I've been spending the morning enjoying OK Go's fourth album, Hungry Ghosts, which was released on Tuesday.
OK Go has been making great music since 1998, but the band really came into its own with the advent of YouTube, which allowed it to stage ever-more-elaborate stunts and capture them on video. Here are my favorite OK Go music videos.
1) "Needing/Getting" (2012)
This 2012 video might be OK Go's most ambitious. It was made possible with the help of a corporate sponsor, Chevy.
The gang lined up rows of noise-making objects — pianos, guitars, jars, plastic barrels — in the desert outside of Los Angeles. Then, according to the band, "a Chevy Sonic was outfitted with retractable pneumatic arms designed to play the instruments. The video took 4 months of preparation and 4 days of shooting and recording. There are no ringers or stand-ins; Damian took stunt driving lessons."
2) "Here It Goes Again" (2006)
This was the video that made OK Go famous. In OK Go's early shows, the band members would lip-sync some of their songs while doing silly dances. Here, they combined that basic concept with a set of eight treadmills, producing a charmingly low-tech music video.
It was posted to YouTube in July 2006, a time when YouTube — and the concept of music videos going viral online — was new. It quickly racked up tens of millions of views, earning OK Go a spot at the 2006 MTV Music Video Awards, a Grammy award, and even a parody on the Simpsons.
It also set a tone for later OK Go music videos. One of the group's first music videos was a conventional number featuring scantily clad women and a close-ups of lead singer Damian Kulesh. But after the treadmills went viral, OK Go stopped trying to make conventional videos and doubled down on nerdiness.
3) "The Writing's On the Wall" (2014)
OK Go's newest video was released in June, to help generate buzz for this week's new album.
Like other recent OK Go videos, this one was done in a single take and required an insane amount of preparation. It features a sequence of optical illusions that play with perspective. Many of them require the camera to be in precisely the same spot, so a whole crew of people worked behind the scenes to make sure everything was set up exactly right.
4) "End Love" (2010)
This video was also done in a single take, but instead of taking three or four minutes, it was filmed over 18 hours. It features radical shifts in playback speed: some sequences are shot in slow-motion, while in other cases, hours fly by in seconds.
The hardest part was keeping the band members' lips lined up with the music so that the lip-syncing would look realistic. The guys behind the video describe how they did it:
In the first section we go from real-time into 4x (meaning every 4 seconds recorded becomes 1 second of playback)… at speeds like 4x you can play the music at quarter speed, and have the singing lip synced just by listening to it and singing slowly… this starts to fail around 8x where the audio starts to become unintelligible.
At this and slower speeds we used a variety of techniques – when it’s around 16-32x (where one minute recorded equals ~2 seconds of playback), we could take the rhythms of the singing and notate when each syllable should start – Eric was continually megaphoning out the cues to all the members, eg "five…. six… ok on eight damian begins saying ‘love’… seven… eight" – all this while also yelling out all the choreography cues!
At the slowest speeds even listening to a count becomes almost impossible – the sleeping bag scene is filmed at 512x, meaning every roughly 8 minutes becomes a second. A single line of singing took usually 45 minutes. To do this reasonably well, we filmed each of the band members singing their lines, and then slowed down the recordings to 1/512x. While they sat/slept (yes they really did sleep) in the sleeping bags, we played back the roughly 2 hours of film on a laptop in the park, where they could see where they should be with their mouths.
5) "Last Leaf" (2010)
This video features animation burned onto slices of toast. And no, the animation wasn't inserted into the video digitally — the team really bought thousands of slices of bread, toasted them, and then used a computer-controlled laser to draw a frame of the animation on each one.
The video was also a business-model experiment: Samsung sponsored the video to promote its NX100 iFn camera.
6) "This Too Shall Pass" (2010)
In this video, the band set up an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine that starts with a line of dominoes and ends up smashing a piano, a television, and much more.
Like most of OK Go's recent videos, this one was done as a single uninterrupted take. It took an insane amount of careful planning to get the whole sequence to work.
7) "WTF?" (2010)
This video, which features the first song on OK Go's third album, combines a clever video gimmick with a bunch of junk purchased at the dollar store to fill the screen with pretty colors.
The video was filmed in front of a green screen. But rather than inserting a totally different shot behind the singers, the background for each frame is simply the previous frame of the video. The result: when objects move across the screen, they leave trails behind them. The band wrapped objects in colorful gaffing tape to produce a variety of on-screen patterns.