For Family Guy, no target is safe. The show’s creator Seth MacFarlane claims to be an “equal opportunities offender,” meaning he will make fun of celebrities and their work and minority groups, but they shouldn’t feel too insulted or singled out, because he will gladly make fun of all the rest, too. In Family Guy, a lot of the jokes and cutaway gags are parodies of movies and TV shows, but they also mock plenty of music videos, too. There have been a ton of hilarious music video parodies in Family Guy over the years, including that iconic moment in the grocery store where an animated white hand comes out of the milk section and invites Chris to come in and join them. Anyway, here are the 10 greatest music video parodies in Family Guy history.
10. Going Up the Stairs
Some Family Guy jokes or gags or parodies or however you want to describe it are based on a specific thing from pop culture – a real movie, a real TV show, a real music video etc. – or an attitude about a celebrity that is widely shared by society and the press. But sometimes they will take some vague notions from our cultural institutions and take them to their extreme to create something that is so far out there and so absurd that it can’t really be related to anything that we remember, but it still makes us laugh, entirely because of how ridiculously funny it is. In this gag, which can only be described as “Going Up the Stairs,” a funky African American singer in the style of Rick James or Will “the Fresh Prince” Smith dances around M.C. Escher’s famous print of the wacky stairs singing, “Going up the stairs and going down the stairs and going up the stairs and going down the stairs and going up the sideways stairs!” This might seem very random and stupid, but it’s actually a smart joke. By mixing ‘90s hip hop music with the lithographic works of M.C. Escher – essentially mixing the lowest form of art with the highest form of art – they’ve created a very postmodern gag. Plus, it riffs on the fact that M.C. Escher does sound like it could be the name of a hip hop star.
During any given episode of Family Guy, we’ll see a ton of different cutaway gags. Some of them will simply be a non-sequitur that is introduced to set up a joke that has nothing to do with the plot, like those “This is even better than the time…” ones. But then on other occasions, the cutaway gags can actually contribute to the development of the plot – and still manage to be hilarious cutaways in their own right. This one, for example, is the reason why Joe has to do a favor for Peter. See, Peter reminds Joe that he never told anyone about his secret Fiona Apple tribute. Then we cut to Joe in his garage, dressed in full Fiona Apple costume and makeup, singing his own rendition of her piano rock ballad “Criminal.” He sings, “I’ve been a bad, bad girl / I’ve been careless with a delicate man / And it’s a sad, sad world / When a girl will break a boy / Just because she can…I’m broken,” before Bonnie shouts in, “Joe, open the garage!” and Joe yells back, “I’ve earned this private time!” This sight would be pretty disturbing and sad if it wasn’t so hysterically funny!
8. Axel F
Boy, Family Guy just won’t leave the movies of the 1980s alone. It seems that the writers can’t help themselves – they can’t seem to manage to refrain from making a reference to an ‘80s movie in some form or another for more than three minutes at a time. But they rarely do this for music videos, especially when they’re music videos for theme songs from movies that have nothing to do with the movies themselves. But that goes for “Axel F,” the Harold Faltermeyer song that was used as the theme song for the action comedy movie that made Eddie Murphy a Hollywood star, Beverly Hills Cop. Faltermeyer wrote, produced, and performed the song, which is very ‘80s and very synth-y, and the music video is more about him than the movie (which is rare – usually, the music videos of movie themes are just made up of clips from the movie itself, which helps to create synergy and attract wider audiences to both). The “Axel F” video is just Faltermeyer playing a Philip Marlowe-esque hard-boiled film noir detective in black and white, cut with a dancer doing a funky dance alongside the tune. In Family Guy, Peter does a version of this dance when he goes back in time to the 1980s.
7. I’m Dressed Like a Cat
The music video for the Paula Abdul song “Opposites Attract” is infamous simply for how weird and unusual it sees, as it sees Abdul dancing around with a cartoon cat named MC Skat Kat. The song was the sixth and final single to be released from Abdul’s debut album and it was a number one hit across the world back in 1989. But with the hindsight of how wacky the popular culture of the 1980s was, it’s easy to see that this is a ridiculous and flashy song with an equally ridiculous and flashy music video. MC Skat Kat was based on the appearance of Jerry Mouse in the Gene Kelly musical Anchors Aweigh, but of course, MC Skat Kat is not as memorable or as cute or as lovable as Jerry. That sequence in Anchors Aweigh (which, funnily enough, has also been parodied by Family Guy) was awesome. This video is just weird. Peter Griffin, of course, misinterpreted that song, despite its total lack of subtly and ambiguity. This isn’t The Shining or a James Joyce novel – it’s not hard to interpret. But this is Peter Griffin and he’s not the brightest bulb around, so he got it wrong. His version sees him as the cartoon cat and he sings it as “I’m Dressed Like a Cat.”
6. (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life
In the late ‘80s, both the movie Dirty Dancing and its iconic song “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley (seriously, what a great name for a vocalist) and Jennifer Warnes swept the world. The single reached the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and its music video was equally popular. The video simply saw some people dancing like the people in the movie dance and it also has a ton of clips from the movie itself. This is called synergy and it’s a very powerful business tool. In the Family Guy special episode “Blue Harvest,” which is an hour long parody of the original Star Wars movie, they pay homage to this music video in a parody where Herbert the Pervert (in the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi) sings it to Chris (in the role of Luke Skywalker). It’s a pretty simplistic parody, since it doesn’t make any statements about the movie or the song or the fans of either or any plot holes or anything like that. Still, Herbert’s rendition of the song is surprisingly sweet and all the Star Wars references thrown in make it more interesting than you’d expect, making it a great music video parody.
5. David Bowie and Mick Jagger’s Dancing in the Street
“Dancing in the Street” is a song that was initially written by Marvin Gaye, but it’s opened itself up to many cover versions in the decades since then. One particularly popular cover of the song was a duet version sung by the phenomenally talented David Bowie and Mick Jagger, which reached the number one spot on the charts in the UK and the number seven spot on the charts in the United States (they are a pair of British music stars, to be fair). But that version of the song is remembered better by its camp and unintentionally hilarious music video. Of course, the writing staff of Family Guy saw the potential for a terrific gag in this video. In one episode of Family Guy, a fake health scare created by the media makes Peter paranoid enough to pull Meg and Chris out of school indefinitely so that he can home school them instead. In one of his first ‘lessons,’ he’s explaining all the so-called most important historical events to his two oldest kids and tells them that in the 1980s, “the gayest music video of all time.” The episode then proceeds to play the entire music video in full.
The K-pop (Korean pop) music genre is thriving right now. For some reason, that particular and very unusual style of music has hit a nerve in western culture and everyone’s obsessed with it. So, when Family Guy sent Peter and his friends to Korea in the episode “Candy, Quahog Marshmallow,” in which they go after the final episode of the Korean soap opera that Quagmire starred in when he was stationed out there, they had to do some sort of spoof of K-pop. That came in the form of a music video that Peter, Joe, and Cleveland make to try and convince Quagmire to come back to America with them after he decides to stay. The video is a pitch perfect parody of all the random crap that gets shoved into real K-pop videos, and it’s so gloriously funny. It is more specifically a parody of the K-pop song “Bubble Pop!” by the hugely popular South Korean singer Hyuna. In addition to its hilarious and spot on K-pop music video parody, “Candy, Quahog Marshmallow” is also just a terrific episode in its own right, especially considering that it came in the show’s fourteenth season, which is generally long after TV shows have gone downhill.
3. Stewie’s cover of “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”
Music videos are ripe for parody, because there are videos that are pretentious and artsy, and other videos that are just downright weird. They can be mopey or emotional or cinematic or postmodern – there’s certainly a lot to poke fun at. The videos of the ‘80s in particular present a lot of potential for spoofing, and the ‘80s is a pop culture era that MacFarlane and his Family Guy writing staff like to make fun of a lot, perhaps more than any other decade. Stewie Griffin’s cover version of the Bryan Adams song “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” and the music video that he creates around it to woo Joe’s daughter Susie, takes aim at just about every pretentious trope and convention of music videos ever created. There’s random cuts to different animation styles, there’s random cuts to black and white, there’s the singer talking to his own reflection, there’s a hotel room getting trashed in slow motion while the drapes blow in the wind – every trope or concept that’s ever been created for a music video. The video is less a parody of Bryan Adams’ song and more a parody of music videos as a whole – and one that works, too.
2. Conway Twitty
The Conway Twitty cutaway gags in Family Guy are not the best received running joke on the show. That’s because they go on for so darn long that you forget you’re even watching an episode of Family Guy and start to wonder why you’re watching an obscure country music star perform his particularly dull brand of tunes. The writers of the show do this intentionally, because it follows a formula that they often follow on the show. This is the formula of leaving something going for so long that you end up laughing at it twice. When a character looks to the camera and says, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Conway Twitty,” and it cuts to this unusual singer, the audience laughs at the absurdity of it. Then he stays on the screen for so long that you start to get bored of it and stop laughing. But then he stays on for even longer – long enough that the audience starts laughing again, simply at how long this is being dragged out. This is also the formula that they use for the chicken fight sequences. Another reason is that Seth MacFarlane finds it funny to use coveted primetime airspace on a major network, which advertisers pay millions and millions of dollars for, to play five minutes of a mediocre Conway Twitty performance.
1. Take On Me
The music video for A-Ha’s “Take On Me” is one of the most iconic of all time. It used a rotoscoping technique to take the lead singer of the band in live action into a world of hand drawn animation. It’s super weird and doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, but it is unique and visually interesting. A-Ha are a Norwegian synthpop band. Just from that, you should realize that this is a strange musical artist whose songs and videos are going to be pretty weird. It was weird enough for Family Guy to decide to make fun of it in the episode “Breaking Out is Hard to Do.” Chris goes to get some milk for Lois in the supermarket and gets dragged into the “Take On Me” video. The show’s producers had to obtain the full rights to the video in order to use it, but it was really worth it as it’s a total non-sequitur, but it’s also one of the funniest moments ever on the show. As Chris escapes from the music video out in the milk aisle and Lois asks him where he’s been and he says, “I don’t know!!!” thus ends the most hilarious music video parody in Family Guy history.