Tuesday, 9 September 2014

AD: Music Video Theory

“Music videos are simply a tool for promoting an artist”. With reference to a promotional campaign, how far do you agree with this statement?

The process of making a music video varies from artist to artist. In the case of modern day artists, the act of making a music video acts as the main way of portraying their artistic flair, whilst simultaneously promoting their content to their target audience. For the American alternative band OK Go, the music video acts as the base of their metanarrative, establishing their status as an alternative and eccentric choice for music consumers by using viral videos – an example of this being This Too Shall from 2010, all shot in one long take. This brings up the debate of whether or not OK Go’s music videos are simply tools for promotion, or a form of art, as their very early videos have included some form viral element – the specific example being Here It Goes Again from 2006. In this essay, I will focus on their latest video, The Writing’s On the Wall, which has garnered just under ten million views in just four weeks.

Still taken from "The Writing's on the Wall"
The genre of the music is relatively straightforward in the conventions of the music video. Andrew Goodwin (Dancing in the Distraction Factory, 1992) introduced the idea that the singer or singers act as the storyteller of their music videos, an element that is noticeable in that the band members directly address the audience by breaking the fourth wall through first person mode of address, drawing the attention of the audience to the video. Similarly, Goodwin introduced the idea of synaesthesia; upon watching the video, it is in itself a synesthetic visualisation of the song – the unusual use of contraptions in connection to the chorus “I just wanna get you high” connotes an illustrated visualisation of the song. The vibrant colours and a continuous take making the video stand out from other, more narrative music videos. With these things in mind, the video is a piece of art. However, the flipside to this is the use of meat shots of all band members, putting each of the four members into focus, which, according to Goodwin, is one of the main elements of creating the star image. Seeing as The Writing’s On the Wall is the latest of many of OK Go’s music videos, the aforementioned video is simply an underlining of OK Go’s metanarrative. As such, the music video is a piece of promotion for the band’s music and less of an individual and illustrative music video. However, the band’s above-mentioned creative spirit and artistic approach to creating original music videos challenge this latter aspect, reinstating their difference from other music artists.

Album Cover of OK Go's Upside Out.
The point where OK Go become conventional is on the album cover of their latest album, Upside Out. In essence, the layout and design of the album cover follows the rule of thirds, whilst avoiding the use of white space and breakage of the fourth wall, simultaneously maintaining close ups of the band’s faces. In fact, the only elements to suggest the band’s originality are the layered images and the bare feet of the lead singer. Otherwise, the album cover can be considered entirely conventional for the alternative genre. It aims to make the digipak relatable and interesting to the target audience. The faces of the band on the front of the digipak enables consumers to see whom they may be buying into. This latter aspect also enables the audience to connect the viral videos that they have viewed on YouTube with the digipak cover. In this aspect, the viral videos discussed earlier once more are to be considered a form of promotion instead of pieces of art. However, when considering Goodwin’s theories, the demands of the record labels – in this case, Capitol Records, a subsidiary to the Universal Music Group – whose main goal is for their contracted artists to sell as many albums as possible. The album cover is deliberately composed to attract as many buyers as possible. However, the exception to the above would be in the Superbowl advertisement and music video for Needing/Getting, released in 2012. The video supports a more positive representation of the band, their creative edge shining through the video whilst still promoting themselves.

Still taken from the Superbowl ad
When considering the theories and concepts on stars established by Richard Dyer (Stars, 1979) (Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society, 1986) OK Go seem to sway in and out of the boundaries. OK Go’s star image is established to portray them as original and talented, values commonly found in the star image. Moreover, OK Go’s music videos also act as a way of establishing their character and personality of being inventive. This is equally explored on the front cover of the digipak for Upside Out, which further enhances their stardom. Simultaneously, OK Go pass under one of the two paradoxes created by Dyer; this paradox being that the star has to be ordinary and extraordinary simultaneously – something to which OK Go live up to through their imaginative music videos.  However, this also creates a contradiction, in which the idea that the band’s star construction is artificially created becomes diminished. Equally, the representation of the star image by OK Go is something that is challenged in their music videos. Instead of focusing on rags-to-riches­ narratives, rebellion and sexual magnetism, elements seen in music videos by artists such as Lady GaGa or Kanye West, OK Go focus more on creating visual pleasure for the consumer and portray music videos as an art form. This promotes an emphasis on OK Go’s status as artists, not simply pop performers.

It is possible to an extent to agree with the idea of music videos simply being a tool, but it is also important to remember the context of the artists. In the case of OK Go, their music videos act simultaneously as tools for promotion, but use creativity in the process to establish their image as being different and, as their genre describes them as, alternative. Therefore, if stating that music videos are simply a tool for promotion, one should take care in taking in the context of the artist. A pop star would more likely use elements such as the male gaze to attract an audience, whereas smaller or alternative bands such as OK Go are more likely to use the music video as a statement of their individuality and originality.

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