From dressing up as Kurt Cobain to dancing in mirrored pants, see which RHCP videos melt the Scoville scale
2023 is a Red Hot year. The Chili Peppers started storming stadiums again last summer after releasing Return Of The Dream Canteen, and now they’re back again with two huge stadium shows in London and Glasgow.
Now drawing on almost 40 years of chart-topping history, the Chilis might have come a long way from their early days spent waggling their sports socks around LA punk clubs, but they still pour all their raw teenage energy into their unmissable live shows.
If you want a taste of what’s in store, you only have to watch any of the band’s infamously wild music videos. Often working with big-name directors, usually going for something avant-garde and always pushing the boundaries of what was appropriate on MTV, the RHCP turned their music videos into little slices of arty anarchy.
With the band warming up for their UK shows, it’s time to rank their spiciest videos on the Red Hot Chili Pepper sauce scale.
The classic “band riding down a desert road in an open top convertible” trope gets turned on its head here as director Stéphane Sednaoui mixes in metaphors for John Frusciante’s return to the line-up, and for the literal scars endured by the rest of the band in his absence. It’s a simple setup and a perfect payoff for where the Chilis were in 1999 – still with a lot of highway left to ride ahead of them.
Chili rating: Bell pepper – subtle, more sweet than spicy.
Under The Bridge
Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Paranoid Park) directed the video for the band’s breakthrough – laying out the three key elements of any and all future Chili films: nudity, LA and weirdness. As supernatural as the track itself, Van Sant set Kiedis against a starry desert sky as he faded into montages of the band’s urban roots – all before having him run away from stock footage of a nuclear explosion in slow motion.
Chili rating: Pimiento pepper – lingers longer than you’d expect.
Soul To Squeeze
Director Kevin Kerslake took unlikely inspiration from Todd Browning’s cult 1932 horror Freaks to cast the Chilis in a vintage carnival show. It might look arty in black and white, and the slower-paced Soul To Squeeze cools down the mood perfectly, but this video still features Kiedis rapping an entire verse wearing a wig made out of snakes.
Chili rating: Ancho chilli pepper – curiously hot.
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (who later went on to make Little Miss Sunshine), Otherside takes its cues from German expressionism, cubism and the art of MC Escher to paint the band into an abstract nightmare full of ladders, clocks and fire breathing dragons. Filmed in black and white, the only splashes of colour come from Flea’s hair, a big pair of lips and a funky red hang-gliding suit.
Chili rating: Padron pepper – starting subtle, but then slowly making your eyes water.
What starts off as a short skit about US stand-up Dave Sheridan trying to return a book that Anthony Kiedis left in his cab quickly turns into an excuse to gatecrash the band’s headline performance at Coachella (and for Sheridan to hip-thrust a bum bag in a pair of cut-off jean shorts, make out with random girls in the crowd and drunkenly crash a golf buggy).
Chili rating: Jalapeño pepper – I’m not crying I’m laughing.
Now the band’s trademark track, Californication came with a cutting-edge CGI video back in 2000 that now has close to 900 million views on YouTube. Directed again by Dayton and Faris, the video gives the Chilis their own video game to run around in. With the freedom to do anything and go anywhere, they skateboard over the Golden Gate Bridge, ride a giant dragonfly through LA and jump topless into the centre of the Earth. Obviously.
Chili rating: Cayenne pepper – starting to feel it in the back of your head.
Fight Like A Brave
Taking on the Beastie Boys and The Warriors at the same time, Fight Like A Brave gets weird quickly when the band walk away from a street brawl so they can put on some Stars And Stripes pants and shout at pedestrians from a moving convertible. There’s a lot of other stuff going on here (neon native American dances, some kind of Mexican military tribunal…) but the real highlight is seeing the Chilis start a marching band riot in the middle of downtown LA.
Chili rating: Habanero pepper – everything else seems weirder by comparison.
Dressing up as Elvis before morphing into The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Bowie, the Sex Pistols, the Misfits, Mötley Crüe and Nirvana, you have to respect the ego on show here as the band shoulder their way through every rock ‘n’ roll icon before finally playing themselves – ending up in a free-for-all Back To The Future mosh pit that stamps the band’s place at the start, middle and end of musical history.
Chili rating: Scotch Bonnet pepper – the kind of thing that makes your parents upset.
Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo, Never Let Me Go) went full abstract for 2002’s Can’t Stop – a video that included everything from posing with empty water bottles, seeing how many pens can fit up Flea’s nose, singing in a wheelie bin and wearing a giant purple hippo head. Inspired by Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures, it was a brief chance for the band to become their own art installation.
Chili rating: Ghost pepper – all the other senses are starting to blend into one.
Give It Away
Somewhere in the middle of the Mojave desert in early 1991, a makeup artist stood under a hot umbrella spray-painting the Red Hot Chili Peppers silver. Someone else was dusting off Flea’s mirrored trousers and Chad Smith was gluing a pair of devil horns to his head. Director Stéphane Sednaoui turned the whole band into Burning Man for her alien monochrome fantasy – still peak weirdness for the Chilis.
Chili rating: Carolina Reaper pepper – pure fire.
Photo credit: Jeff Kravitz / Getty