Whether you recognize it or not, we’re currently in a bit of a music video renaissance. Once again, clips from major artists are hotly anticipated, and more often than not they are evaluated on their artistic merits and their ability to push the envelope of an admittedly limited medium (look no further than the work of Lady Gaga or Rihanna for proof). The genre of music videos has peaked a number of times in the three decades that MTV has been on the air (most notably at the heights of the grunge and boy band eras), but the first one came in 1985 when videos like A-Ha‘s “Take On Me” found their way into heavy rotation and blew minds in the process. The success of the video pushed “Take On Me” to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 on this day in 1985.
Even 25 years later, “Take On Me” still seems pretty mind-bending. Directed by Steve Barron (who also directed the clip for Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” as well as feature films like “Coneheads” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”), the clip was the first music video to feature rotoscoping, the process that gives the “animated” versions of the characters in the video realistic movements and facial expressions. Because of the limitations of the technology at the time, the 3,000 rotoscoped frames took a lifetime to render, making the total production time for the video 16 weeks (compared to the typical one to two for normal music videos). The clip for “Take On Me” ended up winning six MTV Video Music Awards in 1986 (though it lost Video of the Year to Dire Straits “Money For Nothing,” a testament to the depth of the work being created at the time). “Take On Me” also helped propel A-Ha’s debut album Hunting High and Low to platinum status and made them international superstars.