Not that I like to give credence to the claim I’m bad at sticking to deadlines, but I am.
When I heard that Permanent Plastic Helmet was planning to delve into the world of the music video, I thought – “Ooh, I should write something for that. I love music videos. They’re my best.”
And many weeks of wasted opportunities later, this is it.
But of course, they weren’t wasted opportunities at all. Because for the past month or two I’ve just been watching Sébastien Tellier videos over and over like a Hot Chip metaphor.
Here are my favourites:
5. ‘Look’ (dir. Mrzyk & Moriceau)
To understand Sébastien Tellier’s music videos you need to understand that “Sébastien Tellier” is the literal French translation for ‘erotica’, He oozes sexuality – a handy trait and one that presumably influenced the naming of his 2008 album. For the video for ‘Look’, French directors Mrzyk & Moriceau don’t mess about. If you’re not interested in three minutes of an animated close up of a girl’s derrière then this probably isn’t the video for you – especially when it starts pumping out diamonds. However, if you can stomach that, then look closer as the drawings evolve as she walks ever onwards, revealing not just what lies under her clothes, but (in a moment of Antonio Banderas inspired madness) what lies underneath her skin. Sexy, elegant, simple – it just works.
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4. ‘Divine’ (dir. Ace Norton)
2008 was, to quote Didley Squat, A Good Year. I made the leap to London, I worked on music videos for Guillemots, Metronomy and South Central. And Sébastien Tellier represented France at the Eurovision song contest. Also taken from Sexuality, ‘Divine’ is very much a song about all things carnal. The Daft Punk-produced single (and album for that matter) is aurally charming but the package is a beacon for just how important music videos really are. It is the comically hirsute performances from a succession of cut-shot ersatz SebTels that makes this song whole. Hearing it on the radio just doesn’t have the same impact. For chaste Eurovision spectators who had probably never heard of the Frenchman before, Norton makes Tellier a caricature of himself and provides us with the overly beardy I’m Still Here image we all remember. This is probably Sébastien Tellier’s most important video.
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3. ‘L’amour le violence’ (dir. Roman Coppola)
Interestingly this video received quite a lot of stick in industry circles. In it, Roman Coppola shoots SebTel in a Parisian apartment. That’s pretty much it. There’s soft lighting and softer focus, some J.J. Abrams lens flares, some unwieldy reverse zooms, and the odd quivering hand-held close-up of Tellier singing. Coppola was accused of effectively copping out and cashing in on his famous family name. But such an unassuming yet powerful song deserves this kind of minimal, head-on treatment. It’s not quite as literal as Coppola’s effort for Phoenix (‘Funky Squaredance‘ – the first music video ever chosen to be a permanent exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Arts) but Tellier’s repetition of the lines “Tell me what you think” begs a certain intimacy that would be lost in any other video.
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2. ‘Kilometer’ (dir. Jonas and Francois)
I’m not really into pornography. But if I was, I suspect I’d be into really niche stuff. Like watching stunning French girls in tiny excuses for underwear jiggling around SebTel’s house as they try to eat animatronic hot dogs. Think it doesn’t exist? You don’t know enough Tellier. If this was any other artist, we might conclude that the setting for ‘Kilometer’ was a party where our star had cut loose for the weekend. But because it’s Sébastien Tellier, it seems a given that this is less ‘one-off’ and more ‘pretty average Tuesday morning’. Jonas & François replicate the gratuitous ‘ass-shot’ we saw in ‘Look’ here, but in live action. They also appreciate, and indulge in, the sense of the absurd that Tellier commands so well on screen. The shot of him holding court over his harem who applaud as he balances a spoon on his nose sums the video up perfectly.
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1. ‘Cochon ville’ (dir. Alex Courtes)
Where to begin? His first new material since 2008, My God Is Blue is a slow burner as albums go. But again, underlying the important role that music videos play, the promo for its first single is vital in catching the attention of its audience. And, like the cultish devotees that appear in this very not-safe-for-work video, once you’re hooked, there’s no escape. Alex Courtès delivers debauchery on a scale previously unimaginable in most mediums, much less the music video. It makes Project Xlook like something on Newsround. David Knight for PromoNews beautifully describes his turn here as “the guitar-wielding Rasputin of Sex”. It’s a fitting allusion for his performance as a crazy-eyed cult leader, surrounded by writhing naked, fisting, fingering, glitter-cocked, foot-jobbed, firework-stuffed PYTs. The face at 2’17” was pretty much mine for all three minutes of what I would claim is the greatest video of our generation. Honestly – who keeps a blue & gold macaw there? Sébastien Tellier, that’s who.
Despite being only 26 years of age, the University of Brighton graduate has built up an impressive CV, with videos for the likes of Metronomy, David Guetta and The Maccabees under his belt. He can also count KanYe West among his fans. We caught up with the talented young director in Blink Productions’ plush Soho offices to discuss his inspiration, his exciting career to date, and going on sushi benders with Adam Buxton.
PPH (in bold): Hi David. What is your artistic background?
David Wilson (in regular): I studied illustration at Uni Brighton, and taught myself animation there on After Effects and Hand Drawn Animation, and started making my own little films while I was studying. I found that I got a really good response to the films that I made from my peers, and other people on the internet. That encouraged me to make more. I moved to London and started showing people my work, people started to get into it. I got commissioned to do music videos and some work for MTV, and then I got signed really early with Blink Productions. I sat with them for about a year assisting other directors but also on small projects that never went out into the public domain, but really helped both my confidence and my knowledge of the inner workings of commercials and music videos. So when I put out my first public facing video in 2009 (‘We Got Time’ by Moray McLaren) it was my artistic schooling reaching its pinnacle, and my break into professional life.
What kind of feeling did you have when you saw your first piece go out into the public domain?
Really exciting, but at the same time what was great was that I’d already got my next music video job. So on the day it went out into the public domain, it went really mental, people liked it. It went on this blog called Motionographer on the day it was released. That was a really big deal for me cos it’s the most widely read blog for motion graphics in America. KanYe West put it on his blog as well! That film went down extremely well and I don’t think I’ve had a film quite like it since. I was already on set shooting my next music video so although it was going down well, I never had that pressure of going “How do I follow this up?”, I just kept going. It was fantastic to see it come out, and it opened so many doors for me. Thankfully it wasn’t as daunting as it could have been.
Do you feel that you have been chasing that initial high in any way?
To a certain extent, yes. It’s been great for me in that a lot of people have seen it, and like it, and it’s got me admiration, but at the same time it’s a film that I did over three years ago and I’ve moved on a lot as a filmmaker since making that piece. I animated it on a praxinoscope and I guess there’s always that thing of people going “Yeah, it’s good, but I still prefer that thing you did three years ago!”, and I’m really trying to move on. It’s a blessing and a curse.
Some of your work has a very DIY aesthetic. Is there a particular part of your creative process that you enjoy more than others?
My creative process is always changing, and I enjoy challenging myself. My challenge with that project was that there was no money. I did everything myself. I made the praxinoscope myself, did all the hand drawn animation myself. From there it’s evolved from “Right, I know and feel comfortable with animation, but what I don’t know or feel comfortable with is working with actors”. Last year I undertook that challenge and went to acting classes, learnt about directing. I then started doing a puppeteering job with this guy called Keaton Henson about a suicidal puppet, and it ended with doing this music video for David Guetta, which is a drama-led piece. Being able to feel confident in directing actors, and getting what I feel was a performance I was happy with out of them was really beneficial. Against the work of a lot of other directors, they don’t really stand out as being anything special, but for me and my journey it’s a milestone; personally it could be seen as more of a milestone than the Moray McLaren one because that’s the territory I’m familiar with. Especially at the stage I’m at, I want to keep that learning and excitement going, and use these skills and synthesize them so that I can combine all these different elements together, do a technical piece that’s heartfelt.
With BUG, Adam Buxton’s really been flying the flag for music videos. How did you get involved with him in the first place?
We have a good relationship with Adam and the team at BUG. There’s a site called Promo News that David Knight runs and BUG is run by David and a producer called Phil Tidy. Adam started out as the host but has become an integral part of it with his films and how he reads through the YouTube comments. He needs to approve the videos that they show because it represents him so much; it’s almost like you’re round his house and he’s showing you his videos. David and Phil curate it and then Adam nitpicks from the things that have been pulled out.
And did they like your work in particular?
David was a really big fan of my Moray McLaren video, we got it into BUG straight away. That was amazing. Then BUG started to tour festivals like Reading and instead of doing what they do at the BFI which is the most recent videos, they’ll show a selection of their favourite videos, which included the Moray McLaren one. Adam’s been a real supporter. They’ve shown other films of mine. It was about two months ago they asked me to appear live on stage to be interviewed by Adam at the BFI. That went down well because I did my demonstration with the praxinoscope and at that same time they were preparing to do their Sky shows. The Sky execs were there, so they said “Let’s get David to go and be interviewed for the pilot”!
You’ve done a music video with Adam all about sushi. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Adam prolifically writes all these songs, he’s a little audio wizard. He wanted each song to have a new music video done for it, for each BUG TV show. The producer approached me, I got sent three different songs, and I picked the sushi one because I really liked the drum n’ bass ending. The song is about Adam going on a sushi bender, stuffing his face with small bits of rice and fish and Asahi beer. Adam’s always been a fan of my work wherever it’s shown ladylegs, and more provocative imagery – like some of the stuff in my advent calendar and my Metronomy video. Because the whole thing is this fantasy of him being on a sushi bender, I thought I’d combine ladylegs with fish and make something completely ridiculous that would never get commissioned in a million years. I wrote a script with no holds barred. I know the more ridiculous it was, the more Adam would want to make it. There’s a lady with fish coming out of her underpants onto Adam’s face. We’ve got a naked lady with sushi on her. We’ve got Adam going around the whole restaurant on the sushi conveyor belt. The whole thing’s really silly. We even had a dance routine which we never got to film, sadly. It’ll be out in October.
I wanted to talk about your video for Metronomy’s ‘The Bay’. It was shot in the ‘English Riviera’, and it has a very ‘Rio’, Duran-ish quality, but with lots more irony.
What they wanted was to paint the English riviera as being as stylish as the French riviera, and have as much cool as the West Coast of California, where there’s all these musicians that hang out and jam on the beach. I really tapped into the French Riviera thing; the video for Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing’ was shot by the same person that shot ‘Rio’ for Duran Duran. There’s the judge from Strictly [Bruno Tonioli] in it. That was perfect as a reference point. So I said why don’t we do this… but with you guys. We’ve got helicopter shots and glamorous ladies, and the whole thing is a bit surreal, but if we say “Torquay is like this”, that could be pretty hilarious. But we’ve got to play it completely straight. Otherwise it becomes too jokey, that’s why it’s so deadpan.
My favourite bit is when bassist Gbenga Adelekan just straps his bass on from out of nowhere when he’s sat in the back seat of the car…
I was really happy with that, that was a last minute decision! I was looking at the four of them sat in the car and I felt that it missed something. Because it was Torquay, and there’s a bit of a drinking to excess on a Friday night/girls in miniskirts kind of vibe, there’ll be a lot of kids with pimped-up Peugeots, with bass thumping from their cars going around town. So we thought if you were hearing these noises from a car, which instrument would you physically be playing? It’s gotta be the bass!
Do you have any particular music video heroes that you look to?
Yeah, I doubt I’d be here in Blink if it wasn’t for my admiration for Dougal Wilson. I fell in love with his work when I saw LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Tribulations’. I found out his name and his other work, and found him on MySpace, when MySpace was big and then just got talking to him, and found out that he was a really cool, down-to-earth, supportive guy. Then when it came to sending my reel to production companies, Blink was top of the list. There’s a lot of big directors that a lot of people with my aesthetic reference as people that opened up their eyes to the possibility of music videos. The obvious ones being Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. When those Directors Label DVDs came out I was 18, they were doing the rounds at Freshers’ Week at Uni and so that opened my eyes to how creative you could be with contemporary artists.
There’s that, and now it’s evolved into the people that I admire are contemporaries. There’s a close-knit group of directors where the guard has been put down. We’re a lot more sharing. My age group of directors have come from the background of learning After Effects because people have put tutorials up on YouTube, and that whole mentality of being open and sharing is beneficial and makes the whole industry a lot less daunting. People that I really admire are the DANIELS, who have really blown up over the past year, we’ve become really good friends. Even though they live in L.A., whenever they come over to England we hang out. I admire them, and draw inspiration from their energy, enthusiasm and their lust for just doing something.
You’re in a community where you’re driving each other on…
That’s it, we get excited for each other. We have whole evenings of sitting down together and sharing our treatments that never got made. That’s really nice! To go, “Oh, you wrote all those and only three of them got made? That makes me feel better because I wrote exactly the same amount and only three got made.” It can be disheartening sometimes.
To what extent has this notion of a “digital revolution”, Vimeo, YouTube etc., facilitated the vibe you’re talking about?
Oh, massively. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for YouTube. It started in my second year of university, and it was really weird because people couldn’t get their heads around it. The internet was slow and video was pixellated, people were watching it at 240p. Essentially, what helped was that I did a video for Metronomy when I was at uni, and they’re a Brighton band so I knew one of their girlfriends. I asked if I could use it for one of my university projects and they said sure, just don’t put it out as an official video. That got seen by their management, which is Stephen Bass who’s the head of Moshi Moshi records so he commissioned my first music videos from that and there’s no way he would have seen that work if I couldn’t have put it out on YouTube. There is now this community, especially on Vimeo, where it’s very sharing and very open and in comments people are complimentary but in a constructive rather than a gushing way; they’re all from video makers. I get messages every now and then from people saying “if you ever need help with post-production or editing, I’d love to help!”.
There’s a cliche that music video directors are looking for a calling card to get in the feature film industry. Is that something you’d like to do in the future?
Yeah. When I started to get excited about music videos, I was always obsessive about music growing up, so it was this perfect combination of doing what I loved with visuals. I saw it as an end goal. I didn’t know about the huge lack of money that there is in music videos. It’s impossible to earn a living from music videos at the moment, and whenever I say that it seems whiny or as if I’m putting money in front of creativity which of course I don’t. It’s just a practicality; you’ve got to put a roof over your head. The majority of music videos that I create, I don’t get paid. I’ll put the money into the job to make it the best that I can, or there is no option but to do that when it’s really low budget. In essence, music videos by their very nature have got to be a calling card for something else, whether that’s commercials or else. That’s one of the things that’s really shaped music videos recently.
So there are a lot of passion projects happening?
Yes, many people are doing things as passion projects, and there are less and less videos where people are happy to go “so the band stands there, and we’ll put a light on them, and we’ll shoot around them”. When you’re not getting paid, you’re just burning your time and your money for someone who’ll be quite ungrateful for you doing it. There’s been a massive shift to music videos being more filmic, and that’s one of the reasons why. But also because music videos live a lot more online, they go viral and people want to watch something that takes them on a journey or makes them laugh, or it’s stupid. There are less and less restrictions. It’s more important to get your video spread virally than it is to get it on MTV now, so the TV-safe element is not there anymore. In terms of the “calling card”, to make something bigger, a feature film, that certainly makes sense.
So it’s a testing ground for directors in essence?
Yes, and it’s a very good testing ground: you’re on a project for three or four weeks and then it’s done. You write the script, you win the job, you shoot it, you do the post production, and it’s pretty much done within a month. It’s a fast-paced testing ground working with – at some point – big crews and a good amount of money for the amount of screen time that you’re actually producing for. If it’s a 30k music video for a 3 minute piece of movie then you’re looking at 10 grand a minute which is pretty good. You can test out those ideas which you’d only ever be able to achieve with the same amount of creative freedom on a feature film set, because you certainly can’t test that much when you’re on commercials. Someone is paying you to do the job you know you can pull off.
Music videos, in all sorts of ways, are a testing ground. If there’s a bad music video but you can tell they’re pushing for something different, it’s not worthy of slating because you tell they’re using music videos properly. That unsettles a lot of music video commissioners to hear that, but I truly believe that’s one of the most wonderful things about the medium. It gives you that breathing space to be ambitious; it can create results that no other way of making film has created. You’re doing something that doesn’t have to tie into a narrative, it lives in its own little world.
You can view more of David Wilson’s work on his website. The BUG TV show will be broadcast on Sky Atlantic in October.
Permanent Plastic Helmet is taking a simultaneous trip down memory lane and into the future with a very special week dedicated to the mercurial wonder of the music video. To kick us off, here’s a selective, slightly personal tour through the history of this still youthful artform.
David Bowie’s ‘Ashes To Ashes’
Music videos take off
“Don’t you wonder sometimes, ‘bout sound and vision?”, queried David Bowie on 1977’s ‘Sound and Vision’. The chameleonic singer clearly did, and was one of the first major stars to latch onto the emerging music video zeitgeist of the time with the characteristically odd, eyecatching promo for ‘Ashes To Ashes’, directed by David Mallet in 1980. A pre-MTV blast of creativity, the video’s compelling blend of self-mythology, formal invention and striking visuals seemed to foreshadow the following decade in which music videos became one of the key mediums for musical artists to market their product, experiment creatively, and construct indelible images for themselves. Music videos sometimes complemented the lyrics and content of the song, sometimes they were simply flights of imaginative fancy.
The idea of integrating music with image was nothing new, from the iconic opening scene of D.A. Pennebaker’s Dylan doc Don’t Look Back (‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’), to The Beatles sophisticated efforts like ‘Rain’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever‘, to Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘ and even film musicals like Tommy and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but my focus starts with the era when music videos solidified as an integral promotional and image-making tool for artists looking to reach out to a wider fanbase.
Top of the Pops in the UK, Countdown and Sounds in Australia, and various cable shows in the US had offered a platform for largely rudimentary early attempts at music promos, but it was the launch of MTV in 1981 that really kicked things off on a grand scale. The first video shown was the prophetic ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, a 1979 single by British group Buggles. As a business, MTV earned $7 million in advertising revenue in the first 18 months. Soon, the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) launched to introduce a competitive element to proceedings.
With this unprecedented 24/7 support framework in place, music videos began to experiment increasingly with form, content and budget. A pre-digital music industry was awash with cash, and in a position to throw millions at directors and artists. Some of the most eye-catching promos of the decade looked to innovative animation techniques (Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’, a-ha’s ‘Take On Me’, to name but two), while others attempted to craft entire narratives replete with oft-regrettable attempts at acting, and scripted, distractingly overlaid dialogue (“Hello! Yes I’m talking to you, Lionel Richie”). Many instead simply opted for semi-integrated concert footage.
As was ever thus in the music world, image was everything, and what better way to promote your image than by beaming an idealised version of it to millions of viewers? For example, on record, Duran Duran were marked largely by Simon le Bon’s honking vocals and impenetrable lyrics, but thanks to their lavish promos (of which ‘Rio’ – directed by experienced Aussie maverick Russell Mulcahy – is surely the most memorable), the boys from Birmingham held captive an international audience which viewed them with jealousy and admiration as pastel-suited playboys larking around on yachts. Similarly, Robert Palmer cemented his dapper image with a string of suave, deadpan vids featuring stateuesque models as his backing band. It all went deeper than that, though. With 1983’s neon-noirish, floor-lit ‘Billie Jean’, Michael Jackson was largely credited with breaking the insidious colour barrier maintained by MTV, who, despite their undoubted innovation, had pretty much shut out successful black artists up until that point.
Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, directed by John Landis
The role of the director
The 1980s also saw the first instances of directorial heavyweights from the cinema world muscling in on the act. American Werewolf in London director John Landis’ remarkable 14-minute opus ‘Thriller’ remains the only music video to be inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress and is perhaps still the high-concept watermark of the genre. Jackson later teamed up with Martin Scorsese (and a pre-fame Wesley Snipes) for 1987’s ‘Bad’. Spike Lee helmed videos for rap titans Public Enemy as well as Prince. Respected actors would take a chance on music vids, like Donald Sutherland in Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’. Meanwhile, music video self-reflexivity reached its apotheosis in Brian de Palma’s 1984 absolute sleazefest of a film Body Double, in an astonishing scene in which the narrative completely dropped out in favour of an extended Frankie Goes To Hollywood video.
Over time, the music video became one of the premier forums for creative visual talents to express themselves, and displaying a skill with the artform itself became something of a “calling card”. Towards the end of 1992, MTV began to credit the director at the start and end of each video, in the process significantly promoting the idea of authorship within the artform. Now, viewers could look out for the names of directors and pick up on recurring tropes, ideas and visual motifs. Many made the leap into feature film directing (including Tarsem, David Fincher, Mark Romanek, Hype Williams, McG) and though the “music video” label is often used pejoratively, connoting style over substance and a kinship with advertising, there’s no doubting the impact these filmmakers have made, if not always critically, then commercially.
Of the MTV2 generation in the 1990s, perhaps the three most influential music video directors were Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and Chris Cunningham, whose trailblazing work was immortalized in a series of DVDs entitled Directors Label, the first of which were released in 2003. Both Jonze and Gondry have gone on to estimable directing careers (Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind my own respective personal favourites of theirs), while UK counterparts Jonathan Glazer and Jamie Thraves (both garlanded for their respective Radiohead videos ‘Karma Police‘ and ‘Just‘) followed suit.
As the presence of music videos grew in pop culture discourse so, of course, did their ambition. Early pioneer Michael Jackson would later go on to participate in the most expensive promo of all time, the effects-laden ‘Scream’, with his sister Janet in 1996. Others in the top ten include two from Madonna (‘Express Yourself’ and Bond theme ‘Die Another Day’), and – astonishingly – ‘Cartoon Heroes’ by Danish pop chumps Aqua, which clocked in at the cost of a cool $4.7m. R&B act TLC’s ‘Unpretty’ – a song which earnestly preached the value of staying true to oneself – boasted a million-dollar make-up budget.
Jonas Akerlund’s controversial promo for ‘Smack My Bitch Up’
The manner in which audiences consumed music videos evolved significantly over the years. MTV faced some competition with the lighter, more MOR-oriented VH1 and then The Box, while in the UK the weekly Top Of The Pops – which switched between live or lip-synched performances – was complemented by Saturday morning’s The Chart Show, which ran in the UK on Channel 4 between 1986 and 1988, then on ITV between from 1989 up until its 1998 cancellation. When I didn’t have satellite TV, I was restricted to the likes of the short-lived Dr Fox’s Video Jukebox on LWT.
MTV developed as a company to serve other genres. In 1988, Yo! MTV Raps heralded a new platform for hip hop and rap (The Beastie Boys and Ice Cube among those to embrace the genre with relish), while MTV’s alternatively focused programme 120 minutes became a cornerstone of first the main channel (for 14 years), and then a further three on its sister channel MTV2. It was the UK iteration of MTV2 which proved central to my own appreciation of music videos, after the intermittent output of the terrestrial channels. MTV Base catered for the R&B genre. In 1993, MTV were also behind Mike Judge’s brilliantly puerile animation Beavis and Butthead, which featured the two eponymous, sniggering morons commenting snarkily on music videos from the comfort of their own homes: an eerily prescient foreshadow of today’s keyboard warrior culture.
Theme and content-wise, the 1990s also saw a more pronounced turn toward the controversial in music videos. Though the 80s were hardly without scandal (Duran Duran’s ‘Girls on Film’ and Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ spring to mind), the next decade possessed it in spades. My 12-year-old self was hugely excited to see the uncut version of Jonas Akerlund’s promo for the Prodigy’s POV sex, drugs & vomit rampage ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, even if it looks a little tame now. Conversely, time has done little to diminish the visceral impact of Chris Cunningham’s enormously creepy vid for Aphex Twin’s ‘Windowlicker’ (which used body horror to subvert tired hip hop video cliches) or Glazer’s harrowing promo for Unkle’s ‘Rabbit In Your Headlights’, which featured French actor Denis Lavant being repeatedly struck by speeding cars in a tunnel.
Particular genres carved out their own particular styles. Rap videos, for example, became overwhelmingly associated (in the mainstream media’s consciousness at least) with a bling n’ bitches aesthetic that was parodied acidly and brilliantly by The Roots in their 1996 video for ‘What They Do’. More outre artists like Missy Elliott, OutKast and Busta Rhymes carved out their own unforgettable niches, often with the help of fish eye lenses. Meanwhile, doomy rock acts like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson often favoured a scratchy, industrial, blue/grey paletted template. While all this was going on, bands like Radiohead and Tool developed reputations as being forward thinking and collaborative in their music video art, breathed new life into the idea of the compilation video.
R Kelly gets ‘Trapped In The Closet’
The digital impact
The next major sea change in the music video was launch of YouTube in February 2005, which suddenly opened up the doors to a treasure trove of music videos most people though they’d never see again, because not every band had gotten round to releasing a greatest hits video (or later, DVD). Though a slightly haphazard strain of copyright protection and advertising got in the way of unfettered enjoyment before long, it really is difficult to overstate the revolutionary impact of the near-magical unveiling of this audio-visual pandora’s box rich with delight, embarrassment and memories. Sony and YouTube clubbed together in 2009 to create Vevo, a dedicated area of YouTube for music videos, which has been a success, seeing record labels directly benefitting financially from large advertising revenues.
The YouTube revolution also allowed for variations in form, personified most egregiously by R Kelly’s utterly mental R&B opera ‘Trapped In The Closet’; a lurid, one-note melodrama cleaved into a scarcely believable 22 separate parts. This year, Kelly announced there would be even more. Indie band OK GO, in much the same way that Sacha Baron Cohen’s publicity stunts are now widely regarded as better than his films, are perhaps the first band to be genuinely more well known for their videos than their songs. They reached their zenith with James Frost’s extraordinarily complex and daring Mousetrap-inspired promo for ‘This Too Shall Pass‘. Meanwhile, talented directors like Patrick Daughters, Shynola, Floria Sigismondi and Dougal Wilson were, like Tim Pope (famed for his work with The Cure in the 1980s), able to carve out distinctive visual styles of their own.
The seemingly unstoppable rise of the internet coincided with – and no doubt influenced – the decision of MTV to ultimately jettison its programming of music videos in favour of reality TV garbage like ‘Jersey Shore’ in February 2010 (it had been going down this path for a while). Its absence has had scant effect on the restless creativity and output of innovative music videos. Neither has the form’s capacity to create controversy abated. Music videos remain a punchy canvas for daring artistic statements, and it’s now not uncommon for the release of music videos to be treated as events. Romain Gavras’ faintly ludicrous, but visually bracing, “ginger holocaust” promo for M.I.A’s ‘Born Free‘ provoked a hailstorm of controversy, while Lady Gaga’s fantastically overblown ‘Telephone’ featured a meta-cameo from Beyonce and was released to a huge storm of media opinion in 2010. The year prior, KanYe West’s shameful but hilarious rant aimed at Taylor Swift at the VMAs (‘I’m really happy for you and I’m a let you finish but Beyonce has one of the best videos of all time!”), is an indication of the importance placed on the form from current artists.
Adam Buxton hosting BUG live at the Odeon Leicester Square in Nov 2011
What now, and what next?
And what about those making the music videos in this new era? Well, says up-and-coming music video auteur David Wilson, it’s now “a international sharing community of like-minded artists”, who use the likes of Vimeo and YouTube to upload, promote and comment on each others’ work. The hope is that these videos, if not promoted aggressively by the band or the band’s label, will go viral. In the UK, comedian and radio host Adam Buxton has flown the flag for music video art with his BUG Music Video showcase (performed bi-monthly at London’s BFI Southbank) which is being turned into a TV show for Sky Atlantic. Innovative new directors like DANIELS, AG Rojas and David Wilson are making names for themselves, armed with digital technology that’s a damn sight cheaper than the actual film stock commonplace throughout the 80s and 90s. Unofficial, fan-made videos are now par for the course as anyone with a camera and computer can make a music video.
So, what to conclude from all of this? Well, whereas in the early days the landscape often seemed geared solely toward burnishing the egos, images and bank balances of the labels and stars, the flexibility and opportunity to shine provided by the artform’s broad canvas moved us into an era of music video director as-star (let’s look at Spike Jonze’s crazed turn as an evangelical dance instructor in his promo for Fatboy Slim’s ‘Praise You’ as the high watermark of this phenomenon). In this respect, perhaps we can draw an analogy with the New Hollywood cinema of the late-1960s and early 1970s when a new generation of directors like Arthur Penn, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Body Double‘s de Palma took unprecedented risks in the wake of the crash of the Hollywood system. Now, with the advent of the digital age and its impact on the music industry, options are wildly increased from both a consumer and creator point of view, and there’s a neat, digitally enhanced synthesis between the director-as-star and young creative-as-director. There seems to be an egalitarian attitude present in, and an enthusiastic drive toward, music video making as evidenced by the barrage of fantastic new videos which seem to crop up on the internet at a rapid rate. The future, without a shadow of a doubt, looks bright.
Over the coming week we’ll have a selection of interviews, articles, contributors’ lists and competitions. Follow us on Twitter @PPlasticHelmet, and if you want to join the conversation, use the hashtag #MusicVideoWeek.