ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash
Will We Ever See Another Iconic Music Video?
IF you look at the greatest and most iconic…
music videos from time; the list is likely to go back quite a few years. What I mean by that is, if you have a top-ten of the best videos; the majority are going to be from the 1980s and 1990s. There are a few from the past decade – how many, even in a top-fifty, would be from the past few years?! I love the works of Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham and the great clips they have directed for fantastic artists. Gondry is someone who really captivates me. He has produced sensational work for Kylie Minogue (Come into My World), Björk (Human Behaviour, among others) and The White Stripes (The Hardest Button to Button, again, among others). There are other great directors – Spike Jonze and Floria Sigismondi – but, to me, there is nobody quite like Gondry. I will end this piece collating a selection of the best music videos ever. One can state the reason these videos have gained legacy and celebration is the fact they score fantastic songs. Anointing a superb song with an equally-great visual can elevate music to an art form. I have been looking around modern music and hear some songs begging out for great treatments and wondrous films. We have modern icons like Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé; fantastic bands and some unique songwriters floating around the globe.
Although a lot of those legendary videos have been shot by the same people; it is the song itself, I feel, that compels that imagination and brilliance. We could extrapolate, therefore, music is not provoking enough creative wonder and pioneers. I do not think music has declined to the extent videos are redundant and struggling. A lot of the classic team still make promotional – the likes of Jonze and Gondry are making fewer these days – but the role of sites like YouTube, perhaps, are having an impact. Every new artist can put a video online and have it seen around the world. Compare the amount of videos put now to back then. In 2017, there would have been a huge amount compared to, say, twenty years ago. Maybe budget is playing its part. Look at the fantastic video/film for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The John Landis-directed video is widely regarded as one of the (if not the absolute) finest unifications of music and film. A modern artist could create a video like that these days – it would take a lot of time and a fair bit of money. I think a lot of the emphasis, today, is time-related. Many of the new artists I look at have limited wallets and can only spend a short time making videos. It is a rather unpredictable time regarding music videos.
Modern videos like Bad Blood (Taylor Swift, 2015) and Fade (Kanye West, 2016) have provided memorable images and great storylines. Kendrick Lamar’s HUMBLE. (2017) and Beyoncé’s Formation (2016) are big and dramatic productions. A lot of today’s focus is how many views a video can get on YouTube. The rising numbers do not necessarily correlate with quality. If you look at a modern Pop artist; they can get 10,000,000 views within a few days. All of those views will come from hype and the existing fanbase. Compare that to classic videos like Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel) and Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana). If you have a song that is anthemic and genius – like Smells Like Teen Spirit – it is easier to create a timeless video than it would be today (songs that won’t reach that level). You can argue we do not have a scene as impactful and productive as Grunge; music is so widespread and compartmentalised that it is tricky to see what is going on and where the next, great video will come from. What I am noticing is how many videos are coming along. We are in a time where, as I said, any artist can put something online. I am witnessing tremendous videos emerge from every corner of the globe. Although the scale and durability is not what it was years ago; there are suggestions we could witness a world-class video very soon.
We could also argue the fact videos such as Sledgehammer stood out is because they pushed technology. Stop-motion was a fairly new and unexplored formula that was begging for something incredible. The same can be said for a-ha’s Take on Me. We are living in a world where we can create anything and have anything we imagine come to life. The technological luxuries mean it is less impressive if an artist makes a video that mixes stop-motion and animation. Artists are releasing large-scale videos but, again, if it easier to do so – especially if a mainstream artist has a lot of money – then it will not stand out from everything that has come before. There are two arguments we can bring in at this point. The first is this: are people really bothered about videos, given the fact we have streaming services are more interested in the music itself. The other is around the types of songs and climate we live in. Many listeners get their music on the go and have a song playing in their ears. They might listen to a track and check out the Internet whilst listening – not really concerned about the visuals of the song. If a video is bad/ordinary; is that going to change our view of that track? I would say a groundbreaking and unique video can make a poor song good.
Music television doesn’t exist anymore. We have passed a time when MTV played the best artists and brought us those iconic videos. We did not have the Internet and, as such, could only see videos on the T.V. Artists pushed themselves and knew a great, much-watched video could sell albums and elevate them above their peers. The nature of promotion and competition has shifted its nature and feel. Videos are taking a back seat to marketing and other considerations. The way we digest and experience music means the visual elements are not as important and needed as once was. It is a shame because, when I hear a big song come out I have been waiting for; I am always eager to see the video and what the director has done. There have been some great videos lately but, largely, they do not stick in the mind. Years and decades past; great directors moved from film and T.V. into music – or vice versa – whereas now, artists are directing themselves – or smaller, less experienced directors are taking the helm. In any case; there are fewer videos at the moment we will remember years from now. It is sad to think we will talk about the established and older videos over what is being produced now. Maybe I am living in the past but there is a lot to be said for an amazing and unexpected video. It is not about profit and popularity.
IN THIS PHOTO: Michel Gondry/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
We want to pass music down the generations and show the artists and directors of today have the same intelligence and imagination as their predecessors. Maybe the sheer volume of videos and vastness of music means speed and economy is more important than time and creativity. Sound has overtaken visuals; we are all becoming a little lazier and less bothered when it comes to music videos. It is a shame because, with the introduction of services like Netflix; people are as invested in film and T.V. as ever. Money is a factor I have alluded to. Many bands and new artists do not have a lot of cash to do anything major. They might have deadlines and are writing songs in a different way. I don’t know. What I do know is it has been a fair few years since I’ve seen a video that moved me and remained in the mind. A lot of my favourite videos are from the 1990s and early-2000s. It is a shame to think music has changed to a degree where fewer people are concerned what a music video looks like. A lot of artists are excited to film and get those films out to the public. How many artists and directors are trying to rub shoulders with the greats and produce a modern-day version of Sabotage (Beastie Boys)?! Perhaps things will change but, for now, there is a quagmire that cries out for a visionary and unbelievable video. It would not radically change music: it would show we cannot easily predict and assume the best days are behind us. To all those eager directors who want to topple the likes of Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham: step forward and, regardless of budget, hunker down, slave away and bring the world a music video that…
STOPS us in our tracks.