At its best, VH-1's Pop Up Video achieves a canny balance between comedy, music, and documentary, "re-purposing" old MTV chestnuts through a layered stream of short text bites that pop, both visually and audibly, on top of the video clip at hand. Parenthetical factoids, random pop cultural connections, rock star career gossip, and ironic juxtapositions of world history at the time of the clip's original release afford a Greek chorus for viewers with short attention spans.
Thus, Robert Palmer's sultry, stone-faced "band" of Stepford supermodels sways through "Addicted to Love" while the viewer learns of the video director's goal of invoking kabuki through the choice of makeup and Palmer's love of alcohol; statistics on employment and gender alternate with Donna Summer's own career moves atop "She Works Hard for the Money"; and Sammy Hagar's moving violations and willingness to smuggle Ferraris across the Canadian border garnish "I Can't Drive 55." The tension between the well-worn video images and these pithy diversions, as well as the graphic style for the text balloons that appear, mimic computer and Internet information presentation-–it's a midi-tech evocation of interactivity, but the interaction is between the screen action and the program's writers, excluding the viewer.
As broadcast programming, Pop Up Video has been a deserved hit, not least of all for its welcome irreverence, which embraces a willingness to poke fun at the show's own MTV origins. This first long-form anthology is more problematic, however. Some exclusive new footage filtering 1980s historical events through "pop up" commentary does afford mordant context, but interviews with the show's writers, explaining how they researched each clip, ironically offer too much information: these talking head segments are redundant at best. More pointedly, the ‘80s timeframe has prompted a perverse emphasis on forgettable kitsch; nostalgia is short-lived when confronted with Night Ranger, Poison, or the Fixx, although historic clips from the Buggles and Peter Gabriel have weathered well. --Sam Sutherland
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