Where are the robots?

A selection of some of my favourite pop videos featuring robots.

Kraftwerk ‘The Robots’ (1978) Kraftwerk, the real original techno-pop robots.

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark ‘ABC Auto-Industry’ (Live At The Hammersmith Odeon, 1983) Strictly speaking this is not a video but a live performance. Anyway, it does convey a few important messages.

Rick Springfield ‘Human Touch’ (1983) In this video, every single element is great: the lyrics, the fake technology, the dresses, the choreography, the hairstyles, the sax solo. It even has a sort Star Wars-inspired plot, including a radiation alert. Total art.

The Art of Noise with Max Headroom ‘Paranoimia’ (1986) Reminding us that there were artificial artists also before Hatsune Miku. The video special effects are also quite good.

Björk ‘All is full of love’ (1997) The best video of this selection, and of many others.

Missy Elliott & Da Brat ‘Sock It 2 Me’ (1997) If you are going to fight against flying robots in outer space, you shall dress up accordingly. And move with style.

Beastie Boys ‘Intergalactic’ (1998) An intergalactic robot, a giant purple octopus, stressed out scientists, and people wearing plenty of protecting gear. Almost an accurate picture of life in 2020.

Röyksopp ‘The Girl And The Robot’ (2009) A sort of allegory about the human/robot interface, or maybe an ode to automated gardening pseudo-Power Rangers. Featuring Robyn, known in the pop robotics field also for ‘Fembot‘ (2010), which does not have a video but has the famous lyrics ‘once you’ve gone tech you ain’t never going back’.

Flight of the Conchords ‘Robots’ (2008) In this video there might not be any true robots from the distant future, but the mobile phone is from the distant past.

M83 ‘Reunion’ (2011) These kids might not be robots at all, but they look suspicious. Featured here just in case.

Flying Lotus ‎’Putty Boy Stru’ (2012) Let the robots play with other robots. Let technology eat itself. For more animation, see also Los Campesinos’You! Me! Dancing!‘ (2007).

EarthGang ‎’ROBOTS‘ (2017) Maybe we are just a machine.

Google Translate Lady ‘Get Your Bands Up’ (ft. 21 Savage) (2017) The Google Translate Lady always knows what she means. Even if now she is apparently playing under the name Een Glish. If she exists.

Kehlani ‘Nights Like This’ (feat. Ty Dolla $ign) (2019) This video is actually like a whole film about robots, illustrating a song with no clear relation with the subject matter, which makes it even more interesting.

Lil Nas X ‘Panini’ (2020) A bit of Uber, a bit of face recognition, and some relatively good dancing robots. Almost an accurate picture of life in 2019.

In case you wonder, there are actually many other pop videos featuring robots. A particularly famous one is Styx’s ‘Mr. Roboto‘ (1983), to which there is a nod in Daft Punk‘s ‘Around the world (1996). Daft Punk really like robots, including the ugly kind – see ‘Technologic‘ (2005). Particularly high-praised, in the world of pop videos with robots, is the Chris Cunningham + Aphex Twin collaboration on ‘Monkey drummer‘ (2001).

Often, robots intersect with two of the most most popular subjects of pop music, that is, sex and love. In ‘Filthy‘ (2018), Justin Timberlake explored the sexy potential of robots when they get a bit too autonomous. In ‘Never say never‘ (2014), Basement Jaxx focused on scientific research on related sexual matters. ‘365‘ (2019), by Zedd & Katy Perry, is all about Black Mirror-inspired match-making, and interestingly it includes some not too subtle product placement, mixing dystopia with contemporary commercial data practices.

George Michael‘s ‘Fastlove‘ (1996) was a step ahead of its own time by presenting remotely controlled virtual sexual characters, as well as some product placement détournement – check the ‘Fony’ headphones. The video was revisited in 2019 by Sam Smith & Normani‘s Dancing With A Stranger‘.

There is also some romantic potential in robots, and pop singers have been falling in love with them at least since Alberto Camerini‘s ‘Rock’n’roll robot‘ (1981). Additionally, robot-building has been portrayed as a possible solution in case of premature death, allowing lovers to somehow keep their love alive, or at least try, as illustrated by the South Korean boy band VIXX in ‘Error‘ (2014), which might be trying to tell us it is not, after all, such a good idea. Talking about boy bands, the Backstreet Boys went all robot-crazy in ‘Larger than life’ (1999). They probably did not impress much Shania Twain, whose ‘I’m Gonna Getcha Good!‘ (2002) features all sorts of robot models with plenty of special effects.

Italo-disco saw the emergence of some of the greatest pop meditations on humanity and technology, but unfortunately many of the songs of that time do not have proper videos. Let’s mention nonetheless ‘Future brain‘ (1985) by the infamous Den Harrow. Luckily, what can, and must be seen, is this ‘live’ performance by Ago of ‘Computer (In My Mind)‘ (1986).

Kate Bush is not a great fan of technology, and her ‘Deeper Understanding‘ (2011) warns you that you shouldn’t trust your own computer because it might hide a siren, or a virus, or somebody else or something strange that will eventually eat you: it won’t end up well, believe her. In this sense, or another, Shanicuppcake makes a point of proving she is not a ‘Robot‘ (2011). In a similar vein, Marina and The Diamonds recorded ‘I am not a robot‘ (2009).

Other people do believe robots can be your true friends (see Regurgitator’s ‘My Friend Robot‘ (2004)), and some still keep falling in love with them (see Karate High SchoolFell In Love With A Robot‘ (2009)). Computer love as such has a long history in pop music, beyond robots themselves. Even Bad Religion has a song about it, ‘I love my computer‘ (2000) (interestingly, they also have a video about digital natives dating from 1994, ‘21st Century Digital Boy‘).

Grimes’ We appreciate power‘ gives a voice to robot believers and supporters, and their message is clear: ‘Biology is superficial, intelligence is artificial, submit, submit‘, she says. In contrast, in ‘Free Yourself‘ (2018) The Chemical Brothers suggest it is time for liberation, at least dance liberation. In ‘Love Songs for Robots‘ (2015), by Patrick Watson, robots are shy and gentle, elegantly moving as retro-futuristic souvenirs of avant-garde theatre. Finally, it is difficult to talk about pop videos and technology without mentioning Janelle Monáe‘s ‘Dirty Computer‘ (2018), which technically however is not a mere pop video, but a full emotion picture.

In case you are considering recording your own robot video, beware it might require some budget, unless of course you wish to embrace the cheap-robot aesthetics, cf. Goldie Lookin Chain‘s ‎’Half Man Half Machine‘ (2004), which is always a possibility. For inspiration, see also the kitsch celebration of ‘Guardians’ Inferno‘ (2017), by The Sneepers feat. David Hasselhoff for Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.