Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Grunge to Glitz

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jason Al-Taan/Courtesy of the artist (2002).

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have a decent amount of music videos under their belt that range from their early days to their recently released album Slow it Down. The early videos are very much like the gritty, punky NYC band they once were, but they have grown up, glammed up, and have released much more sophisticated looking music videos as their career has gone on.


That’s the only word I can use to describe the music video for “Y Control”. In it, a group of mischievous children go on a rampage as they spray graffiti, beat things with hammers, mosh around the band, play with a taxidermied dog,and just plain act badly. In the middle of the mayhem is the band, specifically Karen O, as she joyfully dances and jumps around with the kids as they wreak havoc wherever they are.

The footage is grainy, like it was shot with a Super 8 camera, and only adds to the strange quality of the music video. This early video is an indication of the horror genre that the band seemingly loves because later music videos also fall into this category. There’s even a scene where a child vampire bites Karen O’s neck. Even though the video looks like it was made on a shoestring budget, it undoubtedly set the bar for the band’s thought-provoking music video concepts that would follow for years to come.

This video was the first glimpse of how the band and their style had changed. It’s glamorous compared to “Y Control’’. This is one of my favorite videos from the band, as well as one of my most loved songs. The scene is set with the band playing in what looks like some fancy venue where rich people go to see performances. Suddenly, a werewolf wearing a suit comes on the scene and starts dancing for the crowd as the band plays on. Things go awry because, well, he’s a werewolf, and a killing spree ensues.

I had some questions as I watched: Is this video an homage to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, or was it just an interesting idea to have a man dressed up as a werewolf dance and kill because it looks cool?

As previously mentioned, the horror genre seems to be something that the band gravitates towards. I love the element of using metallic, red confetti to symbolize gushing blood. The normal fake blood can be overrated and overused; this adds an element of flash and pizzaz.

The slow-mo of Karen O dancing in the confetti blood as it falls like snow, while she smiles widely at the camera, is so silly and sweet against a scene that is so chaotic. The final pan over the band as they lay in pieces on the club floor makes for a fitting end to this video. All hail the wolfman.

The first time I saw this video, I was absolutely floored! It is truly a cinematic masterpiece. First, the band doesn’t appear in the video. I thought it was an intriguing choice to do this, and it definitely makes the video feel like a mini-movie. It’s reminiscent of the French film Irréversible because the entire thing takes place in backwards chronology.

In order to understand the concept, I have to start at the end. A woman, who looks to be a virginal bride, is having multiple affairs with people that live in her town, and those people eventually turn on her. They hunt her down and burn her at the stake for her wanton ways.

The thing that gets me about this video is the idea of hypocrisy and fear of women’s overt sexuality. All of the characters that are out to get this woman should also be burned at the stake for their indiscretions with her, but, as usual, they only want to blame the temptress for their immoral behavior.

Society loves to lay blame at women’s feet, especially women that flaunt and enjoy their sexual escapades. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were obviously making a comment about the way that women are treated for being sexual, and the video is an eerie reminder of that.

Color symbolism is something that might go unnoticed by most, but it clearly stands out in this video.

The video for “Wolf”, one of my favorite songs off of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs new album, starts with a woman in a white dress, in a mostly white home, with a husband that is clearly ignoring her. As the woman escapes from her white life, and traverses through the woods acting like a feral animal, her white dress is no longer in its perfect form, and neither is the woman.

Once again, I think that the band is making social commentary about women. There are a lot of people in the world that like to cast judgment on women that are not pristine and don’t act like demure creatures.

The men in the video are shocked, frightened, and repulsed by her animalistic behavior. Her husband even rejects her when she returns home as a changed woman; she can never go back to that pale life. It’s a classic tale of a woman that literally goes wild in order to find her true nature, and I’m here for it.

The progression of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ videos shows how much the band has changed over the years. Not only has their sound evolved, but the visual elements and concepts of their music videos have gotten much more polished.

This is not to say that their earlier music videos were less than what they are producing now, it’s just to say and show that they have changed, and probably will again if they release another album.



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