Pop Up Video on Vh1: The Popular '90s Series Returns

The new Pop-Up Video is ghoulish and creepy.

The new Pop-Up Video is ghoulish and creepy.

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Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 3 2011 3:03 PM

Pop-Up = Passé

Pop-Up Video logo

Tonight, Vh1 is bringing back Pop-Up Video, a ‘90s relic in which music videos are accompanied by small bubbles of extra-diegetic information. It’s a curious reboot, considering the series’ trademark snark can now be found on any social network or comment engine of your choosing, and YouTube has been letting users make their own pop-up annotations since 2008. Producer Woody Thompson, who co-created the original, told the Hollywood Reporter that he was inspired to return to the format because all those social networks stole his thunder:

Jessica Grose Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.


I have sat on the sidelines for the last decade and watched as everyone … has ripped off Pop Up in some way or another with the internet coming out of nowhere and Twitter being hauntingly familiar and all of these devices that are using snarky, pithy text.

The network, meanwhile, says they’re bringing back the once-popular show because viewers are nostalgic for it. But they’re also adding interactive elements: the videos will appear on Vh1’s website and there will be user-generated pop-up content and polling.


When news first broke about the show’s revival, BrowBeat wondered if Pop-Up Video would still be fun in 2011. Watching the screener, the short answer is: not really. The problem is mostly in the choice of videos. According to an Entertainment Weekly article from 1997 about the original version, “The producers look for backlash-ready, played-to-death tunes (i.e., anything by Madonna), preferably with leisurely editing that allows time to point out the silly details.” The key combination here is backlash-ready AND silly.

Two of the five videos on the screener I saw were from Amy Winehouse and Chris Brown. The Winehouse song that was popped was “Rehab.” All of the little info bubbles were about her battles with drugs and alcohol. The effect was ghoulish, not amusing, and furthermore, any student of tabloids already knew all the sordid details about Amy’s troubles that were included in the pop-ups.


The Chris Brown song they popped was the 2005 track “Run It.” There was zero mention of his domestic violence conviction for battering now ex-girlfriend Rihanna. This omission might have made sense if they hadn’t included a pop-up about Juelz Santana’s run-ins with the law—but they did. They also included a lot of info about Brown’s age at the time of recording (16) and whether or not it was legal for him to have sex with the lead dancer in the video (creepy).

P!nk’s “Get The Party Started” was the most charming popped video in the lot. It’s got that winning combination of datedness and goofiness—and the additional info provided was news to me.  (Most notably, Britney’s ex-husband Kevin Federline was a backup dancer at this particular televised party. He also had corn rows. The crew referred to him as “White Boy.”)


Overall the format felt antiquated, and the pop-ups weren’t funny or informative enough to justify bringing the show back. But check out this Britney Spears pop-up video for “‘Till the World Ends” and let us know in the comments if you feel the same way.