Song Writing

Cheerleaders In Music Videos

by Carl Wiser

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It started with a bouncy MTV classic. Nirvana and MCR made them scary, then Gwen, Avril and Madonna put on the pom poms.

Some of the best videos ever use cheerleaders, often as part of a high school diorama, but sometimes just for fun. Here are 10 that got our attention, including one where the cheerleaders are zombies and another that used a professional squad. We'll go in chronological order.
"Mickey" - Toni Basil
If you were blessed with cable television in 1982, you saw this video. Basil is a choreographer by trade and was part of a dance crew called The Lockers, who performed on Soul Train. She was also a filmmaker, and an early proponent of music video.

"Mickey" is actually a cover song, first released as "Kitty" by a male group called Racey in 1979. Basil recorded it with the video in mind, giving it more of a chant to fit the cheerleader motif and switching the gender. The cheerleaders were members of a championship squad at Carson High School in Los Angeles, but their uniforms say "LVHS" - Las Vegas High School, where Basil was head cheerleader.

The song and video were released in 1981 before MTV went on the air. When they put it in rotation in mid-1982, it became one of their most popular clips. In December, the song went to #1.
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" - Nirvana
It was another decade before cheerleaders featured in a popular video, and this time they were anarchists at a pep rally from hell. Cobain wanted them ugly, but director Samuel Bayer talked him into using attractive girls with tattoos looking vacantly disaffected as they cheered. Destroying the gym (actually a soundstage) wasn't part of the plan, but after shooting for hours, the kids, who were recruited at one of Nirvana's concerts, needed to blow off some steam so Bayer let them get out of their seats and go nuts. All that pent-up energy made for great footage.
"Popular" - Nada Surf
This is the first one on the list that mentions cheerleaders in the lyric, sung from the perspective of a popular kid in high school who's "got a cheerleading chick."

Appropriately, the video was shot at Bayonne High School in New Jersey with all the students wearing either football uniforms or cheerleading outfits - a high school populated with nothing but popular kids.
"Burn Baby Burn" - Ash
Ash had two #1 albums and 18 entries on the Top 40 in the UK but never made a dent in America. Pity, this video would have played very well on MTV.

This is the only one we've seen that used a professional squad - the cheerleaders from the London Towers of the British Basketball League. They have nothing to do with the song, but create plenty of excitement as they do their routines while the band plays and a bit of basketball breaks out. The cheerleaders proved so popular that Ash brought them along to certain promotional appearances, including a performance on the TV show Top Of The Pops.
"Hollaback Girl" - Gwen Stefani
The song itself has a cheerleader motif: a "hollaback girl" is an underling cheerleader who repeats the cheers of the queen bee. And Stefani ain't no hollaback girl.

She was also 35 years old, but that didn't stop her from putting on the uniform and leading the cheers, which is just bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

Courtney Love, the widow of the man who brought us "Smells Like Teen Spirit," inspired the song when she said that being famous was like being in high school. Stefani was the cheerleader, and she's "out in the smoker shed."
"Teenagers" - My Chemical Romance
This one is a little different: the cheerleaders are cheering on the band. Then they put on gas masks and turn scary.

Like many musical things, this owes a debt to "Smells Like Teen Spirit," as the kids riot at the end of the video. For some reason, MCL deemed it necessary to put a disclaimer at the end proclaiming "violence is never the answer."
"The Best Damn Thing" - Avril Lavigne
Avril did a lot of chanting on her album The Best Damn Thing, notably on the song "Girlfriend." On the title track, she goes full cheerleader, spelling out her name in the bridge ("Give me an A...").

Lavigne sported a Sk8er Girl look when she broke onto the scene in 2002, with baggy pants, T-shirts, and her signature necktie. Here though, she picks up the pom poms and leads "Team Avril" in cheering herself on.
"Beauty in the World" - Macy Gray
This joyful tune was inspired by Macy Gray's kids. "At least half of the time, they're making you happy," she told us. The video is filled with young people dancing, jumping rope, roller skating, and generally having a dandy time. And of course, there are cheerleaders, although these girls don't do any synchronized cheering.

The video was directed by Tom Petty's daughter, Adria.
"Give Me All Your Luvin'" - Madonna
Omi didn't use cheerleaders in the video for his #1 hit "Cheerleader," but Madonna did. Her collaborators Nicki Minaj and MIA cheer her on in full uniform ("L-U-V Madonna!"), while she frolics in confetti rain and walks on football players.

The football theme made sense: Madonna did the Super Bowl halftime show two days after it debuted. Along with LMFAO and the dude in a toga who bounced on a slackline, Minaj and MIA joined her for the performance, backed by a lot more cheerleaders. This time though, MIA flipped off the camera after doing her verse, which did not go over well with the NFL.
"Acid Rain" - Lorn
This video is mostly one continuous shot, and the cheerleaders are zombies. It's a variation on the Kiesza clip for "Hideaway," where the camera never cuts and different dance routines break out along the way. Except this one has zombie cheerleaders.

Lorn is an EDM act, and "Acid Rain" has no vocals. The slow-motion cheer routines from the girls who don't know they're dead are quite haunting. It's a long way from "Mickey."

May 20, 2018
Here's a list of videos that are one continuous shot, and another of videos directed by famous people.

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