Duran Duran, with their unique synthpop sound, pastel clothing and male model looks, was the perfect creation for early MTV. They were the first to use exotic location shoots and cinematic techniques in their music videos. Like “Hungry Like The Wolf,” a companion video filmed in Sri Lanka, “Rio” was directed by Russell Mulcahy. The genius here is the mix of art and commerce into an extended free form advertisement. Can you say Brand? These guys mastered branding – sex, adventure, fashion! – and became an international sensation. The video has a loose plot: A woman named Rio (played by model Reema Ruspoli) tempts and torments the band on beaches, yachts and rafts. The vignettes feel like photo shoots that are filmed instead of photographed. The band goes full tilt with the concept and thanks to inspired cinematography and a full line of fashion, the result is energetic and satisfying. The bright vibe is very glam 80s and brings to mind Miami Vice.
The video was shot on Antigua. The creative vibe is extravagant and spares nothing, like an advertising team gone nuts and using an entire band: We’ll get yellow goop and dump it on her latex covered rump! Pastel martinis dissipating in sea water! Painted women on rafts talking on plastic phones! Each shot of the cinematography screams outrageous pizazz with lots of Caribbean turquoise and band members with perfectly teased hair posing in colorful Mark Antony silk suits.
The video has an overt, almost comical, sexual vibe with lots of gushing liquids, pouting lips, swimsuits and strutting. “Rio” generated an intense boy band-like enthusiasm with teen girls who bought millions of Duran Duran cassettes and records. The band relished the adulation and embraced their cutting edge fashion. In a MTV News interview of Simon LeBon, as the band toured Japan, he stated: “We spend all our extra time in bed boinking Western models.”
Don’t lose sight of their musical accomplishment (they get props from Beck and The Killers). They were a real band: they wrote their own songs, played their instruments and paid their dues before they hit big with the Rio album. Good early examples of their marriage of disco and punk are “Girls On Film” and “Planet Earth.”
The song “Rio” combines guitar and synthesizer parts into a rollicking sound. Nick
Rhodes created the signature hook using an arpeggiator on a Roland Jupiter-4. On the VH1 show True Spin, the band explained that Rio was actually a metaphor for America and the lyrics expressed their desire to succeed in America.
Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand
Just like that river twisting through a dusty land
And when she shines she really shows you all she can
Oh Rio, Rio dance across the Rio Grande
The most surreal and compelling part of the video is when Rio prances and tip toes around the yacht as a painted bird woman, a sexy tribal spirit. The teak yacht is a 70 foot ketch named Eilean. At full sail, the deck tilting, the band hangs on while arrayed in an iconic group pose. This posterized shot would leap onto the walls of every American girl’s bedroom. The saxophone solo, in split screen on a drifting raft and atop an Antiguan peak, became a staple of 80s music and soon Huey Lewis and Rob Lowe’s character in St. Elmo’s Fire also showcased the tenor sax.
LeBon, the lead singer, displays his versatility. With the advent of the music video it was no longer enough for singers to just sing, acting chops became required. Mugging and singing into the blue plastic phone, LeBon seems a likeable guy who doesn’t take himself very seriously. He does action and light comedy, being knocked off a dock by a giant beach ball while wearing a strap speedo. As he rides the bowsprit of the yacht at the end of the video and sings and snaps his fingers, his enthusiasm seems genuine. Perhaps he sensed America would be conquered, and that soon people would think wearing a blue shirt and green silk suit was a really good idea.