NPR recently posted an interview they had with an EP of Radical Media, talking about the fall and rise of music videos, now that videos are being made by the artists themselves on video platforms like YouTube. The article was inspired by the success of Pharrell Williams’ “music video,” “Happy“, and how Billboard’s Hot 100 takes YouTube interaction into account of measuring success.
The article focuses too much on a ‘classic’ style of music video, and failed to beg the question of what is a music video, and skipped over the most revolutionary band of music videos in the last decade: OK Go (maybe just because there weren’t any new releases in 2013).
First, begging the question of what is a music video. Music videos emerged as a semi-standard format in the 1980’s, when bands and record labels recognized that there was an opportunity to promote album sales by broadcasting the song on TV with an entertaining video. Videos bubbled in the late 90’s as budgets were getting into multi-millions of dollars, when networks were noticing higher viewer ratings for reality and game shows. Music downloads and streams online obsolesced the need to produce and market videos, because music was either marketed cheaply online or stolen. Videos were more made out of tradition than any other real need.
OK Go became the poster-child for music videos in the Internet age, with their viral hits “A Million Ways,” “Here It Goes Again,” and “This Too Shall Pass,” though “This Too” was a catalyst for the band on two fronts: it was a video they re-made after departing from their label, EMI, and it was directly sponsored by State Farm Insurance. The split from EMI came because EMI refused to allow YouTube videos to be embedded on other websites, which at the time did not enable advertising revenue. Considering the band had to pay for the production of its own video, and weren’t being allowed to promote it on the web or collect advertising revenue, this was a clear example of parties being members of two separate generations of music videos.
Now, every OK Go music video is sponsored in some way: “Back From Kathmandu” by Range Rover, “Needing/Getting” by Chevy, “Skyscrapers” by Nintendo, amongst others. The videos have YouTube ads, and link to iTunes to purchase, in essence having at least three points of revenue in each video. Considering that music videos were purely a marketing spend in the 1980’s, OK Go has shown music videos can be a great profit-earning product in itself.
In terms of format, however, Ok Go’s videos are still the exact same “format” as what was broadcasted on MTV 30 years ago. Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” was something new. The website 24 Hours Of Happy is a concept where the video is a 24-hour experience- when viewers visit the site, they’ll start a block of the video time that takes place in that hour. They can jump to any time on the clock from realtime interaction, and see different dancers and locations of Los Angeles, where it was filmed.
Or, also produced by Radical Media and sponsored by Google Chrome, Arcade Fire’s “We Used To Wait,” where the video takes place in the neighborhood the audience grew up in.
So where does this leave music videos? They’re alive and well in 2014, but as much of a new art form as ever. They will be more courageous, imaginative (where else does a buffalo/tarantula fit in?), and more engaging to the audience than ever before. Hell, Bjork’s ahead of the game and makes the album an app. Just don’t get too ambitious, Jay-Z.