Ok Go and the Geek (Rock) Video

Ok Go isn’t exactly what I would call a geek rock band. Although they are most assuredly clever, their music doesn’t really fit the criteria for geek rock; in my opinion, they are straight up, unabashedly, indie rock. And they make some very good indie rock. But it’s not geek rock. Not quite.

Their videos, however, are an altogether different story. Ok Go’s videos are geeky as hell. Their latest video, for “The Writing’s on the Wall,” is a study in perspective and optical illusion. The song is great, as Ok Go songs tend to be–honest, melody driven, unpretentious indie rock that is happy to be indie rock. But the video is fantastic. The video elevates the song into something akin to geek rock.

I would even make the argument that all Ok Go videos do this–bring their music into a place where their music doesn’t necessarily go on its own. For “The Writing’s on the Wall,” it’s clear that the amount of time, dedication, and perhaps most importantly, study that went into the making of this video required geek-level knowledge. To even make a music video today is itself almost an act of geekery. After the rise (and fall) of MTV, the music video has (sadly) seen better days. Making a music video speaks to either a deep dedication to music, or a deep dedication to sales. Ok Go is clearly in the former category (see above: indie rock).

The phrase “the writing is on the wall” is cliche at best, hackneyed at worst, depending on one’s personal preference. The song itself is strong, well-constructed and unsurprising, with lyrics that are  largely unexceptional. A confessional break-up song, the lyrics follow the song title; the narrator explains that the relationship is clearly over, and all he wants is to see his partner happy again for a moment before they break up. There are no surprises or twists. This is a break up song.

The magic is in the video. The optical illusions and twists in perspective are the envy of textbooks on cognition and optics. I have no doubt that this video is being shown in psychology classes. And the reason the video elevates, or enhances, the song and pushes it towards the realm of geek rockery is that the video (much like all visual rhetoric) overlaps an additional layer of meaning, a commentary on relationships and perspectives. Not only is the video a work of mechanical and theoretical mastery of illusion (much like actual stage magic), but the pairing of the video with the song creates a visual and aural rhetorical commentary on  the optical illusion of being, of I-ness and you-ness and us-ness, of the boundaries of self and other (and world). The video achieves a level of geekery that the song, on it’s own, does not, and the video almost works to pull the song with it into a geekier realm.

The video with the Rube Goldberg Machine, “This Too Shall Pass,” is by far my favorite Ok Go video, and one of my favorite all time videos.

The phenomenal intricacies of this Rube Goldberg machine pair perfectly with the song. While nothing about the song is inherently geeky, the video, again, elevates and compliments the song towards the realm of geek rockery. In itself an amazing feat of engineering, the video also creates a visual interpretation of the song, even down to the sonic and visual complements of the song to the machine.

There are, however, two official videos for this song, the second one featuring the Notre Dame marching band:

And the very fact of there being TWO videos, with two different sonic and visual interpretations of this song, is pretty geeky. Not content with one fairly geeky visual elevation, Ok Go made a second, prominently featuring a collegiate marching band both visually and aurally–marching band being, as several popular movies tell us, “geeky.”

But still, I wouldn’t call Ok Go a geek rock band. Their music, on it’s own, doesn’t lend itself to enough of the criteria to be geek rock. But their videos are a different story, pushing them closer to the line of geek rock them most other straightforwardly indie bands achieve. And perhaps this is part of their charm, because they are willing to explore and create wherever their music takes them.

Which is pretty geeky, if you ask me.