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Favorite videos: a-ha | Take on Me

The video that turned a two-time flop into a world mega-hit.

“The idea behind a successful video was to do something visually that will get enough airplay that makes the song an earworm.”

Jeff Ayeroff

"When you saw everything together it was just like wow!"

Mags Furuholmen

Andrew Wickham felt he had a hit in his hands, but considering the two previous failures, he was trying to figure out what to do with a-ha. Taking advantage that Jeff Ayeroff, a creative director for Warner Brothers Records, was in London, he scheduled an appointment to introduce the band.

Ayeroff, who had developed visual campaigns for artists like The Police and Rod Stewart, felt the potential of the new version and championed the band to get a new video for the re-recorded version. When asked about the original video he said “I don't remember how those videos look like…this is too clean-cut…it wasn’t unique enough. The idea behind a successful video was to do something visually that will get enough airplay that makes the song an earworm”.

The first thing he did was to commission Steve Barron, who had previously created hit videos for Toto, Thomas Dolby, Culture Club and Michael Jackson, to direct the video. Unlike the unimaginative first video, which just shows the band singing with a blue background, the new one would have a storyline that connected with the song lyrics, becoming a romantic fantasy. But that wasn’t enough for him, he envisioned the new video as something never done before.

John Beug, a friend of Ayeroff, showed him the short animated film Commuter (which later became the base of another a-ha video 'Train of Thought') by husband-and-wife team Michael Patterson and Candace Reckinger. The short used a pencil-sketch animation / live-action combination called rotoscoping, in which the live-action footage is traced over frame by frame to give the characters realistic movements. Ayeroff paid the couple to “not do anything to any other record company”, and brought them to animate the video shot by Steven Baron.

Steven baron shot and edited the entire video before delivering it to Patterson. The couple went on a sixteen-week run of hand-drawing with approximately 3,000 frames being rotoscoped. The final product is visually and conceptually groundbreaking, bringing together two worlds apart. But the strength of the video was not the technique, it was the story. A clear narrative of a love affair across dimensions, a fairytale of a girl, in a humdrum existence, that scapes into a fantasy world, meets her hero and lives a fantastic adventure.

The legacy:

'Take on Me' video became one of the most instantly recognizable and most enduringly popular music videos and pushed the song to the top of the charts around the world.

At the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, 'Take On Me' video won six awards: Best New Artist in a Video, Best Concept Video, Most Experimental Video, Best Direction in a Video, Best Special Effects in a Video, and Viewer's Choice. The six MTV Award wins gave the band twice as many wins as Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' and more than any artist in the three years of the awards combined. Other Steven Baron directed videos (a-ha’s 'The Sun Always Shines on TV', ZZ Top’s 'Rough Boy' and Dire Straits’ 'Money for Nothing') won another five awards, reaping 11 of the 16 awards of that year!

With dozens of cover versions in a wide range of styles, 'Take on Me', more than 30 years after its release, continues to be one of the most recognizable and played songs in the world. On 17 February 2020, the music video reached 1 billion views on YouTube, becoming the fifth song to ever achieve that mark.

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