Music Videos Reviews

La Isla Bonita (2021) – 1.5 stars

Director: Daniel Prypchan

Running time: 3mins

I found much to dislike in this music video and little to recommend. But that’s just my opinion. If there’s a genre which is more difficult to evaluate objectively than the pop promo then I’ve yet to find it. OK, possibly abstract experimentalism, but anyway…

La Isla Bonita is, you’ve guessed it, a cover version of Madonna’s 1987 single. It’s performed here by Danny Pryp, with some lyrical tweaks to make sure it seems hetero (rather like how Billy Bragg’s A New England was reworked for Kirsty MacColl). Although the original line about falling in love with “San Pedro” refers to a place not a person, so changing it to “Maria” doesn’t even really make sense. A symptom, perhaps, of the rather half-baked nature of the project…

Danny Pryp (full name Daniel Prypchan) is based in Sydney, Australia, but was born in Venezuela and also has Ukrainian ancestry. Much of his work embraces his Spanish-speaking cultural and musical background, which he’s clearly passionate about championing.

As I see it, there are two elements to a music video: the music and, er, the video. A great song can be let down by a lacklustre film while even the best clip will struggle if the tune is no good. The video itself can take three approaches: performance, evocation or narrative. Some videos are literally just a record of a live performance. That can work OK, especially with bands that have strong stage presence, but it’s a bit unimaginative. Evoking the mood of a track can stretch into total abstraction, especially with instrumentals. Such vids have been a proving ground for cutting edge CGI and animation over the years. Or the promo can take the form of a short film, telling a story, normally related to the lyrics of the song. Sometimes this can lead to crushing literalism, as each line is painstakingly acted out as if the audience wouldn’t otherwise understand.

Obviously, there are plenty of music videos that combine some or all of these features. Madonna’s own La Isla Bonita vid, for example, includes lots of symbolism, as well as performance elements. Its primary aim is to create a feeling and it even re-interprets the song’s meaning, with a vibrant street community substituting the titular island as a metaphorical ‘happy place’. The important thing is that it hangs together as a coherent piece of art.

Pryp’s effort is unfocused and slapdash. What we appear to be watching is a recording of him performing the song to a bunch of guests at a boat party in Sydney Harbour. To change it up a bit, this is interspersed with some shots of Danny grooving around by himself on a beach, including for an early-90s style unnecessary rap, which he’s crowbarred in for some reason. This premise could still have worked. Sydney Harbour is a spectacular location. A boat (and indeed a beach) evokes the sense of an island quite effectively. It would be easy to use this scenario to conjure the feeling of a happy place. With the right sort of crowd at the party, this could do a similar job to the street scene in Madge’s version.

In explaining why I think the project is slapdash and has much to dislike, let me say that I suspect what has really sunk it could well be a lack of budget. I fear that Pryp had little control over either the timing or the guestlist of the boat party. For all the visual potential of Sydney Harbour, it’s clearly a dismally cloudy day. And the partygoers are mostly an incongruously random bunch of chinless wonders whose only qualification for being there is presumably that they’re rich enough to know someone with a flash yacht.

This creates two huge problems, both of which Pryp tackles badly. In an attempt to jolly up the visuals, bereft of the sunshine and blue sky that would instantly have put us in the mood, he’s done all kinds of goofing around in post-production. Garish colour filters are only half of the nightmare. He’s employed late-80s Top of the Pops style graphics to, for example, make his sunglasses look drawn-on. Wow! How zany! Meanwhile, to make the party seem less of an ordeal, some of the less bored-looking revellers wave at the camera. Two women, who I get the feeling may comprise the entirety of the paid cast, dance to the song a bit. Well, “dance” may be a little generous.

Perhaps the intention was to capture the immediacy of an actual performance at an actual party. But, just as with concert footage, this only works if it looks like an event you’d want to be at. I’m not convinced most of the folks on screen even want to be there and I’ve certainly no desire to join them in their suffering.

In an ideal scenario, I’d say that Pryp should have got hold of his own boat and waited for a gorgeous blue-sky day before populating it with performers capable of generating the right vibe. That way he could conjure the mood easily, allowing his reasonably pleasant rendition of the song (inane rap notwithstanding) to tell the story. The whole thing would have hung together better and been vastly less irritating.

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