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Over the years there have been a number of discoveries and inventions which have changed the way we experience popular music, and – more importantly – the way a musician would make it. Initially designed to capture the authentic feel of a live performance, the advent of recorded music – and the formats on which it was mass-produced – dictated the required length of songs; the way sound was transmitted by radio inspired artists to experiment with recording techniques, mixing the instruments to deliver the maximum effect on a radio listener, notably with Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”; and with the current trend of streaming music, paying artists – and considering chart entries – for each individual song of an album has encouraged some to overinflate their projects with unnecessary filler. I’m looking at you, Drake.
Perhaps the most intriguing shift came with the launch of Music Television, MTV, in the early 1980s; adding a whole ‘nother sensory dimension to a song gave artists a chance to be more expressive in their work – although some initially dismissed it as a gimmick. Ultimately, those who prevailed in the 80s and carried forward a legacy beyond the decade were those who embraced the music video – not merely as an obligatory accessory to get their song on rotation with MTV, but those whose videos made it abundantly clear that the song and the video were conceived in the same uterus. Madonna had “Like a Prayer”, and later Vogue; Prince made a movie out of a music video; and Michael rocked the world with “Thriller”.
Recently it’s felt a little like music videos have taken a backseat in an artist’s list of priorities to effectively communicate their work; perhaps the technology to display music videos hasn’t progressed in line with our changing music habits – no videos on Spotify, for example – or maybe it’s our diminishing attention spans; the temptation to look at a different screen, whether it be phone, tablet or laptop, while a music video plays on TV or YouTube, means that videos are now required to be truly arresting to be worth the budget spend. Or maybe it’s our diminishing attention spans. Anyway, what was I saying again?
That being said, it’s not hard to find recent examples of music videos continuing to highlight their own importance, even from this year; Childish Gambino’s video for “This Is America” elevated a (frankly) mediocre song into one that had to be witnessed, and it was hard not to; its impact was seen on TV news reports, by the discussions it created, and – of course – the memes. An underestimated arm to prolong the popularity of a music video.
On a personal note – I’m 23 now, and continue to cling to a tiny hope that I may yet forge a successful music career; if I were to, I’d like to think that I’d invest a hefty chunk of my budgets into creating some iconic music videos – to, if nothing else, prove to my future grandkids, cynical of my claims of storming the charts, that Grandad Beeston is not a Billy Bullshitter. “Oh, you don’t believe I went multi-platinum? Sit down, Thomas The Third and Prince Jr., I’m about to show you your grandad screeching in spandex”.