If You Want A Boxer: Music Videos, Boxing Rings, And Me

©  Alien Ant Farm – Smooth Criminal

By Nathan Bailey

When was the last time you watched a music video? And I don’t mean rolling your eyes across a few shots on your way down to the murky depths of an instagram doom-scroll or willfully ignoring those background spotify vignettes,  I mean properly sitting down and watching one, on your telly and everything. Before expensively produced and choreographed music videos were the domain of internet breaking american megastars alone, every great song needed a great video to go with it. Recently, I was having a drunken reminisce with a friend about the lost days of that golden era. Those sunday afternoons round your mate’s who had sky telly, flicking through the likes of MTV, VH1, and if mother had been particularly pernicious about you not doing your homework that week, a bit of Kerrang and Scuzz. During this nostalgia trip, we came to a startling conclusion. “Hang on a minute”, my friend exclaimed. “Isn’t it weird how like, basically all music videos had boxing in them?”. I searched my feelings and I knew this to be true. We were onto something. I rushed over towards my laptop, eager to connect these dots and reveal a grave secret to the world. This must’ve been what it felt like when they cracked the enigma codes during the war. 

Unfortunately, after an extensive fifteen minutes of research we found that actually quite a lot of old music videos had very little to do with boxing, some not at all. This may be from a position of hindsight, but it appears that the music video directors of ten or fifteen years ago were attempting complex satires of western culture’s infatuation with the oversexualisation of young women. Whatever great artistic visions led to the sweeping use of under-dressed female extras in earlier eras, the answers have unfortunately been lost to the annals of history. One thing we did find out for definite, one thing they can never take away from us. That thing is that some music videos definitely are about boxing. Quite a fair few indeed. What are they like you ask? Have no fear. In the words of our late Field Commander Cohen, let me step into the ring for you, as we go on a voyage through some of the most about boxingest videos of all time.

Dappy – No Regrets

This video captures so perfectly the over produced, over Americanized, totally catered to being on MTV aesthetics that I pictured in my head when looking back at the boxing music video canon. The actual plot per se seems to have very little to do with Dappy, looking more like a narrative straight out of grand theft auto – cue angry young men, lowriders, and LA skylines. One boy chooses not the path of street violence, but instead the path of reasonably socially acceptable pay-per-view violence. In this he becomes a man. That man then boxes his way out of the doldrums and presumably into a cultural and socio economic elite that us mere mortals can only dream of. This is a boy-done-good. A hero’s tale. A new bildungsroman for whatever generation we were in 2011. This is the American Dream. Come to think of it, this has everything to do with Dappy. Clearly, this film is an autobiographical metaphor for a young british rapper trying to conquer the big one and forge a lucrative stateside solo career post N-Dubz. As no one has seen or heard from Dappy in years, I can only assume he was successful, and this very minute is on the top of some Californian highrise, gun-fingers proudly aloft.

In terms of lyrical content, the boxing connection is vague, and other than Dappy “painting a picture of a fighter” and having “the heart of a winner”, any ringside colloquialism is pretty much non-existent. Not too get sidetracked but he does also claim, and I quote – “I am Kurt Cobain”, so double points for that. Also name-dropped by Dappy are Chris Brown, Michael Caine, Frank Gallagher off of Shameless, Marty Mcfly, and Richard Branson. Which is weirdly like that dream you once had isn’t it? Don’t say you can’t remember it. I think we shall leave this one with the words of youtube commenter Victoria Carolyne – ‘Respect to Dappy for using his talent to make this masterpiece’. Victoria, I agree.

LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out

Dappy is not the first rapper to seek some equivalence with the world of prize fighting. Particularly in american hip-hop, the relationship to boxing is a long and fruitful one. So where to start? In a moment of doubt we have turned and not for the first time, to LL Cool J. three simple reasons. firstly, It’s a fairly old tune. Secondly,  It. bangs. And lastly, there’s rather a lot of boxing credence here. The machismo coloured, adversarial nature of even the first line ( Cool J daring you not to ‘call it a comeback’) befits the ring setting. We remain in the ring with Cool for the whole thing, taking a poetic pummeling as he spills synonyms and sibilance over the mat like bits of blood and bottom lip. Thankfully, after nearly five minutes someone throws in the towel for you. You would think so too, in this time LL does inform you he’s gonna knock you out a cool (HA!) 32 times. 

However this isn’t just one man boasting about his prowess for violence. Obviously Cool J’s thirst for blood speaks for itself. Don’t know if you remember but this is the fella that in Deep Blue Sea (1999) kills a genetically engineered super-shark. with just a crucifix. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is the relationship between boxing and hip hop is persistent. Possibly no figure exemplifies this better than the man Cool just so happens to namedrop here himself – a certain Muhammad Ali. The influence that makes him such a resonant figure in this neck of the woods is not just his status as an inspirational civil rights leader and icon for black America. This is the man they called the Louisville Lip after all, a wit, a wordsmith, and a self declared poet in his. Practically inventing the art of trash talk, Ali often outthought and outfought his opponents in a war of words before a bell had rung. Another great example of Ali’s shadow ranging across the music world is on The Fugees track Rumble In The Jungle, also featuring A Tribe Called Quest and Busta Rhymes. It is well worth a listen (and it’s boxing heavy video is naturally, well worth a watch).

In some ways the boxing/hip-hop relationship came full circle in the early noughties, with well known boomer rapper Eminem’s feature film 8 Mile. the plot was a standard of the sports film genre, but with… battle-rappers?! From the films soundtrack we got the chart topping single Lose Yourself, a song that has blared over a thousand fight night walkouts, and (pub quiz time) won a chuffing oscar. 

Tears For Fears – Woman in Chains

Not a great deal of boxing action in this one to be honest but it is the most eighties song ever. No really, Phil Collins is on the drums. Phil Monkey Choccy Advert Collins. It has to be on here. The video lives up to the song, in being very VERY eighties. The Black and white montage of this archetypal prom king and queen couple drifts seamlessly into the wine bar bass lines, until they become one. Initially, the moody shots of this relationship looks to be a beautiful and  subtle message on the fetishization and commodification of the aesthetics of both male and female bodies in different forms. Our queen is a stripper, our king, an athlete. However the relationship takes a darker turn. There is more than a tinge of domestic violence to the scenes, and a heavy dose of some fairly toxic masculinity – boxer pushes girlfriend, cries, runs off and twats a fence. The couple’s reconciliation at the end of the video troubles the viewer, leaving us in morally a more grey place than the song itself, which was hailed as a feminist anthem in it’s day. Again, I’m taking that as a conscious artistic decision on the part of the director. Perhaps this was not the intention but I would still want to give the makers of this video the benefit of the doubt , as if there is a worse medium for social commentary than an eighties power ballad, then it could only be the music video for an eighties power ballad. 

Lastly, if you’re thinking this is too loose of a connection to be considered amongst the pantheon of great boxing music videos, then look at our male lead having his Of Mice and Men moment with the pigeon in the final scenes and tell me you don’t immediately think of those strange pictures of Iron Mike Tyson admiring his pet doves.

Maroon 5  – One More Night

No, not just because he’s got a bit of a punchable look about him. This video has more of a narrative structure than the older videos. Although a lot of it is Adam ‘Maroon 1’ Levine stalking around in a white vest looking like the worst casting choice imaginable for a Raging Bull reboot. Maybe I’m thinking too much into this but the cinematography gives a half nod to the Scorsese classic. we couldn’t get quite all the way to the golden age of Hollywood style mythical black and white of the film, but we do get a kind of sad, cigarette packet photo grey. We must give this video credit, it’s very much about boxing. He trains, he runs, he holds a small child. After all that he not only fights but bloody wins a boxing match. I think also his girlfriend leaves him for some reason. Poor adam.

On second thoughts, not poor Adam. He was an arse to Keria Knightley in Begin Again. How could you be in a film with James Corden and still come out as the biggest wazzock. Plus the actual song sounds like that copyright free music that people use for youtube tutorials on how to change bike tyres. I’m glad your boxing wife left you.

Alien Ant Farm – Smooth Criminal

I believe it was Albert Camus who once said that a true masterpiece does not reveal everything. Let’s start by looking at what this masterpiece does reveal to us. That’s right, a big, grey, bouncy, boxing ring. I know it may look like perhaps the bass player has a penchant for world wrestling entertainment, but that is a boxing ring and there’s nothing you can say to convince me otherwise. Other than that this video leaves us only questions. What’s with the japanese kids? How did they do that lean? I get the body popping kid with a mask on is an MJ nose job reference but bloody hell! Watching in 2021 it’s a bit nostradamus isn’t it? And just what on this good earth is going on with the singer’s hair? If you want answers to any of these questions then you have come to the wrong place. All I can tell you is that it’s got a boxing ring in it, and this makes it the best boxing music video of all time. This is the crest of the great wave. Nothing can beat this. Every single one of you will get to the bit where the tune stops and he vaults onto that car thinking the exact same thing –  they don’t make ‘em like this anymore do they. Another big question, why don’t they make them like this anymore? And those big questions my friends, aren’t they what Nu-Metal was all about? This one at least, we know the answer to (that answer is yes).