Often when I listen to songs, I get the idea for how the music video should go. In many cases, I haven’t seen the actual video, partially because I don’t get time to sit up watching music videos. Some of my ideas are hopelessly enmeshed in metatextuality, some are simple and direct. All of them stick in my head, whether I see the real video or not. Now you can be tortured with them as well.
Oh, the last time I did this, it went a little something like this …
Of course, you have to set this one in a courtroom.
You wanna get somebody like Judge Mablean or Judge Hatchett on the bench, to set the scene properly and make Usher seem like an underdog. For the plaintiff, shooting dirty looks at Usher with anger over perceived slights, my wife had the best idea: Chilli from TLC.
Given their history together, that kind of stunt casting would keep the gossip rags heated for months. Her lawyer would be played by Taraji Henson (in her Boston Legal character, not her Hustle and Flow character).
The gallery is divided by gender — dudes behind Usher, with the first two rows jammed with as many male celebs and friends of Usher as you can get, and ditto for the plaintiff’s side. You shouldn’t see the defense attorney (standing facing the judge with hands crossed behind himself) until later on.
The video starts with Usher taking the witness stand and being sworn in by a pixie-cute female bailiff with a really shory haircut. After he says, “Yeah man,” the whole jury — a real mix of genders and ethnicities — starts nodding their head to the beat.
Usher sits down and starts “testifying” with the first verse, cutting back and forth with Chilli mean mugging him and the judge frowning disapprovingly. In the chorus, after he sings, “I guess I’m guilty for wanting to be up in the club,” all the guys stand and throw their hands in the air on “hey!” After he sings, “I guess I’m guilty ’cause girls always wanna show me love,” all the ladies in the gallery behind Chilli say “hey!” and act really flirtatious (batted eyelashes, wave, beckon to him with their fingers, break out with a suggestive dance move, strike a yoga position, et cetera). By the time he gets to “don’t take me to jail,” the whole gallery should be swaying side to side while bobbing their heads to the music, all in perfect synchronicity. The judge should start tapping her finger on her gavel, also on beat, softening towards Usher’s position.
More emphatic testimony for verse two, more of the same for the chorus, except after they say “hey,” each side of the gallery gets up and starts dancing like they’re at a club. After the chorus, the camera turns to fatce the defense attorney — T.I. He delivers his “closing argument” (yes, I see that Taraji won’t get one, it’s a video, not a hearing) before Usher jumps up at the end of T.I.’s verse and jumps up on the ledge of the witness stand, singing and dancing (wide ledge) as well, and T.I. starts dancing with Taraji. A set of female bailffs come and cuff Usher and drag him off as he riffs and the courtroom keeps dancing. Last scene has judge grooving before getting a hold of herself and slamming down the gavel and yelling, “This court is adjourned.”
I know but don’t care about the likely motivations behind this wonderful piece of music. I should say that up front. When I heard this song, a love story (right or wrong) was the furthest thing from my mind. I didn’t think of furtive, apprehensive sparks between two people nor the possible harm they could create for another person and their infant.
To me, this song is about terrorism.
Wait, wait, hear me out! All it takes is changing one line in the chorus (which, for the purpose of my hypothetical video, I’m happy to consider as subtext) and this is on some Nat Turner, Al Qaeda stuff. Look at it this way …
I was wondering, maybe,
if we did something hasty,
we could do the unthinkable
would it make us look crazy?
Or would it be so beautiful?
Either way, I’m saying
if you ask me I’m ready …
… if you ask me I’m ready.
See? Those are the words of somebody who has nothing left to lose, someone who needs things to change now and is willing to leave tomorrow in other hands. Bobby Hutton. Mohammed Atta. Timothy McVeigh. Desperate, crazy mofos on a mission. Extremists.
Truth be told, leave the chorus as is and it makes things even crazier.
I should also say that, ideologically speaking, I am not opposed to terrorism. Depending on where you stand, people might say George Washington was a terrorist. Ditto Fidel Castro. Ditto Toussaint L’Ouverture, et cetera and so on. Very few people have ever labeled themselves a “terrorist.”
With that in mind, my video casts Alicia as a cult leader. Given what people are thinking about the song, it’s a good misdirect that allows Keys to complicate the perception. She begins by sitting in a dark den with three guys (Swizzy can even be one of ‘em, I don’t care), leaned back, hand to forehead, beginning with her first verse.
Moment of honesty
Someone’s gotta take the lead tonight
Whose it gonna be?
I’m gonna sit right here
And tell you all that comes to me
If you have something to say
You should say it right now
When she refers to “you give me a feeling that I’ve never felt before,” the camera will be showing her facing a glowing shrine that is hidden from the camera (to make sure we don’t offend any actual religions) with some of her followers looking adoringly on, mouthing the words too, and her lifting a Desert Eagle from the unseen glowing area. On “It’s becoming something that’s impossible to ignore,” she stands up defiantly, clenching her fist and looking off meaningfully as her followers join her on her feet.
When she sings the chorus for the first time, she’s in a darkened warehouse setting, standing under a bright circular overhead light. The border of the light is surrounded by the followers from earlier and dozens more, nodding at her words and looking mean. As she approaches the end, a follower steps forward with one hand offered as Keys’ voice goes “if you ask me, I’m ready,” mouthing the words, followed by another (as many as she sings) and they all join hands team-style under the light (camera angled from above).
Second verse has her alone watching an old video (maybe in black and white soft focus) introducing a father figure. She sings to him while video of troops training paramilitary style plays in smaller CCTV monitors off to one side. On end of “if we gonna do something about it, we should do it right now,” should show father figure gunned down by cops while ponytailed Keys is held by other cops (she was younger, maybe dress her in a Public Enemy t-shirt).
Second time she sings “you give me a feeling that I never felt before/And I deserve it, I know I deserve it,” she’s backstage at a huge rally, singing it to the same Desert Eagle, which she’ll shove in a shoulder holster under her jacket before going on stage. Once she’s there, she hits the chorus and she’ll be behind a podium, singing and gesturing emphatically to a crowd of hundreds on their feet, nodding enthusiastically while holding AK-47s and signs saying stuff like “Change Comes Now!” and “Here Comes Justice!” By the time she gets to “if you ask me, I’m ready” again, camera is at chest level and maybe six feet back from front row, and on each line, another person, looking up at stage, steps forward mouthing the words.
For bridge …
Why give up before we try?
Feel the lows before the highs?
Clip our wings before we fly away?
I can’t say I came prepared,
I’m suspended in the air
Won’t you come be in the sky with me?
… it will be a quick cut collage of people arming themselves and loading up in SUVs, then driving fast along a freeway in a convoy.
Holding an AK-47 in her lap as, oh, say Swizz drives. She’ll sing the last chorus, ending up on a rooftop singing down to a crowd a thousand deep, all loaded for bear, with dozens at a time stepping forward on “if you ask me, I’m ready.” As the song ends, Alicia’s at the edge of the rooftop (it’s like a brownstone), just nodding to the beat as her army marches below.
Normally I’m very literal, but this makes me go a different way. No idea why.
Only had two songs this time, I’ll try to remember another one I had in mind.
Playing (Music): “This Tightrope’s Made for Walkin’” mash up of Janelle Monae vs. Nancy Sinatra, by DJ Party Ben