How the Beastie Boys Revolutionized Music Videos
From "Fight For Your Right" to "Sabotage" to "Make Some Noise," MTV Music Group President Van Toffler reflects on the band that helped elevate the visual medium with scripts, elaborate concepts and groundbreaking effects.
Much was said and written about Adam Yauch last week. The Beastie Boys member's death came as a huge shock to fans and even music industry veterans, who've seen more than their share of premature exits in the last 20 years, among them Kurt Cobain, Jeff Buckley, Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.
So why did Yauch's passing on Friday seem particularly heavy? MTV Music Group president Van Toffler, who spent countless occasions in the presence of the Beastie brotherhood, has a theory. “You felt like Beastie Boys would go on forever,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Adam left a huge imprint so it feels seismic to a lot of us. Certainly, to our audience it does."
Indeed, the Beasties were to MTV what Led Zeppelin was to FM radio -- each played a critical role in the others' success while at the same time redefined the way fans absorbed music.
The Beasties had so many defining music video moments, but we asked MTV's top executive to hone in on four that truly changed the game. Read on for his thoughts...
"(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)" (1987)
The Ric Menello-directed was an early -- and instant -- MTV staple, while the 1986 single off of the Beasties' debut album License to Ill reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. “They managed to literally translate the energy they had in their music,” says Toffler of the Beasties video. “They had this great exuberance -- they were musicians and visual stylists.” And while he doesn't forgive the "bad acting," “Fight For Your Right’s” raucous party takeover spoke to every angst-ridden mid-80s teen from punk rock to hip-hop and perfectly illustrated the spontaneous nature of the Beastie Boys. “They had this great sense of unexpectedness," he says. "If you put them in a room, you never knew what they were going to come out wearing or saying or doing."
“So What’cha Want” (1992)
“You couldn’t take your eyes off of it,” says Toffler of the video to the Beasties' 1992 single “So What’cha Want.” "It was quirky and compelling, like them." Directed by Adam Yauch’s alter-ego Nathanial Hörnblowér, it gave the sensation of slow-motion throughout although the guys were lip-syncing in real time -- one of the first artists to film in double time, a trick many would use in the 90s and beyond. Its visually stunning photo negative effect also came courtesy of Yauch. “Adam was a great director and had great visual sense and liked to mix it up as well,” Toffler says of the late MCA. “For those guys, rules were made to be broken. It's like the genre of music they broke into -- they were all great musicians but wanted to go down the hip-hop route rather than pop or rock. That was the same way they approached video making."
The video that put them in the same league as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” says Toffler, was the Beasties' ode to 70s cop shows: “Sabotage.” This 1994 clip was written and directed by the band's long-time collaborator Spike Jonze who went on to helm such feature films as Adaptation, Being John Malcovich and Where The Wild Things Are. “They chose a director who thought out of the box, who became their partner, says Toffler. "It had a script and an energy that other videos didn't have at the time and directors slowly started to treat videos like movies -- look at Spike Jonze, Michael Bay, Mark Romanek and others who went on to direct feature films.” Thanks to "Sabotage," he adds, The Beasties were able to "cross over into major multi-format success, not just hip-hop."
"Make Some Noise" (2011)
Oodles of cameos are peppered throughout the video for “Make Some Noise” from Beastie Boys' 2011 album Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. Starring Elijah Wood, Danny McBride and Seth Rogen as the 1986 Beastie Boys, Yauch directed the 32-minute version called “Fight For Your Right Revisited,” which includes appearances by Kirsten Dunst, Ted Danson, Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny, Will Ferrell and Jack Black.“It’s hard to find anyone in popular culture who’s not a fan of the Beastie Boys and any comedian would jump at the chance to be in a Beastie Boys video because they were so loud and unforgettable,” says Toffler of the casting process.
The video was shot over two days and again pushed the limits of the traditional music video format. "Yauch was always a champion of the independent spirit and of doing things differently," Toffler recalls. "I was like, 'So, you got the cut down version of this?' and he was like, 'Yeah, it's 29 minutes.' I was like, 'Alright then, we'll try to work with it.’” Ultimately, adds Toffler, “We have so much respect for him and the rest of the band that we let it go. The Beasties were such great video artists and musician that we wanted to respect their art and not have it conform to the rules of TV.”