Originally published April 21, 1997
Just when you think you’ve seen it all in music videos, along come Tad Low and Woody Thompson, two 30-year-old guys who stick a pin in the genre’s bloated ego.
“I am so bored with watching music videos,” Low says, deflating the helium balloon that feeds him.
But he and Thompson did something about it, as viewers of VH1’s wildly amusing show “Pop-Up Video” knows. The show, which runs every Saturday evening, takes videos you know, love and loathe and adds a few things the artists didn’t necessarily want you to know. Like:
- That’s not an Atlanta highway the B-52s are heading down in “Love Shack.” (It’s in the Catskills.)
- Those are not real dreadlocks on Adam Duritz’ head in the Counting Crows video, “Round Here.” (They’re hair extensions.)
- George Michael is colorblind.
If you’ve seen MTV’s “Beavis and Butt-head,” you already have the idea. But instead of Butt-head saying “These guys suck,” the provocateurs of “Pop-Up Video” add information windows that pop up and point out details, explain something or add tasty trivia.
“It is a little more than ‘Beavis and Butt-head’,” Low says. “It is more like <‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ or the old Spy magazine. ‘Beavis and Butt-head’ is so juvenile and just kind of stupid. Beavis would say, ‘Hey, look at Alanis’ big butt’ or something. In our stuff, everything is true. We try to keep an ironic, sort of distanced voice where we allow the viewer at home to make the connection by juxtaposing the fact to the image on the screen.”
Just to clarify — is Low’s point that Alanis Morrisette does not have a big butt?
“If Alanis did have a big butt, we wouldn’t just tell you that, we would talk about the Thigh Master,” he says. “That is a smarter way than talking about someone’s big butt.”
What they would probably open a window over Morrisette’s posterior saying that more women on the East Coast get butt lifts than on the West Coast, a twist on the breast implant factoid in David Lee Roth’s “California Girls” video.
The idea for “Pop-Up Videos” came from a fashion stylist friend of Low’s.
“She works on a lot of big-time music videos,” he says. “She would always come back after a particularly exhausting and grueling shoot and regale me with these hilarious behind-the-scenes nightmares or celebrity tantrums that a particular music artist was throwing because her cappuccino wasn’t warm enough, and I was like, wow, that stuff is so great! I thought maybe I could take some of these great stories and superimpose them like the ‘balloon help’ that you see on a computer desktop and make the video viewing experience fun again.”
But there’s the rub. It’s one thing doing that at home for friends or even on a Web site. But surely no TV channel would ever telecast such a damning indictment of the medium — particularly one that made its living on video music.
Unless . . . maybe the network is as bored as these two hot-shot young producers?
“There hasn’t really been a breakout band on VH1 or MTV for years,” Thompson says. “So this is a way to sit through videos that you might never have sat through before, like, you know, we always get people saying, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t stand Mariah Carey but you guys made me sit through one of her videos.’ ”
And while it may be dangerous ground for VH1 — playing popular videos into the ground and then letting Low and Thompson satirize them, the payoff is big: “Pop-Up Videos” is among the cable channel’s most popular shows.
If you watch the show, beside finding it a gas, you’ll find yourself wondering where the producers get their facts.
“We talk to the director and producer of the video,” Thompson says, “and get a crew list, finding the ‘little people’ on the set, because the people doing food service, the production assistants, the people driving the Ryder truck at four in the morning, they sit around on the set all day just watching it happen. They have great stories.” Other information comes from published reports about the performers.
What makes it seem so dangerous and outrageous is that the performers literally walk into this information onscreen. They can’t hide from the pop-sters.
“They can’t protect themselves if they are making a snide look to the camera and we have a ‘pop’ about them sleeping with some supermodel,” Thompson says.
As you’d expect, not every artist is flattered by being popped.
“But to VH1’s credit, they sorted of backed us up and said, you know, this show has got to have some integrity. We have to stand for something here,” Low says.
“As long as it’s true, then we are covered,” Thompson says. “We have had stuff in our scripts that’s been stopped internally at VH1, where they don’t think it’s the right time to mention a particular artist’s drug problem.”
“We pepper our scripts with incendiary sort of commentary so that the standards and practices people feel like they have something to do.” Low says. “We know that a lot of that stuff isn’t going to make it into the final show, but we purposely put it in there so that they get distracted and we can slip by a few good ones.”
Low and Thompson believe that in the future, the pop-up concept will save cable television.
“Cable is a repository for re-runs,” Low says, “and what a better way to bring new life into old shows than to research them and pop-up these facts. Imagine going through ‘Brady Bunch’ Tartik episodes and learning that Bobby was stoned during this take and that isn’t the real Tiger!”
Popping people in print might be fun, too.
(POP: Thompson was the Honeycombs kid growing up. His face was on boxes of the cereal all through the 1970s.)
Low and Thompson started their professional association working on Brandon Tartikoff’s short-lived late-night humor show, “Last Call.”
(POP: They actually met at a New York summer camp 15 years earlier at the age of 10 — not too far from where the “Love Shack” video was shot. And while there was no love, they were living in shacks.)
“Working on ‘Last Call’ was incredibly interesting for Woody and me, watching MCA-Universal lose $12 million,” Low says. (POP: Low was fired from three different MTV shows.) “They had no concept going into the thing and we thought, ‘We could do this and we could lose a lot less money than $12 million.’ ”
(POP: Thompson was an art director for the movie My Cousin Vinnie.)
“Pop-Up Video” launched the pair’s production company, Spin The Bottle, Inc. which has development deals with Disney’s Buena Vista Television subsidiary and VH1.
(POP: Low crashed the MTV Music Video Awards dressed as Slash in 1994 and was thrown out after his bottle of Jack Daniels was confiscated.)
“We are working on a show with VH1 called ‘Pop-Up Interview’,” Low says. “We will treat one music video sort of like A&E does its ‘Biography’ series, looking at one video with the artists themselves sitting down in an interview. We will stop the tape and use the TeleStrator. In the case of the Bangles’ ‘Walk Like an Egyptian,’ we will even have an expert from the Metropolitan Museum of Art talking about Egyptian culture; Did they really walk like that?”
(POP: Entertainment Weekly once called Low the biggest idiot on television.)
One of Thompson’s favorite new pop-up videos is for a song by the Wallflowers, the band featuring Bob Dylan’s son, Jakob.
“Jakob Dylan hates being compared to his father,” Thompson says, “So of course, in our pop-up version of his video, we went out of our way to compare him to his father. We will see how he reacts to that.”
(POP: Sometimes Thompson gets so nervous that he wrings his hands and actually loses skin. Jakob Dylan is standing by for his pound of flesh.)