Flashback Video: 'She Works Hard for the Money' by Donna Summer
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 "She Works Hard for the Money" by Donna Summer. It was released as a single in May of 1983. Summer had been known as the "Queen of Disco" with such hits as "Last Dance", "Bad Girls" and ""Hot Stuff" that earned her that title. "She Works Hard for the Money" went on to reach #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and peak at #3 on the Hot 100 in August of that year. It established her in the '80s and became the first video by an African-American female artist to be placed in heavy rotation on MTV.
The music video for "She Works Hard for the Money" was directed by Brian Grant, one of the more prolific video directors of the decade. Grant is also responsible for bringing us Olivia Newton-John's "Physical", Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey", Duran Duran's "New Moon on Monday", Aretha Franklin's "Freeway of Love", Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody", Tina Turner's "Private Dancer" and Jody Watley's "Looking For a New Love" among many others. I had the pleasure of an interview with Brian Grant and here is what he had to say about working with Donna Summer on this video:
I met Donna in Los Angeles and had dinner with her one night. I asked her where she got the idea for this song. She told me that she had actually gotten it right in that very restaurant [Chasen's]. A very expensive restaurant in L.A. full of very wealthy people that served very expensive food. She said that if you go downstairs to the washrooms, there is a black lady or black man as an attendant who hands you a towel when you are done washing your hands or gives you perfume or aftershave. She said she was eating there one day and went down to the restroom and this little black lady gave her a towel. When she came back up, she was thinking that exhausted woman is stuck down there with no windows and she really works hard for the money. Then she sat down and wrote the song about a working woman. So I thought it would be good to do the video as a tribute to working women and wrote a story based on that. I think it might've been the first proper narrative I ever directed. It's about a working woman with two unruly kids who works three jobs every day struggling to make ends meet and gave up everything she wanted to do. She'd always wanted to be a dancer. So the video shows what her life is like and then turns into a fantasy of what she really would like to have done. Like I said, it was meant to be a tribute to working women. An interesting story, when we were in pre-production Donna said she wanted to play the waitress. I wasn't sure because this wasn't a fun video, it was a serious video that had a meaning, a point. I told her that nobody would believe her as a waitress because she was Donna Summer, a famous pop star. Eventually she agreed and I told her that she should be more of the narrator like it was a documentary and she was an observer. I think that made all the difference because I think it gave the video some weight compared to if she would've just sang it the normal way.
You can find out lots about many of the other videos Grant directed in that interview as well. You can see how they put it all together for this particular video yourself as you watch the music video for "She Works Hard for the Money" by Donna Summer (apologize for the poor recording quality)...
According to Summer herself, all of the women coming to together to dance at the end was to show that they had overcome their challenges and succeeded. The song went on to become a tribute to hard-working women everywhere.
Hope you enjoyed another trip back to the '80s thanks to Flashback Video!