For some reason 2000 strikes me as the year of the music video. I’m fully aware that it wasn’t, but I’m strictly talking about my nostalgia here. In reality, the year of the video was probably sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s when MTV was still a revolutionary cornerstone of the industry (let alone culture) but 2000 sticks out to me for a few reasons. The biggest is obviously the release of *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye,” which, as we all know, took the universe by storm. Spontaneous song and dance erupted like we went to Rydell High School, and the girls in my eighth grade class all knew the choreography by heart while the boys pretended not to. More importantly, TRL was at its height. When a new artist was going to premiere a video, not only did everyone from Korn to The Backstreet Boys get an entire week dedicated to their presence, but you, the viewer, TRULY cared.
This was a time where the record business could directly link album sales to music videos, and for that reason, the videos were nothing short of high budget thrill rides with complex story lines which took the source material (i.e., the tunes) to another level. Unfortunately for the record industry, those days are largely gone. The good news is that artists still seem to find value in the art of the video. In the past few years artists like Gotye and Lady GaGa have capitalized on the medium and made truly inspired videos regardless of whether or not the medium would generate sales. Say what you will about GaGa, but that lady is an expert in the art of going over the top.
At this point, it’s common knowledge that the record industry has been in the dumps for years and the “M” in MTV is now largely a moot initial, so one has to wonder why videos are even made anymore. The answer, to a degree, is still exposure. Artists have always and will always want to get their name out to anyone who will listen. However, because it is increasingly common to hear pop music through advertisements or prominent placement in shows like Jersey Shore (take a look at the ticker on the bottom of the screen to see what songs are currently playing) the need of a video for exposure is less immediate.
Luckily, the internet provides endless opportunity to take creative control. Bands who’ve made a name for themselves through a visual medium, like OK Go, can still express themselves creatively in that fashion (did you see them during the Super Bowl!?). Of course with the potential for pretty much anything to go viral these days (Rebecca Black anyone?) videos are starting to make a come back and artists are finally incentivized, mostly by themselves, to be creative instead of pushing product.
Just yesterday, three separate people took time out of their day to send me three separate videos, all of which reminded me of what I loved about the medium. The new video from My Morning Jacket for “Outta My System” (arguably one of the best songs on the album Circuital) features a psychedelic trip into an animated universe during which lead singer Jim James sings of lessons learned through past discretions while a cartoon Zach Galifianakis hunts the band down.
Indie pop group Jukebox The Ghost, followed by a host of dancers, trolls the Coney Island boardwalk to match their upbeat, happy go lucky sound in the video for “Somebody.”
Even the genre-bending legend that is Tom Waits got in on the fun, using a single rope to drag a small house through the desert in the war march tempoed “Hell Broke Luce.”
These three not-so-randomly-selected examples give me some hope for the future of music videos. Who knows, maybe someone will be bold enough to actually dedicate some television time to them (although this is not very likely because YouTube can give them to me exactly when I want). What is significant is that all of these videos were covered in large entertainment outlets such as Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Spin, NPR, and a whole lot more. Yes, I understand it is the job of these guys to cover stories such as music video releases, but the point is that the release of a music video, once a statement that prompted a “so what” response, is a story again!
A few years ago my roommate and I found ourselves sitting on the couch on a sleepless Tuesday night watching old music videos. As a time-capsulized Sum 41 shook their heads (and lips) in slow motion, we felt validated in our initial love for music videos and talked late into the night about our sadness at what we perceived to be a dying medium. However, this week my optimism is growing. Everything in the music world comes full circle, and if we gave swing music a second chance, anything can happen.
Image courtesy of MMJ's video above