Beck is a zany artist who has a penchant for creating mellifluous melody-infused beats you can both sway and groove to. And his music videos— topsy-turvy, phantasmagorical adventures that they are—definitely help illustrate his music on a visible level. Dream-like events, interloping back and forth from reality mark his musical reveries and witty lyricisms that travel across time and space.
Between the mid-1990s and today, Beck has made more than 20 music videos. He’s gone from lo-fi skate themes to ‘60s pop art influences and everything in between. Here are five of the most surreal Beck music videos.
This video opens with Beck walking around New York City with a boombox dressed like if he’s in the movie Midnight Cowboy. At the end of every scene—from Coney Island to Chinatown—the picture freezes and zooms in to wherever it stopped on. At the end of the video, the great reveal is that people are spying on Beck all around town, making the “Devils Haircut” video a pop culture reference of surrealist surveillance.
The “Loser” video is playful, psychedelic trip. Directed by Beck’s longtime friend Steve Hanft, the concept was certainly influenced by avant-garde art. In the first scene, Beck’s face is blurred, but as the backbeat drops, he steps outside of the blurred pixilation. As the video continues, a subversive notion of death seems to emerge, as a stop-motion coffin moves around on its own fruition in a nondescript forest. Then there is another shot of two girls exercising in a cemetery, and after that, of death cleaning a windshield with blood. Although Beck maintained that the video just represented a bunch of friends goofing off, there’s a dark humor to the whole weird thing.
The main trick in the “Girl” video—a nifty little folding trick—is an homage to MAD magazine. Beck grabs a flyer about limos and then folds it up to make it read, “less is more.” Later, at a pharmacy, the store shelf folds inwards into the wall so as to shows the phrase, “Side Effects: Death.” There’s even a scene in which a little girl is drawing on the sidewalk before the ground folds into itself and transforms the chalk drawing into an outline of a dead body in a crime scene. Although the fold effect is inspired by MAD, the exception to this comparison is that in Beck’s version, reality folds into itself instead of just a piece of paper. Trippy stuff, dude.
This video is basically what would happen if Michael Gondry decided to make a skate video. Hanft, who also directed “Loser,” chose to use a weird focusing technique, in which the camera switches back and forth from a fisheye to a regular shot. Sometimes the lyrics match the visuals, like the repeating scene of homeless horde raiding an empty house in reference to, “old man eating all my food.” Most of the time, though, the pairings seem disjointed. Maybe Beck is trying to give us a sign when he signals, “okay,” and the camera switches focus to show Beck trying to get the moon to show through his cycloid shaped fingers.
Watching video feels like dreaming after a night of binge-watching Adult Swim. The video for “E-Pro,” the first track and lead single off 2005’s Guero was produced by the London visual art collective Shynola. At the start of the video, the wire-frame 3-D animation depicts Beck rising out of a coffin, but the visuals only continues to get weirder. The crazy thing is that that scene could have been pretty prescient, as Beck actually suffered a serious spinal injury during the filming and had to quit touring for years.