The music video for Peter Gabriel’s hit single Steam (1992) was made by Stephen R. Johnson, a director of immense creativity. Peter Gabriel was known for his innovative, experimental music videos, probably the most famous being Sledgehammer (1986) also directed by Johnson, which scooped nine MTV Video Music Awards, which stands as a record today.
6 years on, computer technology had developed and whereas Sledgehammer used claymation and stop-motion techniques (with Peter Gabriel lying under a pane of glass for 16 hours as the video was shot one frame at a time) Steam uses the nascent but cutting-edge CGI effects of the time. In parts of the video we see exactly the same sort of ‘virtual reality’ effect used in the film Lawnmower Man, which came out the same year.
In Gabriel’s words “the song is about a relationship in which the woman is sophisticated, bright, cultured, and knows everything about anything and that the man knows nothing about anything, except, he does know about the woman, and she doesn’t know much about herself”.
Steam didn’t do quite as well as Sledgehammer, but it scooped a Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video in 1994, as well as two MTV Video Music Awards in 1993, for Best Special Effects in a Video and Best Editing in a Video.
Of course the video would be nothing without the music behind it – Peter Gabriel was a gifted musical innovator. The effects might be dated by today’s standards but that doesn’t detract one bit from the experience. The accompanying track, Steam, is a brilliantly funky backdrop to this surreal, colourful, humorous and very enjoyable visual treat.