The Evolution Of Music Videos, From MTV To Interactive Art

30 May 2013 / Rebecca Russo

The Evolution Of Music Videos, From MTV To Interactive Art

At the beginning of its broadcast in 1981, music channel MTV began using the tagline “you’ll never look at music the same way again,” and they were right.

Originally distributed in order to compliment and aid the success of musicians and pop stars alike, music videos were a means of creative connection between the artist and their fans.

Defying anything done before, artists were experimenting with bigger budgets and a larger audience, which lead to endeavours into animation (such as Dire Straits’ ‘Money For Nothing’ or Peter Gabriel’s claymation clip for ‘Sledgehammer’), and even acting for some (like Madonna lamenting in ‘Like A Prayer’ or Michael Jackson’s killer performance in mini-movie, ‘Thriller’).

Music channels honed in on the promotional power of these videos – literally called “promos” – proving the medium was imperative to the success of the artist. But with time comes new technologies, and with the onslaught of the digital revolution, music was no longer limited to solely one medium, and thus, new watching habits were born.

The ritual of watching clip shows like Rage or Video Hits has all but wholly disappeared. Video clips are increasingly being released online first, so you’re more than likely on a train, at work, or even on the toilet when you catch a glimpse of that new Beyoncé video. Screens may be smaller, but can be accessed anywhere and anytime which is their driving force.

What becomes evidently clear when discussing the future reality of music videos is that the game has changed. Its no longer a passive activity but rather, an active interaction with the artist.

Though the original viewing habits of audiences has changed, the Internet has proven itself a worthy replacement, hasn’t it? For the artists, it provides an immediacy to their fanbase that never existed before, and for fans, the ability to connect directly to artists through social media spaces.

As such, audiences are more connected and knowledgeable than ever with a search engine right at their fingertips. It’s clear that catching the attention of the audience is key to the production and distribution of media. This is where interactive videos can come out to play. 

Though the original viewing habits of audiences has changed, the Internet has proven itself a worthy replacement, hasn’t it?

With a rise in somewhat unconventional marketing, popularised by acts such as Canadian indie darlings Arcade Fire, there is no longer a passivity associated with watching music videos; we are in control and participating in a totally unique and innovative way.

Take their video for “We Used To Wait”, titled The Wilderness Downtown, which uses Google Maps to channel personal and inimitable childhood memories. Using technology systems like WebGL, a JavaScript API interface used for rendering interactive 3D and 2D graphics, the viewer can fly over the area where they once grew up sparking particular emotional responses. Bands like Arcade Fire are using these activated technologies to support their reputation as innovators in the music video realm, and we can see the power these clips can have on fans and the general public.

So let’s jump back – how did we get here? While there’s no discernable starting point for the birth of interactive music videos, looking towards YouTube, we can certainly see where the seeds were planted and sown.

According to HypeBot, the sharing and uploading of viral music videos is technically an interactive experience – that is, “interactive in the traditional sense of the audience singing along to catchy phrases or learning dance moves.”

The sheer act of uploading a video, whether it is an official music video, a montage clip, or even a cover of a song, is where the so-called ‘interaction’ begins.

If we look back at OK-GO’s seminal 2006 hit ‘Here It Goes Again’ and their iconic treadmill video, we saw audience interaction at its best and most basic. People were talking about the track, sharing it with friends, uploading their own unlicensed copies, and even their own attempts at treadmill dancing.

Think also of the impressive five-person-one-guitar Walk Off The Earth cover of Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ that just hit over 150 million views; an incredible feat for a cover group. This Sharing and talking about these videos what we know as ‘going viral’ and are allowing artists to enjoy ridiculous amounts of fame over one music video.

The key case in point would be PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’, which basically proved how powerful music videos can still be. The Korean musician has toured the world off the back of his comedic K-pop single and the track is currently the most viewed clip on YouTube, surpassing previous record holder Justin Beiber’s ‘Baby’, at over 1.61 billion views.

A new age of interaction has spawned from these viral uploads, by way of YouTube’s introduction of ‘tags’. By clicking these tags the user can launch apps or view provided additional text, photos, and so on, within a video itself. By encouraging the viewer to explore on the screen, the taggable video avoids explicitly pushing extra content. The result is that viewers “discover” the content on their own and actually end up spending more time interacting with the artist.

This can include shoppable music videos like Iggy Azalea and Diplo’s ‘I Think She Ready’, or Cold War Kids’ ‘I’ve Seen Enough’ which lets you pick which instruments are involved in the song, fine-tuning the music experience to your acoustic or electric liking. 

At its core, artists are marketing the technology while the technology markets the artists.

At its heart, sites like YouTube are creating more opportunities for artists to connect with their fan communities, generating exposure and profit in a time when the industry is generally seen as incapable of making money.

Additionally, through crowdfunding, artists can elicit the help of their fans for a unique and interactive experience. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs called on fans to help out with their video in 2006 with a worldwide competition to “be the Yeah Yeah Yeahs” by recording a clip for ‘Cheated Hearts’ off of their second album Show Your Bones.

The resulting music video is a culmination of the hundreds of fan submissions, including the band themselves, doing a homemade sing-along.

Then there are the similarities these videos have with videogaming technology and interaction, especially ones that take you on a ride through a personalised visual experience. Take the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Look Around’ for instance, where viewers can click and drag the cursor from room to room to view the band’s antics in each space.

Brooklyn duo Tanlines followed a similar idea in their ‘Brothers’ video which uses an iPhone app called GoPano that allows for 360° video footage. Then there’s Dutch band Light Light and their NSFW game that tracks and records your mouse pointer’s movements for their single ‘Kilo’, adding the ‘recording’ of each users mouse movements until there is a swarm of pointers that form part of the video.

Each clip takes a relatively novel idea and turns it into something interactive using web language interfaces like HTML5 and Javascript, attracting media buzz and more importantly, the audience’s attention. At its core, artists are marketing the technology while the technology markets the artists.

This new interactivity with fans, whether it be with choose-your-own-adventure style clips (take a bow, Chairlift), or taggable videos that encourage viewers to keep watching and sharing, is encouraging a complete modernisation of the distribution and reception of music.

So where now for the future of music videos? Will we see a progression of videos that claim to be about the artist but are actually advertisements for brands and products? Will we see an interactive evolution in which music videos slowly morph into videogames? Seeing as we’ve already seen the reverse happening with gaming, where music plays a bigger role than ever before (think Pitchfork’s Soundplay), it is plausible.

What is certain is that the power of the music video is still key to promotional power in music. Whether it is a live concert video, or the creation of a completely discoverable world to play in, the functionality of the music video remains the same – to get the name of the artist out there – even if the medium has migrated from our TV screens to a new digital frontier.

It’s not what is viewed that is different, but how it is now viewed that has changed, discernibly for the better.

Filed: Feature Editorial

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