Music and Dance · The Student Bite

Are modern music videos works of art or simply a means of disguising mediocre songs?

With technology coming on in leaps and bounds it is no wonder that music videos have become the newsest art form to hit our screens. It was only a matter of time before fashion-forward musicians such as Lady Gaga used music videos to shock people into submission.

The popularity of the music video is derived from the thrill of putting imagery to music and making graphics out of the beat. Because this form of entertainment can be so intense, it thrives even through periods when the record labels are struggling for hits. According to William C. Bradford of the University of Florida, 65 percent of people are visual learners. They think in images and pictures rather than in words. This may the reason why music videos have become such a necessity in the industry.

But why do music videos matter? Does a good music video override the importance of a good song?

When music videos strike a nerve, it gives listeners a chance to interpret a song visually. However, in the early days, critics complained that videos imprinted prefabricated images onto the shifting illusions of a song. Music videos inspired a whole new generation of people. These ready-made mental pictures that dominated the TV screens could influence our own imaginations. Viewers learned how to dance, dress, flirt and dream through these popular videos.

The Australian TV show Countdown played an important role in the development of the music video industry. Video clips were used to promote acts that were to appear on the show. The popularity growth of the clips made the music industry realise their marketing potential.

MTV’s launch in 1981 began the 24-hour music television age. They introduced the channel with The Buggle’s Video Killed the Radio Star.

MTV expanded to become an important tool in music marketing. Singers like Madonna used music videos to promote their albums and recreate their images. In 1983, the almost 14-minute-long video for Michael Jackson’s song Thriller was realeased. It became the most successful and influentail video in music video history.

Two videos that are famous for being the most expensive videos of all times are Michael and Janet Jackson’s Scream, costing $7 million to produce, and Madonna’s Bedtime Story, which cost $5 million. Scream is still the most expensive video ever made.

Music video could unite the listeners of all genres, turning metal heads into fans of rap (Metallica’s Enter Sandman playylisted next to De La Soul’s A Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays). These examples of cross-cultural pollination were never before thought of instances of visual democracy, the true meaning of Pop.

Past decades of music videos whether seen on TV, the Internet or in club, have presented nemerous art works expressing the street life and fantasy lives of modern sub-culture. The experiences vary, whether one responds to urban drama, girl power, money, patriotism, dancing, adolescent nostalgia, flamboyant narcissism or just plain astonishing graphic ingenuity.

Confirmation that music videos were something more than advertisements for pop singlescame with the 1988 release of Public Enemy’s Night of the Living Baseheads. This video broke new ground as it was presented as a form of social expression from the subculture of hip-hop music.

It was used as a modern reflection of television’s mainstream as encountered by hip-hop radicalism. They used footage of crack houses and homeless crack heads to set the stage for comic depictions of a TV news programme, commercials, interview segments with victimised ghetto families, the fantasy of Public Enemy as a superhero group abducted by hip-hop-phobes, yet breaking free with the news of black America in crisis.

Audiences were thrust ahead of the cultural curve but were provided fresh insight into contemporary social issues and were teased into using their political imaginations.

Inspired by Michael Jackson, Madonna and David Bowie, music videos were created to highlight the beauty of dance and singing. Music video directors have an awareness that connects to pop-star iconography and uses it to feature pop stars’ personal fantasies while also connecting with the public’s individual desires.

Some modern musicians use brilliant graphics and fashion choices in their videos to mask mediocre songs. For example the Lady Gaga featuring Beyoncé Telephone video has nothing to do with the actual song that it is portraying. They go on a Bonnie and Clyde inspired killing spree while singing about an overprotective boyfriend that keeps ringing while they are clubbing.

Many musical artists made their careers a success by using music videos. As an important part of the music industry, they not only showcase an artist’s singing talent, but also how they perform. The use of videos transformed the music industry for better and for worse.

(text published in ‘The Student Bite’ vol 1 April 2011)


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