This has been a big week or two for music videos: Lady Gaga's Telephone video; a new video by OK Go for This Too Shall Pass (the official video is with a marching band; the new one features an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine) ... Within the span of an hour or so the other day I got to thinking about music videos, thanks to showing a friend the crazy REM video of Imitation of Life (it requires a few views to grasp it), and a "parody" of Taylor Swift's You Belong With Me that popped up online, featuring a gay couple rather than a straight romance.
My sister and I didn't grow up on MTV (we didn't get cable until I was in 10th or 11th grade). We did get a chance to watch it at my grandparents' house, though, and I remember seeing videos like Madonna's Like a Prayer (ignorant of the controversy surrounding it, but attracted to the gospel choir & the beat), Was (Not Was) Walk the Dinosaur (yes, we would do the dance around the living room), and of couse videos by Tiffany, NKOTB, Debbie Gibson and other 80s stars. When we didn't have that to occupy our time, we would watch musicals (I grew up on Sound of Music and West Side Story), and concert videos of NKOTB & Gloria Estefan.
It wasn't until about halfway through my undergrad that I started paying attention to music videos again. They came a long way in that time (and they've come a long way since then). I don't claim to have any sort of expertise with music videos ... but I am always interested in how they portray the song. Some tell a story similar to the song itself, or supporting the story: You Belong With Me & Love Story come immediately to mind. (I personally think that Taylor Swift is a great storyteller, and her videos share qualities with her lyrics.) Some are just plain fun, like Weezer's Keep Fishing with the Muppets & the Fatboy Slim video with Christopher Walken. Some have great cinematography & feature cool camera tricks and other effects, like the REM video above and Justin Timberlake's Cry Me a River. Some are elaborate: The new Telephone video, for instance, tells a story (different from what the lyrics imply) & references movies like Kill Bill and Thelma & Louise. Thriller has long been noted for his epic nature. Some are parodies in different forms: Ben Folds Rockin' the Suburbs, a lot of the digital shorts from SNL, and pretty much anything by Weird Al Yankovich.
I find it fascinating that an artist can take a song that tells a story, or implies a story, and come up with a different way to present the music in video form. And now with the viral nature of the Internet, a video can become popular almost immediately (as seen with Telephone last night, when it leaked early and was already a trending topic on Twitter before its official premiere - even the YouTube URL was a trending topic as people posted the link). A lot of people complain that MTV & VH1 don't show videos anymore, but with outlets like YouTube, do we need them to? (Although I do miss Pop Up Video - that needs to come back with a vengeance.) Music videos are becoming a great marketing tool. I wouldn't be surprised to see if Telephone and This Too Shall Pass climb higher on the charts in downloads thanks to the videos and media attention. Unfortunately, record companies don't always understand this, as the recent fight between EMI & OK Go demonstrates.
I know I'm missing a lot of great music videos here. I left out a lot of some great Michael Jackson ones because they're so popular & well-known, and OK Go's most-watched video of the decade. But what are some other good videos? Why do you like them? Leave some comments - I'd like to see what I forgot about and what I've never seen before.
By the way, check out OK Go's first video, "featuring" Ira Glass & Peter Sagal of NPR/WBEZ fame, and one of my favorite musical performances of recent years, Maya Rudolph singing the national anthem on SNL.