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Flashback Friday: Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game


wicked game

In 1990, Chris Isaak recorded a music video with supermodel Helena Christensen where the two mostly rolled around shirtless on a beach in Hawaii. The video’s director Herb Ritts was a successful black and white fashion photographer who had worked with stars like Madonna and Janet Jackson. The result is one of the most predictable entries on every “Sexiest Music Videos Of All Time” list. The song itself broke into the top ten on a number of global Billboard charts, including in the US, UK, and Canada. And let’s be honest, it broke into your heart too. (womp womp womp)

In 2015 Issak did an interview with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for an exhibit honoring Herb Ritts (who passed away in 2002) about the song and the video where he revealed that he didn’t think it was sexy enough to get played on the air. Ritts convinced him he had to sing in the video. Think about the implications of that: the male in the duo was expected to seduce for the benefit of the audience. They couldn’t rely on just “the girl” to bring the heat. To my knowledge, there is no hard data analyzing the ratio of men to women who call the video “sexy”, but if I may conjecture I’ll say its a pretty good mix. Men get the half naked supermodel and women get a handsome man who is wet and in emotional anguish. Everybody gets what they want.

Chris Isaak frequently collaborated with director David Lynch on soundtracks for his films, even playing a principal role in the 1992 Twin Peaks movie Fire Walk With Me. Wicked Game appeared on the 1990 soundtrack for Wild At Heart. But I’m going to hazard a guess no one thinks of David Lynch first when they hear it.

By today’s standards of “sexy” in music videos, its astonishingly plain. But I think this Bustle writer hits at heart of it: the song isn’t about the act of sex. Its about the complications of desire and longing that will ultimately lead the singer to their doom. Unrequited love songs, like the experience itself, have a powerful hold on audiences. Perhaps not the most original topic in art, people know broken hearts when they hear/see it and respond with a love for the product all their own.

The song has of course been covered many times over the years, but I want to highlight the ones that occurred within the YouTube generation. And also note, many of these artists have their own penchant for writing songs about unrequited love.

Lykke Li

This one is my favorite. Weird and moody Swedish pop singer Lykke Li covered the song for a benefit concert featuring music from David Lynch film and television. I love Lykke and I love that she’s a David Lynch muse. I don’t have any other reasons.

By the way, Lykke Li has an entire album devoted to an unrequited love affair that was received to much critical acclaim.

Peter Jöback and Sia

Swedish stage musical singer Peter Jöback recruited Australian pop artist Sia for a cover. There are trumpets, so that’s fun.

The song is available on Peter Jöback’s  album East Side Stories on iTunes.

James Vincent McMorrow

The Irish folk singer’s cover was featured in one of the trailers for season six of Game of Thrones. In my head, this is a song that Jaime would sing about Cersei. In season six, Jaime starts putting the pieces together about his sister/lover’s fragile psyche, she is now the Mad King. But that takes us down a path of spoilers, so let’s table that until the show returns in July for its final season.

A few live versions of the track are available on iTunes from various performances, but you might have to buy the whole album in order to get it. But if I may be so blunt, why bother? Sure its lovely, just like the original. But why not just download the original? This version is just bland.

London Grammar

Did I say before that Lykke Li’s performance was my favorite? Because I lied. The sulky vocals of London Grammar (who I featured in the last flashback) are actually my favorite.


Now go take a cold shower. Or three. And stay away from that ex’s Facebook page.

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