Every now and again I miss grad school, despite the fact that my fondest memories involved drinking, watching Lost before it became completely godawful, or some combination thereof. Still, the urge to fashion an essay of substantive academic merit silently looms over me, like the world's least exciting poltergeist. (This itch is generally triggered by photos of Josh Holloway without a shirt on.)
So it is with zero apology that I'll abuse my present station and subject you to my ruminations on Billy Ocean's "Loverboy," the tapedeck dreadnought this side of Jeffrey Osborne's "Stay With Me Tonight." Why? This io9 favorite has a bafflingly uncelebrated music video that resembles Star Wars if Lucasfilm was funded solely by bingo tournaments. Feel free to submit your peer review in the comments.
Muppets of Disgust, Muppets of Eroticism: A Post-Lacanian Decalogy of Exegeses on The Extraterrestrials in Billy Ocean's "Loverboy"
In the 1939 edition of Walter Benjamin's essay "What is Epic Theater?," the author notes that:
The [Brechtian] art of the epic theater consists in producing astonishment rather than empathy. To put it succinctly: instead of identifying with the characters, the audience should be educated to be astonished at the circumstances under which they function.
And in the history of the music video, there is no greater example of epic theater than R&B superstar Billy Ocean's 1985 single "Loverboy." The audience is not only astonished by the circumstances under which the characters function, but the viewer also has no fucking clue what those circumstances are. Here are ten reasons why "Loverboy" is pop history's most challenging music video.
1.) A Casual Strangeness
Unlike the reified weirdness of, say, a Lady Gaga — whose defining character trait is "Debbie Harry who cannot rap" — the weirdness of "Loverboy" appears mostly accidental. This is not to say that Ocean has always unwittingly dabbled in the realm of the fantastic. Indeed, two of his more memorable singles confront a phantom made flesh by means of automotive intervention¹ and a "Caribbean queen [with which whom Ocean is] sharing the same dream," perhaps through telepathy, maybe via some genus of sexy Freddy Krueger.
2. "Loverboy" Is Unadulterated Aerosolized Hard-on
Without the visuals, "Loverboy" is pure dancefloor plate tectonics. (But with the vocals, of course — the dub remix of this song competes with the dub remix of Hall and Oates' "Out of Touch" in the Olympiad of Regrettable Dub Remixes.)
3. Sensuality In A Vacuum (Of Space) But the music video? Totally gross — a horrible ungulate man who is perpetually on the verge of vomiting travels to an intergalactic taverna. Save the barbot and TV-headed cyborgs, the patrons are extremely difficult to look at, particularly the baboon sailors. Compelled by logic foreign to our human ken, the protagonist murders a Satan alien and steals his companion, who is the hybrid of Rollen Stewart and a platypus. (Are these two genetically compatible? We do not know.) In sum, there is nothing sexually enticing about this music video, this veritable R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," except for...
4.) Kneel Before Ocean
Unlike other early science fiction-tinged music videos — say, the robot sequence from Michael Jackson's "Moonwalker" — Ocean excuses himself from the phantasmagoria in "Loverboy."
Instead, he serenades the viewer from the safety of some sacred geometry. Did Jor-El — the known Stevie Wonder fan that he is — exile Ocean there as revenge for beating out "The Woman In Red" for the 1985 Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male? Also, is Billy Ocean Kryptonian?
Of course not. Ocean became trapped in this pocket dimension by messing around on what appears to be a homemade teleporter platform, a recurring trope in 1980s dance videos. How do we know this? Ocean made two music videos for "Loverboy" — the original one just had him jamming on a telepod. In fact, we see snippets of the first video in the Fraggle Rock halfway house second version.
6.) This means someone — Ocean, his label, his astrologer — purposely changed the music video for "Loverboy" to make it completely insane.
And that's wonderful.
7-9.) These guys
Even though these are the shittiest Jawas money can buy, they don't make my esophagus taste like old orange juice.
10.) The galaxy's loneliest rhombus
Remember our discussion of Brecht before we all lost our appetites? In "Loverboy," the Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt ("alienation effect") is not achieved through the video's diverse cast of aliens — many of whom were presumably stymied by the velvet rope at Jabba the Hutt's Palace — but by Ocean himself, who is trapped in a hologram and directly, desperately screaming carnal promises at the viewer in exchange for freedom.
It is a jarring spectacle, the handsome troubadour pleading with the casual listener, promising anything to escape a dodecahedron's-eye-view of some distant nebula's grodiest singles bar. (That, or nobody gets laid in the Phantom Zone.) This extra, trans-dimensional subtext transforms a simple statement of sexual admiration into the manifesto of a man ensconced eternally in the intro to 3-2-1 Contact.
¹ The music video also stars a duck playing a saxophone, an unlikely sight on any occasion.
² Despite Ocean's insistence that he and the Caribbean Queen with the painted-on jeans are privy to a communal dreamtime, reality countered this claim, as such region-specific variations "African Queen" and "European Queen" so easily evince.