Band: One Republic
One area of pop art that often goes uncritiqued is the music video, a genre that champions style and eschews narrative. Essentially, it’s video art combined with sound, often having very little in common with each other (although not enough is said about the symbiotic relationship between the two that can indeed exist when thought is put behind the execution). People may sit on their high horse and declare music videos are not art–which is foolish in that anything created is art–but I dare them to watch OneRepublic’s official music video for the original album track and much superior version of their breakthrough hit “Apologize”.
First let’s address the complications about this song’s various music videos. From what I can tell, there’s three versions out there (I swear I’ve seen a fourth but apparently it has moved on to the hidden depths of YouTube.). They all have their small flourishes that set them apart, and I’m actually confused why the band enlisted a hip hop producer and chamber orchestration to cut two remixes when one clearly outshines the other two to the point where they’re only good, but they only whet the appetite.
But first, let’s address the actual composition without technology spoiling a good thing. What’s really impressive is how expressive the prose is, echoing the poets of the Romantic Era with lines such as “I loved you with a fire red / Now it’s turning blue”. It’s simple and on the nose, but that’s often the hardest thing to do when expressing emotion. Further, it’s simplicity reveals singer/songwriter Ryan Tedder’s earnest heart with elegance and clarity.
The lesser two remixes of what is simply a special song are the results of hampering by Tedder and Timbaland, who both rearrange the texture of the delicate recording while marrying it to videos that I would argue dip in quality and are reflective of their appeal, but not emotion.
This remix wasn’t released on the band’s debut album Dreaming Out Loud, and honestly I don’t know where it came from and why it was put up on YouTube, but the best I can come up with is Tedder knew he composed something special and just couldn’t let go of it without exploring its varying sonic sounds.
The beauty of the song and really, the differences between these three renditions, are matters of texture. The above remix can be described as a more throatier and warm, driven by the methodical vibrato of whole notes drawn out lovingly but not hauntingly on a cello which has been layered on to top of this remix, compared to muted in the background in the original album track. This is no doubt a nod to Chamber Music from the Baroque Era.
It feels smaller than the next two versions because it was undoubtedly recorded in a way as to mimic the sound of small chamber orchestra playing in a closed room. Just listen to the cello at the opening of the song, and compare it to the other two videos listed. It has a mechanical sound that harks to that era of classist gentility. While technically impressive, this is more akin to the work of Antonio Salieri. And trust me, I drew that comparison from the film Amadeus, so I know what I’m talking about
Equally damning is the lousy video that accompanies the small remix, no less filmed with a handheld camera thereby reinforcing the intimacy of its sound. Tedder is filmed in a small room as well. The color scheme is black and white, with a hint of sepia, further associating the song to an older time. As nice as these flourishes are, they only reflect a superficial aspect of the texture, and take the easy road of avoiding the lyrical imagery of the song.
Next there’s the more recognizable Timbaland remix. This version features clean, haunting echoes from Timbaland’s African sounding “yays” during the verses which mimic Tedder’s wails. I admit that I could be wrong on the “yays”. It honestly reminds me of an African Safari, and possibly the Lion King. I don’t how else to describe it.
While we’re on the topic of haunting sounds, the piano melody oddly sounds like the piano melody in “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. For whatever reason, I didn’t pick up on this until I watched this version of the song. I think it’s because both are unapologetic pop ballads that are all gloss and no substance. This is made evident by how Timbaland adds small flourishes here and there, such as a very subtle spiraling, digital beeping sound (I have no idea how else to describe it) and refusal to let the strings sections have any lasting effects. To his credit, he employs a far more subtle use of the cello, and honestly, it takes very good audio equipment to fully appreciate this song. Just don’t buy Beats by Dre.
Timbaland also boasts a more studio produced and pop-like sound, with Tedder’s voice dubbed and raised to a higher volume than the above remix. Timbaland unfortunately infuses a hip-hop element via an overproduced beat that loops beneath the band’s instruments. It feels at complete odds with the classical undertones created with the string section, and thus robs it of its romanticism. This one sounds nice and appeals to the audiophile in me, but it does not marry the classical composed lyrics to the the calling of Romanticism that this version song is so lacking. It sucks that this is the remix we hear on the radio in America. Which is why I don’t think as many people fully appreciate it like I do.
Worse, it’s accompanied by a terrible video. The production (which I’m not sure who to credit with) in this one has a more professional aesthetic complete with slow zooms and dissolves, and yet looks like a homemade 80s prom video. Between clips of the band playing and Timbaland singing are unintentionally goofy scenes of a group of people at a party, focusing on a man with a red tie, and an on-the-nose clock that is seen is counting down to 00:00, serving as a metaphor for the lack of time left in the relationship. While this video gets closer to capturing the beating heart of the song, it succumbs to the same tropes as most pop music videos do, reflecting its equally disheartening pop-rendered remix.
“Apologize” is a break up song you well should have deduced after hearing it three times in row, but it is this rendition that is by far the most heart wrenching. It is simply melancholia, and like a fine wine, you won’t find another radio friendly hit this powerful outside of Tedder’s collaborations with what arguably were the hottest female pop stars of the past decade. I challenge you to not be moved by these big three songs, released in the short period from 2007-2009. The only drawback is their respective videos which all feature the artists singing into the camera but offering nothing really substantial. Beyoncés video is easily the most visual representation of the lyrics, but none offer much meat to chew on.
It may seem easy, but the crispness of this production is the perfection that early pop producers in the 90s were trying to achieve. There’s not much to it, just a string section, simple drum machine beat, and a refined piano melody. The closest songs I can think off the top of my head that are equally haunting and romantic while not succumbing to over producing is the powerful and gripping “Jenny Wren” by Paul McCartney as well other McCartney gem “Eleanor Rigby“.
But what makes this video an absolute must watch is how it truly encapsulates the feeling and weight of the song via it’s marriage of symbolism and imagery. What strikes the eye is the choice of color palette–a crisp white background that provides the subtext of a wedding and by extension relationship, filled with autumn tones which any student of poetry will tell you signifies death and decay. The color scheme is elegant and romantic, albeit tragically so, matching the mood of the song’s lyrics.
Visually, we’re introduced to the lyric’s themes with images of a love letter being written by a woman crying. Her tears fall and smear the ink, a motif that is later explored through mascara dripping down her face. This is accentuated by the haunting vocals sung by Tedder. The short film begins with signs of hope, represented by the flowers that are still in bloom.
However, at the 2:47 mark, it takes on a darker color palette, with images of flowers and feathers burning while the screen is haloed by fuzzy black edges. It’s a master stroke that some will argue is too obvious. But the artists know all to well it’s far more difficult to be obvious than it is to be obscure. All of this signifies the helplessness and despair of this failed romance. This is further reinforced by images of dead flowers and all the symbolic objects crashing on the platter.There’s so much more to be explored in the imagery and metaphors but I leave that to you to have the pleasure of exploring.
As you can see, the video is ripe for discussion, a rarity for pop videos interested in style over substance. How fitting that an image of a corner of paper that has the words “I love you” on fire, perfectly encapsulates the burning feeling of loss that can be felt in an simple and elegant word: sorrow. It takes a lot of digging to find something like this in pop music–and trust me–when you do you won’t forget it even two years later (which is how long this video has haunted me). This my friends, is a true masterpiece.