One day, future generations will look upon us in wonder and awe, as we tell them strange tales of our childhoods, tales of days in which MTV still had music-related content. What stood out for me personally, however, was how it was not just music, but along with it went a specific video as well. Music videos since then have come in all sorts of forms, and they are a fascinating phenomenon. It is almost as if we need to have senses other than our ears engaged when experiencing music. Some videos are quite clearly marketing ploys, hoping to bring in more royalties by exhibiting the music on TV as well. Others, however, are also subtle in an artistic manner, often scaring and confusing me. (MGMT, I’m looking at you.)
The first question is whether or not we really need music videos. Part of me feels like only a hyperactive teenager with far too much caffeine in his blood needs to focus his attention on visual stimuli as well. Likewise, if I watch some videos, I get incredibly immersed in the video, so much so that I almost ignore the musical background. To be honest, this is probably a ploy by record labels to slip substandard music past me. At the same time, some music videos truly add value to the musical content, if you watch them several times and focus on both the music and the video. The music video for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, for example, is amazing when seen in a historical context. There appear to be four floating heads singing the song, and you are reminded that this was done before digital editing, with a series of complex lenses and by using analogue feedback as an artistic tool. Thus, it almost seems as if the video is an attempt to be elaborately complex and artistic, just like the song itself. The video is complicated, but in an artistic way, just like the song.
Sometimes, a music video can be a story in itself. The video for Guns N’ Roses’ ‘November Rain’ is based on a rather pessimistic short story full of marriages and suicides that Axl Rose was quite fond of. Similarly, other videos tell the same story as the song, or attempt to do so at least. Many bands seem to have the stereotypical music video that tells a story, one that has an easily perceptible plot. Pink Floyd even filmed a feature film out of a music video to the Wall showing schoolkids throwing an effigy of a teacher onto a bonfire – an appropriately blatant message which matches the song itself perfectly. Finally, in some cases, the band just shows off the feel of their music or their bandculture.
There are, for example, many music videos in which the band hangs out or plays live. Vampire Weekend’s video for A-Punk is a brilliant example of this. Reading interviews with the band gives them a certain feel, a feel that the video seems to mirror and reflect almost too accurately. It makes them seem fun, slightly unusual, and, on the surface, devoid of a lyrical message (you have to look deeper for that). Those qualities are almost those of a quintessential indie band, and I could not imagine seeing that video from any band but Vampire Weekend.
Now imagine surfing scenes in a Kubrick-esque colourful universe, giant cats, far too many shots of the band members shirtless, dead bodies, bows and arrows, babies and a background that seems to perpetually flash red and green. Add some extremely psychedelic, repetitive imagery that seems to insinuate primeval lifestyles and you have the video for MGMT’s ‘Time To Pretend’. I’m not going to lie. This makes no sense to me. Perhaps the song in itself is secretly an ode towards primeval lifestyles, which it contrasts with the wealth of the music business, but that seems unlikely. This is one of those music videos that I will never crack (just like MGMT’s ‘Congratulations’), and it frustrates me.
Is the point that it makes no sense? Is it nihilism set to music? Could it be a visual representation of the concept of Dadaism? I have no idea, and will probably never have, but perhaps this is what music videos are about. Maybe it is time to stop looking for the sense in it all, and sit back, enjoy and let the video relay some content to you. Perhaps it is time to trust the artists not to dumb me down or confuse me, but to show what they really meant to say through another compelling medium.
Image 1 – Mickey Ratt.
Image 2 – Rebekah Stanhope.