Flashback Video: 'Physical' by Olivia Newton-John
Updated: Feb 15, 2021
Ever since the dawn of MTV and Friday Night Videos, the music video has significantly impacted musical tastes and pop culture. It might not be as extreme as when the Buggles declared that "Video Killed the Radio Star", but there is no arguing that the music video certainly could make or break a song's popularity. So this regular Flashback Video feature will serve to remember some of the music videos from the great '80s decade that made an impact on me in one way or another. This issue we will cover "Physical" by Olivia Newton-John. "Physical" was released as a single in September of 1981 and become an enormous hit. It went on to reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart by November and then spent an impressive 10 weeks at #1 crossing over into January of 1982. No other song in the '80s held the #1 position for as many weeks and "Physical" was actually declared by Billboard the top of performing song of the entire decade. The single sold over 2 million copies in the U.S. alone, but had incredible international success as well reaching #1 in five other countries and the top 10 in ten more.
The music video for "Physical" was directed by Brian Grant who was one of the most prolific music video directors of the decade. I had the pleasure of an interview with Brian Grant and asked him about the concept he came up with for the video and the obvious sexual innuendo within the song. Here is a portion of what he had to say:
I listened to it and I thought this is a song about two people having sex and this is not going to work as a video for Olivia. I thought the best way to do this was to come at it completely differently, just play on the word physical and have as much fun as we possibly can with it. The obvious thing was to put her in a gym with a bunch of good-looking boys, but you always want to undercut expectations when you write anything. So I came up with the idea that you think she is in a gym with a bunch of good-looking boys, but then the camera pulls back and it turns out she's trying to get all of these fat guys into shape. They are really out-of-shape and not pretty boys at all. Half way through the video she gets frustrated and leaves, goes into the shower and, by magic, when she comes back out all of these beautiful hunky boys are there that she really wanted in the first place. Then to add a final twist at the end, I thought it would be good to undercut the expectation one more time and have it turn out that the boys are all gay. So she really doesn't get what she wants and still ends up with one of the fat guys.
The "Physical" music video was quite memorable and surely helped with the immense popularity of the song. It helped transition Olivia from her previous clean-cut image and also to more of a pop sound. "Physical" actually went on to win the Grammy award for Video of the Year in 1983 for Newton-John and director Grant. It is one of the first music videos that I definitely remember seeing from back in those early days. Now, for your viewing pleasure, here is the music video for "Physical" by Olivia Newton-John...
A little different image than her character in Grease just a few years prior or the singer of previous hits like "Magic" (1980) or "Honestly I Love You" (1974). "Physical" showed the potential impact a music video could have on the success and popularity of a song and this would certainly be taken to another level in the years following.
Hope you enjoyed another trip back to the '80s thanks to Flashback Video!