The best music video I have ever seen is Everybody Hurts by R.E.M.
Is it the best song I have ever heard? Sure, occasionally, along with many others. Written by a band just coming off of the height of their inventive powers, it comes in at that often tiny sweet spot where a group's deepening wisdom briefly crosses with their creative mastery.
Perhaps even more rare than this sweet spot, Everybody Hurts belongs to that tiny collection of spiritual anthems. These are religious songs without religion, and they are extremely rare.
Off the top of my head we have:
Let it Be
Bridge over Troubled Waters
I Shall be Released
You may readily note that thematically, even a little structurally, these are almost all one song.
Well, they're one, but they're not the same.
Sorry. Spiritual anthem lyric joke there.
Let's put it this way:
They're all "don't kill yourself" songs. They are painful songs of comfort. And the reason they are so powerful is because they go so deep into understanding just how bad it can be. They do this musically sometimes even more intensely than they do it lyrically, and they don't say that rejecting the despair of being alive is easy, but they nevertheless meet it with hope and love.
They're very, very nice songs.
They care about you. That's a pretty profound trick for a piece of art to do.
And so we have set the stage for Everybody Hurts, the music video.
Everybody Hurts doesn't need a music video. It doesn't need anything. It is as complete a song as human beings can write. But there it is, a video. It will take you less than six minutes to watch if you've never seen it, and by linking it here I absolve myself of any need to refrain from discussing any part of it.
The reason I think this is such a great music video is because even as it faultlessly matches the song in expression, emotion, and theme, it is in no way a mere filming of the song. It starts enigmatically, but in pain and distance, like the song. For the first moments we see the lyrics of the song we're hearing, but with a sudden beautiful dissonance it switches. To our surprise we are no longer seeing the lyrics as subtitles, and we're not sure at first what we're seeing instead as subtitles.
It's the lonely thoughts of the people in the traffic; mundane, piercing, broken, irritated, trivial, human thoughts.
The song takes it all in. Everybody hurts.
It is not my intention to walk through every detail of this beautiful little music video; the psalms raining down on the traffic below, the musical redemption striving to speak through to the people in the cars, how Michael Stipe, the singer, is wordlessly featured until, a full four-fifths of the way through he is finally able to sing the lyric we're hearing, all leading to the strange, lovely, and enigmatic exodus at the end.
No, I want to talk about something far more ridiculous.
R.E.M.'s music video has been viewed nearly 100 million times.
Twenty thousand people have seen it and hit a thumbs down button, effectively saying "I hate this".
Here is one way to look at the Internet:
There is nothing so beautiful there, so profound and full of love, there is nothing so magical and life affirming and inoffensive and full of heart, that someone, somewhere, won't take the time to hate it.
Sometimes, with great trepidation, if I have the perfect blogpost that fits exactly on a social page of the Internet, I will leave it there. Whatever I expect to happen, something else happens instead:
First nothing, maybe a downvote. Then, slowly, I always get a very mild popularity of 10 to 100 upvotes. But I also always get one or two affirming comments like these (and these are direct quotes):
This was amazing. Thank you.
This is pure art and deserves a Pulitzer. Brava!
This is the greatest pitch on the sub.
This was one of the best things I've read
This is fantastic.
These always excite me a little. But then they just seem to lie there, not moving at all.
They seem like they would do more than they do.
At some point in the middle of it all I invariably get downvoted a few times as well. It is a small thing, but it always feel like a little blast of hate.
There may even be a more rare, hostile comment (I can bear to show just one):
"Your writing style is insufferable"
I always take it too hard. And I always feel a little lost and small.
But I'm not alone. No, no, no, I'm not alone.
Hallelujah: 38,000 downvotes
Let it Be: 27,000 downvotes
Bridge over Troubled Waters: 3,500 downvotes
Imagine: 68,000 downvotes
Strangers: 504 downvotes
One: 18,000 downvotes
I Shall be Released: 520 downvotes
I am not wild about how sometimes you'll find a really fantastic YouTube video and unavoidably glance at the comments and practically the first thing you see is:
"A thousand downvotes! Who would downvote this!!!"
(Except maybe I like it a little bit on Hallelujah where someone wrote something like "38,000 downvotes? You don't really care for music do you?")
And yet here I am.
Twenty thousand people hate my favorite music video, Everybody Hurts. I don't know why. I never will. Nothing is exempt. I suppose there is someone out there to disdain even the smallest of good things in this world. It's a big world. No blade of grass is exempted from the trampling.
But here is another way to look at the Internet, in this life:
So hold on.