A literal music video, also called a literal video version, is a satirical remix of an official music video clip in which the lyrics have been replaced with lyrics that describe the visuals in the video.[1]

Literal video versions are usually based on music videos in which the imagery appears illogical, disconnected with the lyrics, and more concerned with impressive visuals than actual meaning.[2][3] Most of the literal videos have been based on music videos from the 1980s and 1990s.[2] Literal videos generally have new lyrics dubbed over those of the original video, and often include subtitles for better clarity. Lyrics range from references to the video editing (such as Anthony Kiedis being dubbed as saying "Now superimpose on me/someone's ugly house" in the Red Hot Chili Peppers' video for "Under the Bridge"), to questioning the unusual things depicted in the video which are usually, by convention, ignored by the participants (for example the lyrics "What's happening with that monkey?/What is with this gas mask?/This is a strange library." from the literal version of Tears for Fears' "Head Over Heels").[2][4]

The versions of "Take On Me" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart" have seen millions of views on YouTube and have created a brief resurgence of the original song in the popular culture. In the concept's first year, YouTube has hosted 100 different "literal version" videos, from users all over the world, including foreign language entries.[5][6]


The first known example of this meme, a redub of A-ha's "Take on Me", was posted on YouTube by Dustin McLean in his now-defunct channel Dusto McNeato, in October 2008.[7][8] McLean, who worked on the animated SuperNews! show on Current TV, stated that the idea for literal videos came about from an inside joke with his fellow workers,[8] and that two of his coworkers along with his wife helped to provide the new vocal lyrics.[9]

In the two months after "Take On Me" was posted, ten other YouTube users began making literal versions of their own. The most popular of these initial non-McLean videos was a redub of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up", by copyrighthater, which went on to receive over two million views in its first year online.[10] The new lyrics give a nod to "Rickrolling", a previous internet meme that involved tricking people into watching the original video of the same song.

Total Eclipse of the Heart

In the first third of 2009, McLean and seven other people made new literal videos. Five of these were by David A. Scott (dascottjr), a commercial producer in upstate New York. His sixth video, a redub of Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was posted on May 25, 2009 with the singing done by Scott's friend Felisha Noble.[11] Shortly after, links to it appeared on websites for Entertainment Weekly, the Twitter page of Ashton Kutcher, and Perez Hilton's Twitter page too. From there, the video received 1,009,331 views in its first ten days, surpassing two million views in three weeks. [12] After nearly eleven million views, Sony had YouTube block the video worldwide in 2011. (Shortly before his account was terminated in February 2014, the video was unblocked, and surpassed eleven million.) It is still viewable on Funny Or Die's website, where it has received over 100,000 views, qualifying it for "Immortal" status since April 2012.[13]

Copyright issues

In December 2008, literal versions of "Take On Me" and "Under the Bridge" were removed from Dustin McLean's YouTube account, due to copyright claims by Warner Music Group. By that time, "Take On Me" had 2,321,793 views, while "Under the Bridge" had 340,927. Both videos continued to be available on McLean's "Funny or Die" page, while copied versions were posted by other users on YouTube.[14]

Two of Scott's literal videos, Crowded House's "World Where You Live" and The Killers' "Read My Mind" were banned in several non-U.S. countries immediately upon upload, due to copyright restrictions by EMI and Universal Music Group, respectively. In December 2009, the Killers video was blocked worldwide.[15]

In August 2009, YouTube user Torrey Meeks, a.k.a. levmyshkin (whose May 2008 "Bill O'Reilly Flips Out - DANCE REMIX" got 2.9 million views in its first year) saw his literal version of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" taken down, after a copyright claim by Sony Music, one month after he had posted it. Meeks contested the claim soon after.[16]

Later that month (less than a week after excerpts were shown on ABC's "Nightline"), the literal videos for "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" (the latter posted by deshem in December 2008) were both removed from YouTube, after a copyright claim by EMI Music. Via YouTube and Facebook, David A. Scott encouraged friends and fans of the videos to complain about the ban to YouTube and EMI.[17]

Before Scott could contact YouTube or EMI himself, both videos were restored to their original accounts on August 26, only two days after they were banned. YouTube and EMI gave no reason for the reversal.[18] That same day, YouTube also unbanned McLean's videos of "Take On Me" and "Under the Bridge", without saying why. Also that day, YouTube accepted Meeks' counter-notification, restoring his video of "Smooth Criminal". However, Sony had Meeks' video removed again by September 1. By the end of December, all but one of Meeks' six literal videos were removed, due to copyright claims by UMG. McLean's "Under the Bridge" was blocked again in 2010.

In November 2009, CeilingofStars posted a literal version of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance". The video was automatically blocked by YouTube for containing material owned by UMG. The copyright claim was contested, and the video reappeared online, shortly before being removed by Universal. Around the same time, Warner Music Group had cushlinkes' literal version of "Whip It" removed as well. By the end of December 2009, over twenty of the 100 English language literal videos had been removed from YouTube, mostly due to copyright claims from Universal Music Group and Sony Music. Artists parodied by the removed videos included Billy Joel, Boyz II Men, REM, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Hanson, Cyndi Lauper, and Rick Astley. Some of the removed videos have been re-uploaded on other video websites. Record companies, claiming copyright infringement, would continue to block and remove literal videos from YouTube.

According to McLean, various networks (MTV, VH1, and CMT) have contacted him about turning the concept into a TV program. However, the difficulty in getting the rights to original music videos has scared off most developers.[19]

In February 2014, YouTube terminated David A. Scott's entire YouTube account, citing "multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement".[20] He had received two previous, expired copyright strikes in April 2012, for his Killers and Mika videos (both by UMG). The three strikes he received in 2014 were for videos by The Beatles (Apple Corps), Crowded House (UMG), and Nirvana (UMG).

In 2014, Scott uploaded all of his literal videos to his Funny or Die channel.[21] In 2018, Funny or Die moved all of its site's uploaded videos onto a YouTube server, causing four of Scott's videos to be removed (and redirected to different videos) by YouTube's copyright detection. At the same time, Funny or Die announced they would "no longer support open user-generated content", meaning that Scott would no longer be able to edit his Funny or Die page or upload new material.[22]

Mainstream mentions

Artist reactions

See also


  1. ^ Greenblatt, Leah (2009-05-28). "New literal video: "Total Eclipse of the Heart"". The Music Mix Blog. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-05-31.
  2. ^ a b c Weeks, Jerome (2008-11-03). "Literal-minded". book/daddy. ArtsJournal. Retrieved 2009-05-31.
  3. ^ Bosso, Joe (2008-10-20). "Hot video: U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - literal version". Music Radar. Retrieved 2009-08-02.
  4. ^ Suddath, Claire (2008-10-28). "Tears for Fears: The Literal Remix". Time. Archived from the original on November 16, 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-06.
  5. ^ Mccarthy, Caroline (2009-07-29). "The top 10 songs the Web brought back". CNet. Retrieved 2009-08-02.
  6. ^ Fussell, James (2009-07-28). "Literal version videos rack up views on the Web for classic hits". Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on August 22, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-02.
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  8. ^ a b Ganz, Caryn (2008-10-06). "Rocking Literally: The Story Behind "Take on Me," "Head Over Heels" Video Parodies". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2011-03-26.
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  11. ^ Laderman, David and Westrup, Laurel. Sampling Media, p. 230 (Oxford University Press, 2014).
  12. ^ Scott, David (2009-05-25). "Total Eclipse of the Heart: Literal Video Version". YouTube. Retrieved 2009-05-25.
  13. ^ Scott, David (2011-04-16). "Total Eclipse of the Heart: Literal Video Version". Retrieved 2012-07-01.
  14. ^ McLean, Dustin (2008-12-12). "Dust Films (official website)". Dust Films. Retrieved 2008-12-12.
  15. ^ Scott, David (2009-08-24). "Total Eclipse Literal Video: Various News Clips". YouTube. Retrieved 2009-08-24.[dead YouTube link]
  16. ^ Meeks, Torrey (2009-08-24). "Torrey Meeks (official site)". Torrey Meeks. Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2009-08-24.
  17. ^ Fioraliso, Ted (2009-08-26). "Literal Video Unbanned". Facebook. Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved 2009-08-26.
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  21. ^ "Unauthorized Access".
  22. ^ "Unauthorized Access". 20 August 2018.
  23. ^ Schmidt, Bryan (2009-06-16). "Glee Club of the Damned". Facebook. Retrieved 2009-06-16.
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  29. ^ Hansen, Beck (2009-08-09). "Beck (Official Website)". XL Recordings. Archived from the original on 2009-08-06. Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  30. ^ Kreps, Daniel (2010-03-14). "The Secret History of A-ha's Smash Take On Me". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2011-03-26.
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  32. ^ Hasselhoff, David (2010-07-29). "You've Never Seen "Hooked on a Feeling" Like This!". HoffSpace. Retrieved 2010-08-03.
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  35. ^ "Bonnie Tyler: 'There's nothing I won't talk about'". The Irish Times.