Two icons of the music-video format have returned this Friday with light-up headpieces and underground post-apocalypse vibes and pretty catchy music. Do not call Missy Elliott and Jamiroquai nostalgia acts—they’re offering colorful and imaginative escape to the future.
From the garbage-bag onesie of “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” to the bee facial of “Work It” to the Terminator goop of “She’s a Bitch” to the boogying marionettes of 2015’s “WTF (Where They From),” Missy Elliott’s knack for memorable music has been equalled by her knack for insane images. Today brings not only a visual smorgasbord in the video for the new song “I’m Better,” but also a trailer for a forthcoming documentary about the rapper that confirms her televisual excellence hasn’t happened by accident. It opens with her saying, “It’s never just making a hot record—I can do that in my sleep. But visually I have to see what I’m going to do with that record when I perform it.”
The “I’m Better” video, aided by her longtime directorial collaborator Dave Meyers and the producer Lamb, features dancers suspended from the back as if they’re puppets, wearing glowing riot masks on their heads, and grooving in white workout gear like cultists doing aerobics. The industrial setting they’re in at the start of the clip turns out to have a liquid portal in the floor; everyone falls through, and suddenly it’s an underwater performance. The song is minimal, tense, and in step with the trap sound ruling hip hop right now. The dancing accentuates the uneasy mood: “I didn’t want them to hit every beat of the track,” Elliott told Fact. “I wanted it to be art.” She raps that her man watches her like he watches Scandal, which is to say totally caught up—a relatable feeling for the viewer.
Less abstract but similarly heady is the new clip from the British funk act Jamiroquai. The band’s 1996 song “Virtual Insanity” made for one of the most famous music videos ever, with frontman Jay Kay hanging out in a room whose floors moved around him, a spectacle that scrambled the viewers’ expectations about gravity and home decor. That clip and others, such as the one for 1999’s “Canned Heat,” also demonstrated Kay really likes to wear things on his head.
For the new song “Automaton,” the advanced single to the band’s first album since 2010, Kay’s hat fetish remains, as does the interest in science fiction and things moving that aren’t supposed to move. The video opens with a mushroom cloud—topical!—and then introduces Kay wearing a prehensile, light-up headpiece. He explores human ruins, first underground and then above ground, and reports back his findings to some researcher-type. His cyborg-scout get-up is cool in a campy way, and it fits right in with the song’s sound: disco rock with heavy amounts of vocal manipulation à la Daft Punk.
Both Elliott’s and Jamiroquai’s videos might be seen as timely thanks to their dystopian vibes. But the creativity on display is exactly of the sort that both artists have shown throughout their careers. If there’s a takeaway message, it’s bedazzled onto one of Missy Elliott’s excellent outfits: “Save the Humans.”