There are three main, somewhat interrelated dimensions to a ‘water torture’ clip: height, depth and length. Let me explain further:
Height – The really tortured musician doesn’t just enter the water. They jump, they throw themselves with reckless abandon, leaving it to the fate of the universe as to whether they plunge in safely or are dashed on some jagged rocks hidden just beneath the surface.
Depth – Dipping your toe in the bath doesn’t count here. The musician should be at least partly, but ideally, fully submerged, to indicate that they are hopelessly trapped within their feelings. In a top-level ‘water torture’ clip, the musician will basically look like they are two seconds away from drowning.
Length – The water should not be just a passing prop, but an integral part of the clip. To signify the full extent of their torture, the musician should spend a fair chunk of the clip submerged.
Let’s have a look at some of the wettest music video clips over the years, and how they rate.
Chained – The xx: The xx certainly have the depth and length dimensions down pat. The band claim they spent two days underwater to film the clip, and they spend a fair chunk of the clip’s running time in that state, with very few background props as distraction. There’s also a pretty decent headlong dive into the drink partway through. To top off the bleakness the xx wear moody black for the entirety of the clip. A studied case in ‘water torture’ clips.
Blue Jeans – Lana Del Rey: Lana has the expressions to suggest that she can compete in the heartrending pain area, but this clip falls down in some vital areas. Filming the clip in a swimming pool means that it lacks somewhat on both the height and depth dimensions – it’s hard to believe that Lana is in that much agony when she’s entering the water by barely dipping her foot in, and all she has to do to exit it is stand up in the shallow end. Lana and her beau do well on the length dimension though; by the end of the clip they’ve built up a fairly solid sense that their relationship is heading towards some tragic doom.
Estranged – Guns ‘N’ Roses: Axl’s attempting to drown himself in the ocean takes up only a small portion of this clip, although given the clip’s massive ten-minute length that still adds up to a decent amount of deep sea thrashing. But the height! Axl doesn’t jump off the poolside – he hurls himself down into the ocean from a freaking oil tanker! He hurls himself down so far and so deep that they need helicopters to pull him back out! (Let’s see those xx kiddies top that.) Alas, Guns ‘N’ Roses are too unintentionally comedic to keep up the bleakness: it’s hard to maintain the veneer of emotional turmoil when Axl is saved from drowning by riding on the back of a dolphin, and Slash and his top hat come rising up out of the ocean to deliver the guitar solo. (Fuller appreciation of the comedic value of ‘Estranged’ is provided here.)
Next: PJ Harvey, Maroon 5, and Radiohead