What’s the best music for a workout?
For me, it’s either:
- Heavy like a headbutt from a Viking.
- So mechanical and repetitive that it’s inhuman and unholy.
- Upbeat, up tempo, and familiar, to distract from the pain and tedium of cardiovascular exercise.
The music they play in my gym is none of these things. I could write multiple paragraphs about how much I hate it, but I’m not quite at my “yelling at cloud” stage of life yet. Suffice to say: You know your playlist is in bad shape when G**rg* *zr** is a highlight.
But whatever. I can blank that out and listen to my own stuff. What I can’t ignore, though, are the videos that accompany these songs. There are TVs everywhere. Even if you don’t actively watch them, there they are. You’re going to notice them.
And notice them I have. And I’ve noticed that the various music videos they play in my gym fit into one of five categories.
Let’s explore these categories, together. I’ll list them in order of preference, from those I can tolerate (and even, sometimes, admire!) to those which, as music videos, are about as engaging as CCTV footage of the Winnersh branch of Allied Carpets on a drizzly Saturday afternoon in 1992.
I shall not be embedding any videos, soz. This is because I have no idea who’s responsible for most of the inanities that make it to the gym playlist. I could seek them out, but such behaviour could get me blackballed from the Drones Club.
Some of the world’s most talented animators and puppeteers are currently crafting beautiful and intriguing creations that will be barely noticed in a gym near you. Depressing? Not at all. They get paid to do what they love, and we exercisers get some nice things to look at, from time to time.
I’ve seen an astronaut dog infiltrate a volcano full of dancing… things! And I’ve seen Dua Lipa hallucinate in a state of Cuphead-induced delirium! I’ve seen two fluffy monster puppets fall in love, and the discarded rubbish from a grimy pub gain sentience and start a violent, post-apocalyptic rave!
As we’ll see, an animated video, or a video starring puppets, won’t automatically be an interesting video. Also, there are trends. Cyberpunk visuals are so hot right now, for instance. Many videos feature streamlined cars zooming down neon highways, or big glowing triangles moving towards the screen. Fine. I’ll take it. But I won’t like it.
High Concept Narratives!
Did I mention how almost 100% of the music they play in my gym is terrible? Yes! I am getting old.
Yet sometimes, visionary directors set epic narratives to the most insipid of songs. I watched a man work in a munitions factory to support his family, only for his elderly father to step on a landmine of his own creation. I’ve seen people dressed like Luc Besson extras cavort in a futuristic theme park. I think my favourite, though, was the one in which a young boy used his kung fu skills to rescue a tiger from a poacher’s compound. Love won, that day.
Yet without fail, these wonderous stories are invariably set to shrill autotuned voices wailing over bland beats. I can only assume that, when faced with music that inspires such apathy, certain directors feel free to tell whatever story they want to tell.
Just People Dancing!
Because I’m human, I like seeing people dance. If you’ll pardon the pun, it’s moving.
Some of the dance videos they play in the gym are standard pop video fare. The star stands front and centre, flanked by some backing dancers, and they move to the music. It works. Always has, always will.
Sometimes these videos are a bit more creative. You might see a carefully choreographed ice-skating routine viewed from above, for example. Or a bunch of women carrying big metal poles in a strangely deserted brutalist urban landscape.
Then there are the dancing videos that try to be funny. Usually, they feature the sort of people you wouldn’t expect to see dancing in a pop music video. Like old people! And people who aren’t conventionally attractive!
Dance videos. They’re nothing special, but at least they’re something. And the remaining two categories are essentially nothing.
Low Concept Narratives!
Some directors hear a bland tune and, against all odds, create something fantastic. Yet most don’t bother. The majority of the music videos they play in my gym are just boring. Boring visuals set to boring music.
You’d be amazed at just how many videos tell exactly this story:
Two conventionally attractive people, usually a man and a woman, are lying side by side in their underwear, smiling at each other. They’re in love! But what’s this? Oh no! Another woman’s entered the room! She’s not happy. That’s her man, and he’s cheating on her.
His lover gathers her things and runs out the room. The man stands and tries to explain himself to his partner. She’s not having it. Cut to the exterior of the house, and we see this man’s various possessions arcing in graceful slow motion out of the bedroom window onto the lawn below. She’s so over him!
At some point, possibly following the release of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, this possession defenestration scene was replaced by a scene in which the wronged woman took to the man’s car with a baseball bat. She’s so over him!
I’m not saying such a narrative is inherently “bad”. For the recently heartbroken, I imagine such videos are highly cathartic. But this story’s tired. Try something new. How about taking a cricket bat to a LEGO collection, or something?
Yet many videos aren’t even this ambitious. I’ve seen numerous videos whose concept can be summed up as something like:
- People just stand there!
- Person lives in a house!
- Person lives in a flat!
- Look who’s driving a car!
- Now we’re on the beach!
The worst thing about these low concept narrative videos, though, is how often the directors seem to think they’re making something outstanding. Sometimes you’ll see bold cinematic titles followed by footage of people sat in a club. Not dancing in a club, mind. Sitting in a club. Or you might see end credits – end credits! – following a video that only seemed to show a woman existing in her living room.
There are no good lyric videos. They’re the absolute lowest common denominator. No matter how good the lyrics, and no matter how you jazz them up, few things are more creatively empty than simply displaying the words to a song onscreen as they’re sung.
They show far too many lyric videos at the gym. Worse, some of them are animated. Sometimes, as I struggle to survive while nailed to a cross-trainer, what appears to be a lyric video begins, and my hopes are raised. But nope – animated lyrics. Gah! You got me. Again.
Lyric videos are particularly irritating in a gym setting. This is because nobody listens to gym music for the lyrics. They’re not there to emote, express, inspire, or energise. They’re just there, as incidental as the pedestrian beats and hollow synths that comprise the songs.
So the effect is abysmal vacuity – meaningless lyrics flashing onscreen to a musical backing which is about as musical as a dentist’s drill.
What am I on about? I asked a robot to generate some song lyrics for me. I asked for “a song about a night out in a pop style”. This is what it came up with:
Lights flashing all around!
Music blasting, we’re losing sound!
People dancing, can’t stay still!
This night out’s gonna give us a thrill!
Let’s go all night, we’ll dance till we drop!
Feeling alive, we can’t stop!
We’ll make memories, we’ll never forget!
This night out, we won’t regret!
Actually, that’s not bad.
Thanks, robot. Now go back to sleep.