I spend a lot of time on Facebook in some of the various U2 groups, where people like to post pictures and images of the band, including stills from the group’s various videos. One of the videos that I see the most of is this video for “One,” famously known as the video where the band members dressed up as women.
There are actually two versions of this Anton Corbijn directed video, a “director’s cut,” and the final version, which was the version that saw regular airings on MTV. To further confuse matters, there were additional videos for “One” directed by Mark Pellington and Phil Joanou, but I will write about those other videos in the next couple of weeks.
When I first saw this video, I didn’t quite get the reason for the band dressing up in drag. In fact, it wasn’t until many years later that it finally occurred to me that the song is about how we are all the same despite the differences that separate us. It is absolutely perfectly appropriate for the band to dress up in drag, highlighting the fact that we all have both masculine and feminine aspects to our personalities, whether we are male or female. “We’re one, but we’re not the same.”
To my mind, it is one of the best and most fully realized ideas in a U2 video up to the time that this video was released. There are also some wonderful moments with Bono’s father, demonstrating the sameness and the differences that exist across generations, especially when those generations are of one family. In addition to this footage, there is some really great performance video which was shot in Hansa studios, where the song was initially birthed, and some really fun footage of Larry and Adam driving around Berlin in Trabants. In case you don’t know, the Trabants are the cheaply constructed cars that U2 hung from the ceilings of the arenas wherein they played their ZooTV shows, and so these cars became synonymous with what is probably U2’s most legendary concert tour. In this case, the Trabants are decorated to look like male and female bodies, and at the end of the video, the two cars crash into each other, perfectly symbolizing the way males and females must literally get together to propagate the entire human race.
The problem came in when the band realized that many people thought of AIDS was a homosexual problem. The band had decided before Corbijn shot his video to dedicate the single for “One” to AIDS research, and it wasn’t until the video had been shot and completed that the band realized that by dressing in drag, they were reinforcing the stereotype of AIDS as a homosexual issue.
An attempt was made to re-edit the video to be more appropriate, and that is why there are multiple edits of this one video. When a compromise could not be reached, the band went back to the drawing board, the results of which, by the aforementioned Mark Pellington, I will discuss in my next article.