Music Video: Purpose, Styles and Techniques

Introduction

Music videos started in the 60s with the then insanely popular British band the Beatles. Their popularity was so huge that they had to make recordings of themselves performing just to satisfy the consumer demand. Soon many other musicians started making music videos and in 1981 MTV was created and their popularity skyrocketed.

A music video is a form of advertisement made to promote a single and the artist performing it, it has also become something that artists use to create an advertisement of their unique image.

The purpose of music videos is to achieve fame, popularity and money for the artist. They do this by advertising the song and music video on television, Internet and radio. This builds up the popularity of the artist and thus brings in money for the record label. Examples of music advertisement can found on television channels like MTV, advertisements can also be found on many websites such as Youtube and Facebook and the song and video bought/downloaded from sites like Itunes. One of the most popular music videos of all time is Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which peaked at number 4 in US. (chartshttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thriller_(song)#Chart_performance)

Michael Jackson’s Thriller was a narrative pastiche (explained later) of the 50’s and 70’s era of horror fiction and was directed by John Landis who was famous for the “American Werewolf in London”. At that particular time hollywood directors were not known to work on music videos until Landis was contacted by Michael Jackson and he was intrigued. The video also contains spoken dialogue from the late horror legend Vincent Price. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Jackson’s_Thriller#Origins) Michael Jackson’s Thriller is the highest selling album of all time with between 65-110 million copies (sold.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_albums)

There are multiple agendas behind music videos, some simply want to make money off the star with harmless and bland videos of the artist performing (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEYhGhdwMKI&ob=av2e), others want to be controversial (http://www.youtube.com/verify_age?next_url=http%3A//www.youtube.com/watch%3Ffeature%3Dplayer_embedded%26v%3D0BpfydZdTE0) and some want to make an artistic statement (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9X_ViIPA-Gc&ob=av2n) as music videos often get film makers noticed by Hollywood.

Music videos for some are fantastical form of creative expression. It gives an image to an otherwise audio exclusive medium. It allows the artist and film maker to express themselves in ways that would not be possible in any other media format. It also opens the door to various endorsement opportunities which can appeal to audiences outside of the music genre such as Britney Spears 2002 Super Bowl Pepsi commercial (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yu5dIRv9Czc) this sells not only the artist and single but the product they are endorsing (money all around). People might look at Britney and start drinking Pepsi which is the desired result of all the money the companies invest in the sponsorship, in other words it’s celebrity endorsement that works both ways. This can expand into regular commercials, movie trailers, product placements and official sponsorships. So it’s clear that the music industry is one of the most capitalist industries in the world.

Some music even gets banned, some ask why make videos that get banned well it creates publicity and if you know the old saying “there is no such thing as bad publicity”. People can still buy the music video on the Internet and some only because of the fact that it’s controversial, Controversy + Publicity = Profit. One such example could Rhianna’s “Man Down” which was banned for sexual and violent content, there is even a scene where rape is implied to have taken place. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEhy-RXkNo0) This music video created a lot of controversy all over the internet which only made the music video more popular and record label more money (http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1665121/rihanna-man-down-controversy.jhtml). Anthony Mandler the director of the “Man Down” music video, the video was made to shine a light on a dark subject. Make of that what you will but the fact remains that controversy only helped it out.

Styles

Style is a visual look and atmosphere that the music video creates. The Styles are:

Narrative, Surrealism, Interpretive, Parody, Pastiche, Impressionist and Animation.

Narrative: is telling a story with a beginning middle and end (not necessarily in that order) Eminem’s Stan(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSLZFdqwh7E&ob=av2e) is a very good example of narrative in music videos. It depicts an insane fan of Eminem, as his obsession destroys everything around him and eventually leads to suicide. The lyrics of the song also form the dialogue spoken in the video. The desired effect is to invest you in the characters and the situation, to make you care what’s going on.

Surrealism: this style reflects a dreamlike state where the real world ceases to exist. The purpose of a surreal music video is immerse you into the artists world and give insight into their creative mindset. Katy Perry’s ET (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5Sd5c4o9UM&ob=av2e) is an example of a surreal music video, a lot of the imagery and stock footage used appears to have no rhyme or reason, but others might say its making a creative statement.

Interpretive: makes the audience figure out the meaning to the video for themselves, different people might interpret the video differently from someone else. Radiohead’s music video Karma Police (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBH97ma9YiI&ob=av2e) shows a man running from a car we don’t know why, that depends on our interpretation of what is going. The purpose to make the audience think about what is happening and come up with their own explanations as why it’s happening.

Parody: is an imitation of another style, often with humorous intent. The Beastie Boys Sabotage (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5rRZdiu1UE&ob=av2e) music video is a send up of classic 70’s and 80’s police programs like Starsky & Hutch, Kojak and the Professionals. The purpose of the parody is to exploit a popular medium and make fun of it in order to make the audience laugh.

Pastiche: is the Celebration of another piece of work and imitates it with respect, Meat Loaf’s “I’d do anything for love”(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9X_ViIPA-Gc&ob=av2n) is pastiche of films like Phantom of the Opera, Beauty and the Beast and Dracula. The effect of a Pastiche is to make the audience aware of what it is making homage to and spread its appeal.

Impressionist: this attempts to capture a moment in some ones daily life in the real world. Daft Punk’s video Big City Nights (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmi60Bd4jSs) which depicts a character with a dog’s head walking through a City with the music playing in the background. The effect is to give the audience a depiction of a moment in someone’s life, which could have any number of meanings depending on how they analyse it, which is what impressionist is.

Animation: Its animated, which in of itself can be eye catching and gives a music video some unique visual flair. Kanye West’s Heartless (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Co0tTeuUVhU&ob=av2e) is a purely animated music video. The desired effect of animation is to intrigue the audience with its artistic style.

Some music videos combine styles to create an even better artistic statement and in some show their deep love of a particular piece of media, The combination of genres also makes for a more visually interesting music video than one style on its own. Meat Loaf’s I’d do anything for love is a combination of Pastiche and Narrative, which creates homage to the old Phantom of the Opera and Beauty and the Beast stories.

Conventions

In terms of conventions we expect to have some audio from a music video and there should be emphasis on artist/artists. We expect the visuals to have some relevance to the song’s subject matter; there should be some activity from the camera such as panning around the artist. We expect jump cuts in the editing, which allow cutting between scenes quickly, similarly other transitions such as fade and dissolve should be common to stop it getting boring. Another convention of music videos is we expect the artist to dress according to image they want to portray, as fans may want to follow their trends.

Certain genres have their traits that are expected of them, the unwritten rules of the genre. Pop videos often have dancing with colourful backgrounds and performances (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi_XLOBDo_Y&ob=av2n)  whereas Rock videos often use certain types of imagery, which reflect their lyrics. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcHKOC64KnE&ob=av2e) Hip Hop often has social contrasts between rich and poor (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JZom_gVfuw) whereas Dance has a lot bright colours and strobe lighting. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyG1FG3H6rY&ob=av2e)

Techniques

Techniques are devices used by Directors, Cinematographers and Editors that create a distinct look, feeling and pace to the music video. Things like camera positioning and movement, high key and low key lighting, CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), green screening and other such effects are applied post production to make the video distinct.

Cinematographers play one of the biggest roles in a music video art form or any motion picture, as they are responsible for choosing the lighting and camera techniques. We see these at work in photographic images used in motion pictures such as music videos.

The Editors job in the Media industry is to select and combine a series of shots into sequences that make up scenes in motion pictures and make sure they are coherent and consistent in presenting flowing narrative and/or visuals.

Rhianna’s music video for “Only girl in the world” used a red colour correction to create a feeling of warmth, love and general happiness. There is a lot of cutting from scene to scene in time with the beat to make her look like she is moving faster than she actually is and finally they used different camera angles to make certain objects in the world like the ladder and the swing appear more surreal, extreme and dreamlike which is typical in the Surrealism genres.

Rihanna’s music video “Only girl in the World”(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa14VNsdSYM&ob=av2e).

In terms of high key and low key lighting Eminem’s Stan is a perfect example of low key lighting with its dark colours, green and blue filters and shadows which creates a sickening, negative and sad atmosphere. Its somewhere you wouldn’t feel safe in and would want to get away from. In contrast Beyonce’s “Halo” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnVUHWCynig&ob=av2e) has a lot of artificial high key light that brings unrealistic brightness into the set pieces and creates an atmosphere of peace, divinity and well being.

Green screen and CGI add computer-generated effects that wouldn’t be possible in the real world because of budget, danger to the star or realism. This technique is meant to suspend the onlooker’s disbelief and create an atmosphere that is unique. For example Katey Perry’s ET, which uses a 3D effect to alter her appearance so she looks like an Alien. Postproduction techniques have also lip-synced her with the song to suspend the audience’s disbelief, and create a more fantastical sci-fi atmosphere where aliens can sing in space despite the fact that it’s a vacuum. They also use green screens to add in 2D computer generated backgrounds of outer space as for obvious reasons stated above you can’t actually film in the real outer space.

Some music videos use CGI and green screens in a technique that is not supposed to require any suspension of disbelief as it is deliberately trying to be surreal and outlandish like in the Smashing Pumpkins music video of “Tonight Tonight” which is a pastiche of early Silent Cinema, Science fiction and Fantasy.

Smashing Pumpkins “Tonight Tonight” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOG3eus4ZSo&ob=av2e)

Another thing good CGI and green screens is that you don’t need to go to any locations such as in Skylar Grey’s “Invisible”(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVVrT_wNw_Y&ob=av2e) it looked like she was in a city but in reality she was most likely in a studio so there would be no need for risk assessments and it would be cheaper to produce. CGI and green screen technology is now more common than ever because the technology is readily available now which wasn’t 20 years ago.

In Post Production editors can use cutting techniques, which is cutting from one clip to the next in time with the beat. You can identify the beat by either listening for it or looking at the song’s waveform. In Green Day’s music video for the song “Warning”(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eebfMFzJHNs&ob=av2e) they used the editing to cut to the beat, which gives a steadily paced feeling to it and the visuals match the sound. In contrast Radio head’s “Karma Police” music video has a very slow beat and there is no cutting whatsoever which in my opinion gives it a very surreal tone.

Overall

In conclusion like all areas of the media, music videos have traits that make them unique yet they can be categorized by the same rules that apply to television and movies. I touched upon all the important factors of the music video culture, it’s origins and what it has become today. My opinion on this art form as a whole is quite positive as I love music videos of songs like Meat Loaf’s “I’d do anything for love” which is one of my favourite music videos of all time, the other being Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. I believe it is one of the truly creative forms of expression in the media industry because the other mediums, like Film and TV run too many risks when being so creative.

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