Rapper Pitbull and singer Christina Aguilera have a hit song out right now called “Feel This Moment.” I haven’t heard the whole thing yet, but the parts I have heard just bore me. There’s nothing genuine or real in that song. The only thing that catches my attention about the whole thing is the semi-sample* of the iconic keyboard riff from an 80s hit that doesn’t bore me at all. It might be A-ha’s only real hit in the U.S., but it’s also one of those songs that almost everyone in a certain age group remembers.
Aside from being a really fun, catchy song, “Take On Me” is also one of the most influential music videos of all time. In 1985, the combination of animation and live action was a rare thing for any film/video medium, and pretty unheard of for music videos at that point. (Before 1985, animation and live action was most famously combined in short scenes in a number of Disney films and cartoon shorts, and a scene in Anchors Aweigh in which Gene Kelly danced with Jerry Mouse. A few years later, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? used the technique for a whole film, even making the crossover part of the plot.) Video director Steve Barron also made the animation-live action crossover a plot point–this time as a love story between a young woman in a restaurant and a character in the comic book she’s reading (he seems to be a sort of Speed Racer type). It’s absolutely perfect for the song. “Take On Me” is a slight little love song about a boy and girl trying to connect, moving toward and away from each other in fits and starts, “slowly learning that life is okay. Say after me, it’s no better to be safe than sorry.” Restaurant Girl and her Comic Boy spend the video trying to find a way to bridge their two worlds, and he finally breaks out of the comic at the end. Presumably, they get to live happily ever after. (There’s something of a follow-up to the video at the beginning of the video for their next single, “The Sun Always Shines on TV,” but it’s not very happy, so let’s just pretend it doesn’t exist. The song isn’t that good, either.)
This was one of those musical moments when everything just sort of magically came together–the right song, the right visuals, the right time. It makes sense to me that other artists will try to draw on that magic, to recreate it for themselves. But that’s the thing about magic: You can’t force it to happen. You can’t explain it or recreate it. You can’t predict it. You might as well catch lightning in a bottle. Or fall in love with a comic book character. So Pitbull can use that riff to try and capture that magic and use it again. But it’s already moved on somewhere else.
*I call it a “semi-sample” because I think it’s played new for the Pitbull song, and not sampled directly from the original, but I can’t be 100% positive about that.