Sources: Noise Porn – By Meredith Connelly | Edited By – All Things Michael
The music video. It’s something we naturally associate with music and the artists that produce it. For the current generation, a song without a music video would be, in a word, irrelevant. Like a cell phone without texting capabilities or an arm devoid of silly bands, a song with no accompanying music video seems almost unthinkable to people who have grown up in the age of modern music, accustomed to an industry as commercially oriented as it is eclectic. But believe it or not, the music video has undergone some major cosmetic changes in a relatively short time since its conception and first rise to prominence during the late seventies and early eighties. It’s a facet of the industry that has altered itself not gradually, but in evolutionary leaps and bounds on par with the difference between an amoeba and an adult Velociraptor.
Even from its admittedly shaky beginnings, you would have had to been completely blind not to see that, from that first, awkward, drawn-out, and fuzzy rendition of “Video Killed the Radio Star” in 1981, music had been irrevocably changed. MTV became the mecca for artists looking to make it big, opening a Pandora’s Box of new, unexplored creative territory. Initially, videos followed the general pattern of blah in the style of the Buggles and Rick Astley: basic, no-nonsense; boring. People were bound to (and did) get tired of watching other people writhe around on screen with sunglasses on. Eventually, innovators like Dire Straits and Peter Gabriel saw the music video not merely as a space to be filled, but as an opportunity to make an impression with artistic expression. Using what were, for the era, cutting-edge stop-motion and animation techniques, the music videos for the songs “Sledgehammer” and “Money for Nothing” were catapulted into the category of iconic.
Other groups saw the music video as a way to perpetuate ideas of anti-establishment anger or to encourage political activism. Still others realized early on the potential of the music video to serve as a spectacle. U2, for example, filmed the music video for “Where the Streets Have No Name” atop the roof of a Los Angeles liquor store to the delight of the public and the annoyance of police. In fact, annoying the man became a popular pastime of many groups when it came to their music videos, as bands like Duran Duran with “Girls on Film” garnered more attention with threats of censorship from MTV than they would have if they had just made a video sans topless mud wrestling. But who wants to live in a world without topless mud wrestling?
One musician who really changed the face of music videos towards what we know of them today was Michael Jackson. Introducing for perhaps the first time the concept of the cinematic music video, Jackson upped the ante by including fantastic make-up, mini-story lines, and choreographed dance numbers into “Thriller” forcing subsequent artists to attempt to stand out in a post-Thriller world by adding these elements to their owns videos, even if the result wasn’t exactly spectacular. (Just watch the video for “Uptown Girl” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.)
All this change happened in the span of a few decades, a remarkably fast transition that left the industry and its constituents scrambling to meet the demands of a public now nearly obsessed with the imagery associated with their favorite songs. The mere existence of MTV, a channel dedicated entirely to the new craze, proved that the music video had arrived, and that it intended to stay. And stay it did, although its relevance in broadcast media has declined somewhat in recent years. With MTV airing more Teen Mom than angsty teen rock these days, it would seem that the music video has, once again, transformed and adapted itself to the situation at hand, making its presence known online rather than on-air. Anyone with internet access and a brain could tell you that YouTube has become the modern Mecca for the music video, as most major artists rack up millions of views per song on the site.
Forgive my further referencing of the woman, but in order to understand the state of the modern music video, Lady Gaga serves as a sort of Petri dish depicting a wide range of video trends. Watch a Gaga music video and you might as well be going to see a short film more confused than someone watching 2001: A Space Odyssey sober. Product placement galore—another hallmark of Gaga’s (see “Telephone”)—something that had just begun to pose problems in MTV’s early years, has now become almost expected, a full-blown commercial epidemic that blurs the actual purpose of a music video: to entertain, rather than to sell. Have you seen “Anaconda”? I’m not sure if it’s a commercial for energy drinks, stereo systems, exercise clothing, or maybe just a plug for the blossoming butt implant industry.
While flash certainly reigns supreme, we can also see a return to a simpler take on the music video, more than the Buggles but less than “Marry the Night.” Minimalist music videos like Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” or Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower” align with an increasingly popular tradition of music videos that accompany but do not overshadow the song itself. Other artists like Gotye in “Somebody That I Used to Know” or Coldplay with “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” let visual effects, whether digital or physical, take center stage in beautiful mash-ups of art and music. All in all, this is a welcome break from modern cinematic music videos. Five minutes into the introduction of “Born This Way” when you still haven’t heard anyone start to sing, nerves can start to fray. If you find yourself asking, “Why can’t I just watch a music video without having to look up what a Russian bath house is?” then a return to minimalist sanity might not be out of line.
There still remains of course, a slew of future changes to our current idea of the music video. It’s a genre that has changed and evolved as much as the industry itself—arguably more. And with no shortage of artists wanting to challenge authority, demonstrate their creative genius, or let their freak flag fly, it appears we will be watching the evolution of the music video, from single-celled to organically complex, for the next decade or two and beyond.
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