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How Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” Video Birthed Flash Mobs

by Tigerlily

The year was 1999.  Huge events happened.  The Columbine tragedy. President Clinton was acquitted.  The Y2K scare was commencing. Pokemon was exploding. Tony Hawk landed the first 900 at the X-Games pushing skaters to new heights.  The Matrix was released and set new standards for special effects. And Fatboy Slim’s ‘Praise You’ birthed flash mobs.

According to Wikipedia, a flash mob (or flashmob) is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression.  Shot guerrilla-style in a single take by Spike Jonze with Roman Coppola, the ‘Praise You’ video reportedly cost a mere $800. It features the fictional Torrance Community Dance Group in a flash mob outside a movie theater.

Jonze sent Fatboy Slim an audition tape he’d made of himself dancing to ‘Rockafeller Skank’ and Slim loved it.  He said: “If we can find that crazy crackhead and get him to dance to my next single, then that’s the video!” That’s when someone told Slim the man dancing was Spike Jonze himself.  

Performing under a pseudonym, Spike dances with the fictional dance group, even busting out some (terrible) b-boy moves he picked up living in New York.  As flashmobs were unheard of then, the crowd appears surprised as FUCK, and yet enjoying themselves. All except for a nonplussed theater employee who stops the CD player about halfway through the uncoordinated dancing because they’re blocking the entrance.  The audience boos him and Spike has to fast-forward through the CD track (aaaahhhh, I remember that sound so well) to the spot where it stopped.

At the time, DJs rarely did music videos, and on top of that, ‘Praise You’ was so unusual that MTV initially refused to play it.  That is, until they relented because ‘Praise You’ was topping charts all over the world. It then went on to win Best Direction, Best Choreography, and Breakthrough Video at the MTV Music Video Awards.  Fatboy Slim recognizes “That was as much a turning point in my career as anything. It kind of launched me worldwide.”

The track opens with a sample of Camille Yarbrough singing acapella, “We’ve come a long, long way together.  Through the hard times and the good. I have to celebrate you baby. I have to praise you like I should.” For a decade I, and I’m sure almost everyone else, believed them to be about a lover.  But Camille, a black woman, and civil rights activist, wrote them in praise of the black men in the 1960’s civil rights movement. Not necessarily the Martin Luther King, Jr or Malcolm X figures, but for the ordinary men.  The men who rode the buses, the men who sat at the whites-only counters, the men who were beaten, some to death, in their fight against segregation.

Now that I know the meaning behind the lyrics, I can never watch Fatboy Slim’s ‘Praise You’ again without feeling sheer joy in my heart  Though the video is comical, I now see the uninhibited dancing as a celebration of freedom. It seems fitting that the track was a turning point for Fatboy Slim as the lyrics are about the beginnings of a turning point in the history of the United States.  Slim made sure that Camille (who had been on the brink of poverty) was compensated well for her lyrics. She later said, “He took the heart of my song, which was praise. Give praise. And he spread it around the world. That was important.” In much the same way, flashmobs bring joy to participants and spectators around the world.  

Quotes from Moderne Klassikere, Praise You by Fatboy Slim found HERE

*Fatboy Slim Ultra 2013 | Image Via rukes.com*

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