I have set myself a near impossible task – to choose only ten of U2’s videos for this list. I may come up with a second volume at some point. But it’s an amazing task, because it means I get to watch U2 videos over and over and over. So it’s a win!
This list is about the visuals, so it doesn’t necessarily equal my Top 10 U2 songs. Spoiler Alert: “With or Without You” is not here. But I think I’ve come up with some real gems nonetheless.
10. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (1987)
It’s so simple on paper – Bono, Edge, Larry and Adam are walking down Fremont Street in Las Vegas. But it’s a rare look at the band looking light-hearted and just plain happy. I love the part where Bono is teasing Edge and singing close to his face but Edge is ignoring him trying vainly to play on while almost rolling his eyes. (I hate the part where Bono kisses the blonde woman – that hussy! Basically all the people he interacts with – even the kid – because I’m bitter like that.) Bono dances, Adam laughs, Edge almost smiles, and Larry for once does not look like he’d rather be anywhere else. Baby U2 is awesome.
9. Window In The Skies (Modernista Version) (2007)
U2 are barely in this – they essentially make cameos in their own video – but what makes it great is that the whole video is a montage of music legends from past and present, and their scenes are cut to look like they’re actually lip syncing to the song. You have vintage footage of Sinatra, Satchmo, Bowie, among others, looking like they’re mouthing the words! It’s almost a game trying to identify every single artist that appears. And that last clip, and that last note! Perfect. It’s so powerful seeing this parade of icons, coupled with the illusion of them singing the song. It gives me goosebumps every single time.
P.S. Can you name them all?
9. One (Phil Joanou Version) (1992) [TIE]
As Chloe assured me, it’s not cheating if there’s a tie for one spot. Because I really can’t choose one song over another for my number 9 video. This iteration of “One” features Bono singing straight to the camera in a restaurant (hence it’s known as the “restaurant version”). Ironically, “One” has three videos – this one, another featuring the band in drag (!) and another featuring buffaloes.
I’m also a bit torn about including this because Larry was reportedly pissed that the video focused only on Bono. But how can I resist a video where Bono is looking right at me? Sorry Larry! If there’s one scene that justifies its inclusion, it’s at the 2:43 mark – Bono sings the line “You say love is a temple…” but after the words “you say” he stops mouthing the words and lets the track take over. It’s a jarring moment because it takes you right out of the illusion of the video, yet it’s also almost literal because he lets the other person say their own words in the conversation.
P.S. I’m shocked that even U2 Vevo gets the label of the video wrong – this is not the Corbijn version, this was in fact directed by Phil Joanou.
8. Sweetest Thing (1998)
If you don’t know the meaning of kilig yet, you have to look it up. Because that encapsulates what I feel when I watch this video. The song was written by Bono as an apology to his wife Ali (who makes a cameo at the start) for forgetting her birthday. The video takes that one step further, with Bono going all out – enlisting the help of sexy firemen, Riverdancers, skywriters, even Boyzone for crying out loud! And of course his U2 mates to make up for his egregious error. I think it’s safe to say that Ali forgave him.
7. Vertigo (2004)
This is a classic example of me liking the video much more than the song. Which is not to say that I don’t like “Vertigo”, it’s just that the video is in another plane. It’s a performance video, with the band in the middle of a desert playing their hearts out. But then it becomes a psychedelic trip as concentric rings of sand start whirling like the rings of Saturn. And you cannot take your eyes off of it. Add to that the band leaving blazing trails of sand behind them like some kind of desert superheroes and boom. One badass music video.
6. Invisible (2014)
This video means so much to me because it marked the end of my personal dark ages as a U2 fan. Their last album prior to this single was No Line On The Horizon, which I absolutely did not like. They had released “Ordinary Love” after that album, but I still did not get into it that much. But when I heard *this* song and saw *this* video, I knew: U2 was finally back! It felt like a long-awaited reunion. It felt like seeing the light again after living in a cave. It felt exhilarating! The NLOTH phase was our dark patch, U2 and I, but we made it through.
How can a black and white video look and feel so vibrant? The visuals make the band look like they’re exploding into a million stars. And the boys look handsome as hell! The Bono mic is back (that iconic circular mic he used in the 360 tour), his hair is slicked back and he’s got those sunglasses on, baby, Larry looks like the badass mofo he is, Edge looks cool as shit, Adam doesn’t give a flying f*ck about anything, and Bono crowdsurfs! Seriously, what is not to love about this video.
5. Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of (2001)
This came along at the perfect time. In 2001, all my overachieving college friends had gotten hired by prestigious firms right after graduation. Meanwhile, I didn’t have any job offers. I was also struggling with some health issues before being diagnosed with Mitral Valve Prolapse (don’t worry, it’s not fatal, but there were some really painful moments for a while). I was feeling sorry for myself. And I was just plain scared of having to be an adult. The first time I saw this video, it hit me like a slap in the face. I felt that Bono was talking specifically to me. Lines like
You are such a fool to worry like you do
It’s just a moment, this time will pass
were everything I needed and wanted to hear. I used this song and this video as my mantra for those first few sticky months and it served as a talisman for me. At the time I took it as a personal message. That goes to show how powerful the right song at the right time can be.
Bono is literally stuck in a moment here, as he gets thrown from a van over and over. He tries to get up but he can’t. People even walk all over him. It’s a struggle until finally, Edge holds out his hand to help him up. That image brought me to tears every single time I watched the video in 2001, and knowing now that the song was written about Michael Hutchence’s suicide and how Bono felt that he should have had this conversation with him while he was still alive brings a whole new layer to it. Which leads to fresh tears and goosebumps all over.
4. Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses (1992)
Let’s get one thing clear: current Bono will always be peak Bono because we love him forever and we are blessed that he’s still making music. But Achtung Baby-era Bono… Oh my! For reference, I present to you the video for “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”. Those eyes, that smile, the jawline, the leather… damn, son. The end includes outtakes from the shoot. Bono’s tired, he’s not having any more of it and you can clearly read his lips as he drops the F bomb. It’s awesome.
3. If God Will Send His Angels (1997)
Of all U2’s albums, everybody seems to disparage Pop the most, but how can you belittle the album that produced this gem? One of my favorite songs has one of my favorite videos to match. Bono sits in a diner while different people sit at his table – including Edge, Larry and Adam. The split screen shows both sides of the table with everyone carrying on a conversation that does not include Bono. He sings at normal speed while everyone else’s movements are sped up. This isolation is what makes the video compelling to watch. The ambiguity is another draw. Is Bono an angel depressed by the cruelty of humankind? Why is everyone ignoring him? All kinds of things are happening inside and outside the diner, bright lights are everywhere, yet the overwhelming feeling is one of sadness. And I can’t stop watching because I want to console Bono and assure him that everything is going to be all right.
2. Stay (Faraway, So Close!) (1993)
Another video featuring Bono as an angel. In fact, the whole band are guardian angels for a garage band, and we see Adam helping out the bassist, Edge tuning the guitar, Larry correcting the drummer’s beat, and Bono supplying the lyrics to the singer. The singer does a great job of pretending that Bono really is an invisible force around her inspiring her with the song. In the video commentary, director Wim Wenders mentions that Bono was intentionally teasing the actress, singing close to her face to get her to crack. But she didn’t! (Also, Bono looks like a vampire with his long hair tied back in a sort of French revolution braid.)
The video also features Nastassja Kinski and scenes from Wenders’ movie Faraway, So Close!, for which this song was written. The last scene of the video shows Bono falling to the ground (quite hard, I might add) to symbolize an angel’s transformation into a human being, and the armor he carries is a nod to the movie. It’s an emotional scene because the idea that angels are around us – and that sometimes they care enough to take on our humanity – is endlessly fascinating.
1. All I Want Is You (1989)
This is where it all started. The first U2 song I heard, and the song that made me fall in love with them forever. I saw the video on MTV and recorded it on the VCR (there was no YouTube in the 90s). I didn’t understand it, but I watched it over and over. It’s practically a movie, and it tells the story of a circus dwarf (who is not Peter Dinklage by the way! He’s an Italian actor named Paolo Risi) who’s in love with the beautiful trapeze artist. She likes him too, but she’s in a relationship with a scary and seemingly controlling man, so the dwarf knows that there’s no hope for them. He climbs to the top of the circus tent and you think you know what’s coming, but this is where it gets all messed up. The camera pans out as if he’s flying, and the trapeze artist is even looking up at him, but at the end there’s a funeral scene and the dwarf is still there. He throws in the engagement ring he had gotten for the trapeze artist, and what does it all mean? Did she die? Did he die and was that his ghost? I personally think he died from the fall and that’s only his ghost throwing the ring in the grave. His friend does look at him, but it can easily be a supernatural thing where he could feel the dwarf’s presence. But then the Edge goes and confuses everybody even more when he says in an interview that it’s the trapeze artist who dies! At what point did she die, Edge? When did it happen?
You notice that I make no mention of the rest of the band in the video. That’s because they’re hardly in it. In another instance where they make a cameo in their own video, they are briefly shown walking along the beach, apparently on the way to the funeral. But whose funeral was it?!? Or maybe the funeral itself is symbolic and no one really dies. Maybe it’s a metaphor for a love that can never be.
If you get what it means, please let me know.
So U2 fans, what are your favorite videos?