‘Pop Up Video’ returnsWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The show had a deceptively simple concept: Play music videos both new and old, adding little information nuggets on top which complemented — and undercut — the action onscreen. It was called simply “Pop Up Video,” and it became a phenomenon.
“Pop” ran for six seasons (1996-2002), though reruns have aired consistently in the years since. And those eyars have seen massive changes to its home network, VH1, and the music business in general. The rise of YouTube and iTunes, the “American Idol” era, the dominance of hip-hop. American music is just as important — and self-important — as ever.
And now, like a sheriff returning to an out-of-control saloon, “Pop Up Video” is back. On Oct. 3, the show began an all-new season on VH1, with a fresh batch of music and artists available to both highlight and make light of.
So, why resurrect “Pop Up Video” after nearly a decade of absence?
“I think that it is actually the perfect time, when you look at music videos,” executive producer Woody Thompson said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star. “It’s an interesting thing, because ‘Pop Up’ came out at the time when the Internet was just emerging, and email was just emerging, there was no real texting. So, I think, at the time it came out, it feels like, now, looking back, it was really ahead of its time.
“Now, for it to come back and hopefully establish itself again as the original, kinda snarky voice of text, is kind of an interesting play. If it was up to me, I would have kept it on the air the whole time. But I think that we’ve allowed 10 years of music videos to go by, and there was quite a lull there.”
Indeed, for a while it seemed that music videos were drifting from the public consciousness. Networks like MTV and VH1 devoted more and more time to vacuous reality shows and less time to the programming that launched them. But videos are gaining traction once more. Thompson credits Lady Gaga specifically for bringing “renewed interest to the art form.”
“It’s a good time to come back and be a little bit nostalgic — if you can be nostalgic about the late ’90s and early 2000s,” Thompson said. “We’re doing 300 videos right now, but there’s plenty of videos to mine.”
All the new material to cover excites Thompson, who has been one of the driving forces behind the show since co-creating it with Tad Low in 1996. Though he’s extremely enthusiastic now about the revival, Thompson was hesitant when he was first approached about bringing “Pop Up Video” into a new decade.
“I haven’t been watching music videos at all. I kinda lost touch with the music business — I’m not as much a music fan as I am a pop culture fan and news fan. So, I was a little nervous, because in the last decade, not very many people have talked, to me at least, about a music video that they have watched and that I need to go see,” Thompson said.
“And then, I started realizing what we missed in the decade, and felt like there was ample material. And they asked if we needed to go back and mine the past. And I said, ‘Well, let’s get this out there.’ There’s a whole new generation of kids who have never heard of ‘Pop Up Video’ and have never seen it. So we have a chance to capture them, and the best way to capture them is to give them current music.”
For anyone who watched “Pop” in its heyday, the first few episodes of the revival have felt like coming home — the show’s format and structure have remained basically unchanged from its original run. Thompson said there was a “surprisingly short” debate about whether to alter the formula.
“It’s all about the writing. So, if the writing’s not gonna change, and it’s all about legibility, there’s not much that you can do. So we all kinda decided, let’s start with the writing. Let’s make sure that we can get a team together that can pull it off, and get the research, and pull off that tone and the timing,” Thompson said.
Thompson described his writers as “a band of misfits,” a varied group of individuals who collectively give the show its signature tone.
“What I try to do is build a writers’ room of kind of eclectic savants, who bring very different interests,” Thompson explained. “We have 22-year-olds on the staff and we have 45-year olds on the staff. We have men and women, we have black and white, we have goth kids, we have kids who don’t listen to music at all, we have some hip-hop freaks. And we all sit in a room together.”
From a list chosen by the network, the staff sits and watches the videos, tossing out ideas, jokes, comments and potential leads for interviews. Despite the show’s fun-loving tone, the writers take the facts they report very seriously, often talking with several individuals involved with the production of each subject.
“We do call directors and producers, but we are also aware that there are like 15 people in the business who do almost everything, and so getting 25 calls from us a week is probably not gonna work for Dave Meyers,” Thompson said of the prolific video director.
So, they seek out alternative sources of information. “Facebook and Twitter have been a godsend, because back-up dancers have nothing to lose. And those are the girls and the guys who are talking to us more often than not.”
It’s up to the individual writer to whittle the facts down to about 40-70 nuggets of information. And there’s always the question of tone — finding the balance of fitting both the show and the video in question.
Of course, sometime events in the real world drastically change the tone of the story the “pops” tell. Such was the case with an early video of the new season: “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse.
“That was one of the first videos we wrote, and we wrote it last summer, before she passed,” Thompson explained. “And we took the video back, and had to rewrite — we had a lot of information there about her coming out of rehab and still being in trouble — so we had to go back and rewrite it.
“I think that video walks the line for us. It’s respectful, but it also —we’re not gonna pull any punches. We are gonna tell you what she has done in her past, how many times she has run out of rehab and how much trouble she was in.”
But no matter what the subject matter, Thompson hopes viewers will once again enjoy the smart and sarcastic nature of his staff’s pop culture creation. “The tone has always been one, I hope, of confidence — you think that you trust the conductor of this reference train, and that you just sit back and let it take you on a ride.”