Music video channels almost used to be a part of growing up – you’d flick through with your friends, make fun of their outfits and sing along to your favourite tunes back in the day. But the slow death of music outlets (MTV being the most obvious example) is a reflection of how we no longer care about the visual extravaganza.
Music videos have long been a way to express creativity and to portray the deeper, more subtle meanings of a song. When done right, an iconic music video can be career defining. Take R.E.M.’s ‘Everybody Hurts’. From their best-selling 1992 album Automatic for the People, the simple concept of people’s inner thoughts subtitled on screen during a traffic jam is a perfect match for this song and was so successful it was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Music Video.
Even American band OK Go defied gravity (apologies) in 2016 by filming a music video entirely in zero gravity and was also nominated for a Grammy in 2017 but was sadly snubbed by Beyoncé. (Watch the video and you’ll see why I’m sad). Even so, a band renowned for their amazing intricate detail and effort is the only way that music videos in general are ever seen.
Music videos peaked at a time when social media barely existed. Flicking through music channels when you wanted some background music instead of using Spotify meant that music videos gained more attention and had more people talking about them. However, with the later increase in technology came a slow decrease for the music video. The death of music video channels and the rise of the social media brought about a new obsession with statistics and becoming the biggest and the best.
With tools like YouTube available in the click of a button, viewing music videos should be easier than ever. But with the 5-second Vine generation wanting more excitement in half the time, it’s harder and harder for music to keep up.
This is why in recent years record labels have realised that the more controversial the music video, the more successful. Miley Cyrus’ ‘We Can’t Stop’, Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’ and more recently, Katy Perry’s ‘Bon Appétit’ are all examples of risqué videos that have done incredibly well. ‘Anaconda’ broke Vevo’s video records by achieving 19.6 million views on tbe first day of it’s release, thus beating its predecessor, ‘We Can’t Stop’ at 10.7 million views. ‘Bon Appétit’ has also broken the YouTube record for the most views in 24 hours. Today it feels as if music videos are created to generate controversy around the song as opposed to supplementing it. In a world focused on social media and statistics, the music video has become a lost art form and has instead transformed into a quick way to make money.
With the surge of Spotify and its interface focused more on audio rather than visual, it means we’ve lost even more interest in music videos. Even if Spotify did allow us to watch an artist’s music video, how many of us would actually watch it? The truth is that we’ve become bored of watching artists mime lyrics or bands pretend playing their instruments. We have learned to demand more from our artists and more from our music video. Unless you have something extraordinary to offer like OK Go, the public doesn’t care about your music video like they did in the past.
So just because people stop watching them, does this mean we should stop making music videos? Of course not!
As with any field, developments make innovation harder and harder to achieve and puts more pressure on those involved. But this doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Just because the bar is set high doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Coldplay’s ‘Up & Up’ video released in 2016 was a bizarre visual journey through the strange and symbolic; we witness imagery such as people swimming in washing machines, popcorn erupting from a volcano and a cosmic superhighway teamed with a song about perseverance in times of adversity. If it can still be done today, there’s no reason we should stop. Just because they’re not as viewed as we would like them to be does not mean we shouldn’t appreciate them. We just need more creative, symbolic music videos like these to break away from the sexist and often boring music videos that are clearly around just to break records.
(Featured image: Wikimedia Commons)