In 1994, a young director from Dallas was commissioned to make a music video for Garth Brooks’ hit country song “Friends in Low Places.” The director, Norry Niven, was given complete creative control over the project and was told to interpret the song in any way he thought made sense. For Niven, that meant featuring a little person in a cowboy outfit.
Niven’s version of “Friends in Low Places” never appeared on MTV or anywhere else traditional music videos were shown. But then again, it wasn’t a traditional music video.
When karaoke exploded in popularity during the late 1980s and early 1990s, it created a demand for cheap music videos for karaoke-goers to sing along to. To meet that demand, some companies hacked together videos out of incoherent stock footage. Others, like the Japanese entertainment company Pioneer Electronics, decided to set themselves apart by getting young directors to create original videos on shoestring budgets.
Pioneer wanted its content to be indistinguishable from MTV’s, but it often only gave directors $6,000 to work with (for comparison, Michael Jackson’s 1983 “Beat It” video cost about $150,000 to make). As a result, directors either had to cut corners on production or get creative — and when they did both, it got weird.
“Friends in Low Places” barely skimmed the surface of the offbeat, inventive, and occasionally irreverent videos that came out of the industry. Most of them were made for LaserDiscs and faded into obscurity when the technology went out of style. Fortunately, some have found their way into the deep corners of YouTube.
We dug them up and talked to the people who created them for our story on the short-lived golden age of karaoke music videos. Watch it above and then browse our curated collection of the strangest ones we found.