent, “Heat”
Of the singles from 50 Cent’s octuple-Platinum Get Rich or Die Tryin’, “Heat” is likely the most widely forgotten. The song is standard 50 Cent–cartoonish threats of violence backed by an instrumental full of gun sounds. Despite the uninspiring source material, the video for “Heat” is sneakily political. The framing device for the video is two friends playing a video game titled “COINTELPRO III,” so named for an FBI program aimed at infiltrating and disrupting leftist domestic political organizations. The goal of COINTELPRO III is much the same, although scenes from the fictional game are often overlaid with an awkwardly green-screened 50 Cent.
Slackk, “Blue Sleet”
Starfox 64 introduced “Do a barrel roll!” into the lexicon of an entire generation of video game players. The worlds of Starfox 64 were in turns icy and verdant, grim and lush. The video for Slackk’s “Blue Sleet” is clearly influenced by Nintendo’s 1997 mega-hit; a jet dips in and out of the screen, but the camera keeps panning over glossy cityscapes, pointed mountain ranges, and glimmering oceans.
“Hyperballad” is, if nothing else, the most ambitious and abstract video on this list. Directed by filmmaker Michel Gondry, “Hyperballad” shows Bjork performing while various two-dimensional and three-dimensional images are projected onto her face and chest. At one point, a pixelated, two-dimensional version of Björk runs around a series of pylons before throwing herself off a cliff.
LL Cool J, “The Boomin’ System”
There’s a lot going on in the video for LL Cool J’s “The Boomin’ System,” an underperforming, lackluster single from the album Mama Said Knock You Out. In an arcade located in a cave, “Rushland,” a conservatively-dressed woman enters an immersive video game titled “The Boomin’ System.” Once she steps into the machine, she’s transported into a Mad Max-type world, in which LL Cool J wears a more apocalyptic bucket hat than usual. The video game sequences are poorly animated (it was 1990), if they are animated at all; during some of the “video game” sequences, live action footage is given fuzzy filters to make it seem less lifelike. A “lick lips” action would’ve been a more realistic game mechanic than LL Cool J driving around a wasteland.
Fatima Al Qadiri, “Vatican Vibes”
Fatima Al Qadiri was raised under the peaceful, endless blue skies of Kuwait. Then, in 1990, Saddam Hussein-helmed Iraqi forces invaded the country. Many Kuwaitis fleed, Al Qadiri’s family stayed. While her parents distributed samizdat, and schools became inaccessible, Qaidri played video games, including Desert Strike: Return To The Gulf, a game with an antagonist based on Hussein. “Vatican Vibes” epitomizes Qadiri’s work at its best; Qadiri is a Third Culture artist, who’s at her most interesting between genres. There’s no clear category for the “Vatican Vibes” video–it’s full of video game menus and gameplay-esque moments, as well as iconography and apocalyptic scenes.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Californication”
In the video for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication,” a Los Angeles rock-radio staple, the group members take the form of 3D video game characters. Guitarist John Frusciante dodges Scientologists in Hollywood, drummer Chad Smith snowboards on the Golden Gate Bridge, singer Anthony Kiedis surfs on a shark’s back before flipping into a muscle car, and bassist Flea battles deforestation (seriously). In the video’s apex, an earthquake begins destroying LA, though on the in-video Richter scale it registers roughly a 4.5, hardly enough to knock over a glass of water. Despite the similarities to Grand Theft Auto 3, the “Californication” video predated the game by about two years.
Versis, “Fly Me t’The Moon”
Versis’ iLLCANDESCENT was a strong debut by the Los Angeles rapper… which he’s yet to follow up. “Fly Me t’The Moon,” produced by Los Angeles beatmaker Dibiase, was released in the wake of Versis’ auspicious debut. The single was accompanied by arcade game-inspired animation; the video’s protagonist, clad in a jetpack, flies through the cosmos, shooting lasers until he reaches the Moon. He then tags Versis’ logo on it.