Ok Go: My top ten video countdown

My top-ten countdown of the best OK Go videos. Enjoy!

I’ve been a fan of the band OK Go since forever. Well, since about fifteen years ago, give or take, which is forever in internet terms, and it was the internet that I first found them. One of my coworkers found a video on YouTube of a band doing choreography in a backyard, and it was immediately catchy.

The song was called A Million Ways, and disregard the 2009 date on that video link, because that was a later up-rezzed version. The original was never meant for public consumption. Basically, it was a practice video the band shot in order to learn the choreography created by lead singer Damian Kulash’s older sister Trish Sie.

That was it. Just a practice video so they could learn the steps for a live show. Except that, somehow, the tape was leaked out by parties unknown, and it became a huge viral hit way back in the day.

That was when the band realized, “Hey, we could make something of this,” but, more importantly, “We should be the ones in charge of it,” and so a legend was born.

Over the ensuing years, OK Go proceeded to crank out a phenomenal series of videos of increasing complexity and head-exploding realities if you took a second to realize what they had to do to shoot them. Every single one involved a combination of music, mathematics, logistics, timing, talent, physical endurance, and a lot more.

I was there to watch when every new one came down the pipeline and watched in stunned amazement. They had started to slow down with their release schedule as they got involved in new educational projects, but then COVID put a stop to that, and their last video that I know of came out in May, 2020 — a collaborative done “separately apart” by the band for the song, All Together Now. It’s simple and direct and yet, as always with OK Go, a monster of planning, timing, and editing.

They’ve actually done a ton of videos, but I was recently inspired to go through the collection and come up with my personal list of their top ten. This list just represents my opinions and your mileage may vary. If you have a different order, or a different #1, please let me know in the comments.

But before we get to OK Go proper, I have to start with…

Honorable Mention

In 2013, OK Go and Saatchi & Saatchi teamed up to invite young filmmakers to create a video for their new song I’m not Through. The winner was Nelson de Castro, in his first film made out of college, and, as everyone agrees, he managed to match the OK Go aesthetic perfectly in this one.

Full disclosure: When I first saw it, I thought it had been made by the band as well, and they just chose to either sit out from appearing in it or were there, but wearing the masked unitards. Nope. This was a complete original, and if it actually were an OK Go production, it would be a lot higher on the list.

Now, speaking of the list itself, here we go:

10. Obsession

Although a later video and still complicated behind the scenes, this one is nonetheless a lot simpler than many of the others, hence the lower score — although all of the paper used in it was immediately recycled to benefit charitable causes.

The concept: Let’s turn 570-ish printers into a gigantic pixel-display, each one cranking out one sheet of colored paper at a time, the “programming” managed by carefully stacking the sheets in each tray, and then also timing how slow or fast each printer’s feed mechanism puts out the sheets and using a bit of stop motion like End Love, plus a little wire work.

I don’t know how many takes this one took, but I can only imagine that every single “Paper Jam” alert was a director’s nightmare.

9. The One Moment

This is kind of the bookend to go with #7, End Love, which was shot over the course of several days in a park in Los Angeles via stop motion and occasional slow motion. In this video, we first see it in real time, which was 4.2 seconds, believe it or not.

Of course, it’s impossible to see what’s really going on in such a short timeframe, so it rewinds and repeats in super slow-motion. How slow? A series of ballistic explosions of paint-filled pots that flew by in the original practically allow us to time the shells that are causing them, and although I’m sure he’s not aware of it, Damian blinking before being hit with a water balloon was probably an instant before impact in his reality, but we see it as his right eye closing before the balloon is anywhere near him.

There’s a whole other level of synchronization going on in this one, but you’ll just have to pay close attention to Tim and Andy during the slo-mo parts. And be amazed that Andy didn’t shit his pants, given where he was standing in relation to the whole set-up.

8. White Knuckles

For emotional reasons, this will always be one of my favorites despite being so simple. It’s just the guys, dressed in all white, on a non-descript photo-set, and the props all seem to have come from IKEA.

What makes it is that they do the whole video with a bunch of expertly trained dogs who enter and exit and do their stunts as the four humans do their part and lip-sync the tune. Whoever trained the humans trained them well, but keep your eye out for the goat, which you will not spot the first time around.

Bonus points: Proceeds from this one went toward homing rescue dogs.

7. End Love

In terms of sheer performer and crew torture, this one must be the winner, and it was fairly early in their video career. Concept: The band is in Echo Lake Park in Los Angeles, and the video alternates between stop-motion animation and some slo-mo.

There were no shortcuts here, either. Shooting began in probably mid-afternoon, but then continued into evening and night, and baked into the story is the night portion where, clearly, each band member took a shift staying awake (and being shot in stop motion) to watch over the others as they all slept rough in sleeping bags in the park.

In the morning, they at least got to indulge in a couple of slow-motion moments of jumping and moving before moving on to even more intense moments of being human stop-motion models.

The best part of the whole thing? At some point, a random goose decides that it wants to get in on the action and, unlike any other goose know to human kind, this one is not an asshole. Maybe he just wanted his big break. In any case, for what must have been the last few hours of the shoot, that goose stuck to the boys like glue, and even seemed to be doing their choreography. Amazing.

6. This Too shall Pass

This is one of OK Go’s more iconic videos because it encapsulates so much of what they’ve done elsewhere in one place. In this one, they create a Rube Goldberg Machine in a two-story warehouse with its sole purpose being to blast four different colored paint cannons at the boys in the band.

It starts out small, with Tim launching a toy firetruck at some dominoes, but then it all gradually builds from there, culminating in a piano drop, a sledge-hammer smashing a TV set (playing a familiar scene), a car being launched down a ramp backwards, and so on, until the aforementioned paint cannon blast.

At the same time, it’s a rather beautiful and encouraging song. It only doesn’t rate higher because OK Go went even further with their videos.

5. The Writing’s on the Wall

Kind of a spiritual companion piece to This Too Shall Pass, this video also involves an elaborate two-story warehouse contraption, but this one is more intimately linked to the lyrics and meaning of the song.

In it, the singer is realizing that his current relationship is pretty much over. He just hasn’t been paying attention to… the writing on the wall. The conceit of the video fits that perfectly because it takes us through a series of images and illusions that only work from one POV.

Or, in other words, it’s all about perspective. One slight shift, and what seemed to be the “truth” vanishes.

4. Needing/Getting

Another elaborate machine. In this one, the band and crew turn a compact car (some kind of Chevy) into a rolling musical instrument, and it all seems to have been done in real time.

The band sings and performs inside. Meanwhile, Damian does some serious stunt driving, Tim harmonizes and, in the back, Andy and Dan are the ones pulling the levers at the right time to deploy the exterior fins, paddles, spoiler, and other doodads in order to interact with the track at the right time and keep the melody going.

And yes, this one must have been a monster to set up, since it involves sections of dirt track lined with old pianos, or guitars, or tuned water barrels, or dangling glass bottles. And, before the show really gets going, it starts with the gentle tinkle of a music box provided by metal rectangles dangling from the front bumper, striking pins on ground plates below.

The planning needed behind it all is mind-boggling.

3. Here It Goes Again

A nostalgic favorite, this is the video that OK Go made after A Million Ways leaked. And while it’s a simple bit of DIY, once again choreographed by Trish Sie and with nothing too complicated, it achieved what they wanted. This OK Go video went truly viral and the rest was history.

If it’s not ringing any bells, here’s the description you do know: “Guys dancing on treadmills.”

And that’s all it was in all its complicated simplicity — eight treadmills lined up side-to-side and end to end, each one running in opposite directions. Add Trish’s simple but impressive choreography, roll camera and done.

It was a mere hint of what the group would eventually do, but I put it at number 3 because of its nostalgic place in my heart, plus none of the others would have happened without it.

2. I Won’t Let You Down

A cast of thousands, some Honda unicycle-thingies, a single-shot video filmed via drone, all of it set on a Honda factory campus in Japan. What more could you want?

It’s also a great song with a catchy tune and some meaningful lyrics. Throughout, our POV changes from an eye-level view of the boys and their back-up performers to dizzying overhead shots, finally ending with a super-elevated shot that turns all of the performers into what is basically a gigantic LED board flashing out its messages via colored umbrellas and extreme coordination.

And then the drone keeps going up, above light cloud-cover and into total silence to give us an extreme aerial view of Japan until the image does about a 270° turn and then fades out.

1. Upside Down & Inside Out

Speaking of “high-flying,” this is the winner. Taking Ron Howard’s tricks from Apollo 13 and going them one better, OK Go enlisted the help of the Russian version of the “Vomit Comet,” calculated out how to fit the song into the available time of free-fall, then took to the air to create a truly amazing piece.

There are no special effects here. What you’re seeing is true free-fall, which simulates zero gravity, 27 seconds at a time, with about four or five minutes in-between. The band had to divide the song into a bunch of chunks, stopping and starting in between, and so on.

It’s too complicated to explain here, but there is a BTS video explaining it all.

But first, just enjoy this and let your mind be blown, because it’s what OK Go does.

Image Source: Paul Hudson, (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

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