The most action you’re likely to see in a George Strait video is when the trim Texan cracks a smile. But what an enchanting smile it is — charming, companionable, contemplative, flirtatious, wistful, knowing and, sometimes, mischievous. His crooked grin is a veritable Rorschach test in which you see what you want to see.
Alone among country superstars, the Academy of Country Music’s latest Artist of the Decade has been sparing in his use of videos. In his 28 years on the charts, he has appeared in only 19 label-promoted videos (including one that features Jimmy Buffett). Most of his videos show Strait in concert rather than in distinct dramatic roles.
Here are 10 of his trail markers:
“Amarillo by Morning” (1983) — This one opens with a rodeo parade and then cuts to footage of Strait singing on stage. His performance is interspersed with flashes of bronc and bull riding. While the production is routine and predictable, it does reinforce the image of Strait as a real cowboy.
“The Chair” (1985) — Made when country music videos were still in their infancy, “The Chair” is almost laughably amateurish by today’s standards. Again we have Strait on stage, apparently crooning to a gaggle of big-haired girls who overreact to every line he sings. That he and the girls never appear in the same frame suggests that this is a cinematic marriage of convenience.
“I Cross My Heart” (1992) — Excerpted from Strait’s 1992 movie, Pure Country, the clips show him as country superstar Dusty Chandler, breaking away from the demands of fans and the road to live a few days of normal existence. Since these are random scenes, though, you would have to have seen the movie to know for sure what’s going on.
“Heartland” (1993) — Also from Pure Country, this excerpt contrasts Dusty’s glitzy life on stage with the bucolic, riding-with-your-sweetheart ranch life he longs for. As Dusty, Strait wears a fancy jacket, a ponytail and beard — and his smile looks a bit mechanical.
“Check Yes or No” (1995) — Here we have glimpses of a love affair that starts in grade school and flowers into middle age. Between these cheerful episodes of passion, Strait first sits on a classroom desk and sings, then graduates to the stage.
“Carrying Your Love With Me” (1997) — Surprise! Surprise! Strait actually involves himself in the song’s storyline instead of simply being the storyteller. The video opens with him walking down the aisle of a darkened and empty auditorium, a battered suitcase in hand. Later, he walks and hitchhikes through sun and rain, still carrying his love — and the suitcase. There’s no dramatic peak, but at least it gets George outdoors.
“Write This Down” (1999) — Strait strides into an arena flanked by security guards, walks up onto the stage and straps on his guitar. Meanwhile, there are scenes of tailgating parties and fans “writing down” their names on posters. Inside, the crowds cheer, wave signs proclaiming their love for the star and sway to his music. It’s an effective visual summary of live-show excitement.
“She’ll Leave You With a Smile” (2002) — This is basically a variation on the concert theme. Strait sings, waves good-naturedly to the crowd, tosses out his hit and leaves them with a smile.
“The Seashores of Old Mexico” (2006) — As a younger version of himself acts out an escape from Tucson, Ariz., a mature Strait reclines comfortably on a Mexican beach, musing amiably on his youth and sipping a cold drink. He’s barefooted, but since it is George Strait, he wears a hat and long-sleeved shirt. But he looks like he’s really embraced the beach bum life. “Think I’m gonna go back to Tucson,” he tells his grizzled sidekick as the song ends. “I don’t think so,” says his pal. “Probably not,” Strait grins. And we, knowing that feeling of supreme comfort, grin right along with him.
“Troubadour” (2008) — There are no smiles as Strait recalls, via vintage photos, his rise to fame. “I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song,” he sings, “and I’ll be an old troubadour when I’m gone.” It’s unsettling to see this most durable of stars make any concession to aging, much less such a stark one as this.
Strait’s videos are low on technique and drama, but they radiate personality. And that’s really what videos were made to do.