The rise of MTV ran parallel to the success of the Go-Go’s, who became mainstays on the newly launched network in 1981 thanks to their video for “Our Lips Are Sealed.”
The Los Angeles band had already developed a passionate following in its hometown thanks to support from influential radio station KROQ. After their promo man at I.R.S. Records flew around the country hitting 60 cities in 60 days – thanks to an American Airlines promotion – the Go-Go’s themselves connecting with a national audience as “Our Lips Are Sealed” became a hit song during the summer of 1981, around the same time as MTV’s launch on Aug. 1.
The song, about a secret affair between Go-Go’s member Jane Wiedlin and Fun Boy Three frontman Terry Hall that was cowritten by the pair, was released as a single in June.
The group was less than impressed with the idea of a music video when Miles Copeland, head of I.R.S., told him they needed one for the song. Wiedlin recalled the band’s skepticism in I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Oral History of the Music Video Revolution. “The money he used for the video was, like, left over from the Police’s video budget,” she noted. “It was pennies. They got some guy to follow us around Hollywood.”
That simple idea was enough to make an unforgettable video that was aired seemingly nonstop on the fledgling music network. “Watching them cruise around L.A. in that Cadillac and splashing around in a fountain in the ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ video gave such a strong impression of who they were,” VJ Mark Goodman told Vogue in an oral history of the band. “You wanted to hang with these girls.”
The video starts on a shot of the Go-Go’s standing under an awning on a Hollywood street, stomping to the beat of the song in front of a record-store window with a giant poster of the band’s debut LP, Beauty and the Beat. (There are shots of the band performing in a local club interspersed throughout the three-minute clip.) They also drive around in a Buick convertible acquired from Rent-A-Wreck. When Wiedlin’s vocal solo on the bridge shows up, the members dart into Trashy Lingerie, a famous shop on La Cienega Boulevard.
Watch the Go-Go’s Video for ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’
But the video’s big moment comes as all five members dive into the Electric Fountain on the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica. They were hoping someone would call the cops so they would be arrested on film. No police came, but they found support in label-mates the Police, who enlisted the Go-Go’s to open for them on a world tour.
“Prior to MTV, the game was all about radio,” Copeland explained in We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk. Pointing out that many established acts of the era refused to make videos, he noted that MTV got behind artists who did make them. “In return, the punk bands paid attention to MTV, because they were one of the few people who would play their stuff. And the Go-Go’s totally benefitted from this.”
Speaking to Vulture in 2021, Belinda Carlisle recalled that the band thought videos were a dumb idea at the time. But she admitted that the “Lips” clip helped make the band so successful. (While the single made it to No. 20, the album reached No. 1, staying there for six weeks.)
“It put the Go-Go’s on the map,” Carlisle said. “It felt like California. And it beautifully sums up the essence of the band. We’re irreverent and self deprecating, and you can see that in the video. We just didn’t give a shit, really. I think that’s one of the things about the Go-Go’s that people do respond to.”
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