Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Death of the Music Video?

This week's blog task is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me as music of the 1980s and music videos in general have been very influential in my life and shaped many of my interests and ambitions. It's pretty tough for me to choose just one music video from the 1980s as it was an eclectic time for popular culture given the showcasing power of MTV which was bursting with creativity. Every musician was hardwired to fight for the public's attention and iconic songs / videos that personally stick in my mind include Michael Jackson's 'Beat It' (it seems appropriate to mention here how Jackson's 'Bad' was directed by Hollywood great Martin Scorcese - not the greatest Jackson track, but Scorcese's input emphasises the power and potential of the music video), Madonna's 'Like a Prayer' and Cyndi Lauper's 'Time After Time'. Notice how each of these musicians became icons thanks to one thing: image. And it is the moving image deriving from music videos which have solidified these artists as music legends as they mastered the format and turned it into a profitable business. Another common theme among these artists is their association with pop music; the 80s saw the rise of several music genres in America - namely hip-hop and the new wave - but it is of course pop music which dominated the music scene and as contemporary pop culture has shown, reappears.

Peter Gabriel may have performed alongside Phil Collins in British rock group Genesis, but his solo single 'Sledgehammer' spawned a widely popular and influential video worldwide. The animation studio behind Wallace and Gromit created this masterpiece, providing claymation, pixilation, and stop motion animation (my personal favourite) that gave life to images in the song. In 1987, it won countless MTV Video Music Awards and was recently ranked #4 on MTV's '100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made'. MTV later announced that 'Sledgehammer' is the most played music video in the history of the station, and I recall MTV awesomely (and probably unintentionally) homaging the video through the station's brand image during the 90s. It is no wonder why the video below sparked a lot of creativity in me!

So it is safe to say the advent of the music video had a huge effect on the music industry, then. A decade ago this was certainly still the case as music videos were at the pinnacle of lavishness and saturated television screens everywhere. How did Ja Rule come out of nowhere and suddenly appear in rap videos clearly backed by millions of dollars? Because someone put faith in the moving image, and it worked. Watching the extravagent lifestyles of others was a formula that worked - *I*tunes, *MY*Space, *YOU*tube... *me me me* culture did not exist then. Does that MTV show Cribs even exist anymore? Does anybody care? From the early 2000s, people weren't limited to the confines of MTV broadcasting anymore; there was a channel that catered for everyone's music taste: pop, rock, hip-hop, dance and even the 80s! Yes, the 80s has become a genre in itself. I was a bit of a metalhead as a teen and remember even the most low key of nu-metal bands being backed with an accomplished music video. Everything was visually elaborate, but now these very same bands are lucky to have a video camera in front of them at all. My ambition to make music videos still remains, however. The format is arguably not necessary anymore simply because of today's digital culture, but they will continue to be produced as long as we have contemporary icons, and we do currently have a decent array of them. The likes of Lady GaGa, Rihanna and Katy Perry will continue to feature in videos simply because America is an image saturated culture; who else is gonna' flaunt their stuff on infinte inch plasma screens surrounding the Hard Rock Cafe while you're chomping down your nachos. Saying this, to choose a song that represents today and will resonate in years to come is hard enough, let alone a music video. As posted already, Beyonce's 'Crazy in Love' and Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys' 'Empire State of Mind' are perfect examples of iconic songs of our generation. They are timeless, and you can't really stick any tag on them other than that. since the mid-2000s, our culture hasn't really been able to be defined by a genre though. We are definitely a tech generation - a generation of choice - and too much at that. I'm not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing, but all I know is I look back on music of the early 2000s more fondly than I do of music now. That's nostalgia for you.

If one genre of music had to be attached to contemporary music today it would have to be electropop. Today's divas release track after track under this style and it has become very popular in America. Interestingly, electropop can trace its origins during the 80s under gay icon Madonna's wing, and with the exception of Rihanna, Lady GaGa, Katy Perry and Kesha are also significant icons of the LGBT scene, but that's a whole different discussion. Worthy of note though.

To sum our generation up, we do have ever-improving technology available to us, but our culture is essentially made up of recycling the old. I've posted a few 80s themed videos on my YouTube account and receive many comments from children describing how much they wish they were an 80s kid. And I thought I was the only one...! The greatest thing about digital technology is that in a strange way we can not just learn but live through past events somehow, and that's not a bad thing at all.

Simon Cowell was famously proven wrong about Jennifer Hudson's talent; after eliminating her in the 2004 season of American Idol, she went on to win an Oscar for her performance in the critically acclaimed film Dreamgirls and later landed a role in the highly anticipated Sex and the City movie, where she lent her vocals too. Released in 2008, her debut single and music video 'Spotlight' demonstrates her talent perfectly, displaying Hudson as a strong, independent woman standing up for herself because of her controlling lover. Not surprisingly she received Grammy award nominations for her vocals as the pulsating nature of the song is hard to resist. There's a plot to the video - something that a lot of contemporary music videos lack - and of course it wouldn't be the same without the Campari product placement which prominently features in the nightclub scenes. Most importantly the song has a timeless feel to it - it's catchy, infectious, and I can imagine it being played on some vintage R&B music channel in decades to come.

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