A little over a decade ago, before the rise of YouTube, music videos and MTV were on a slow spiral downward out of relevancy in the music industry. Artists were still making them, record labels were still paying for them and MTV was trying to make programing that could collect nielsen ratings from them. Total Request Live was not the hit show it once was post-Carson Daly, if you can believe it, and pirating music wasn’t going away anytime soon.
Now, music videos aren’t what they once were. Shows like Making the Video were a big deal, videos were often how artists premiered the song entirely, and those premieres felt like big events for the said artists following. Today, music videos are just part of millions of videos on YouTube. Some get a high number of views but it isn’t the same. If you missed the premiere of a music video you couldn’t just type the song into Google and watch it again, you had to wait for it be shown on one of the music channels again.
This may sound like I’m mourning the music video but in fact I rather disliked them. I’m not sure if other people listen to music this way, but when I hear a song I imagine the story behind it. Not what the songs mean but literally a story behind like a movie in my head. I once heard the song Australia by The Shin and had to immediately outline an entire science fiction novel (which I’ve never written.) The story I hear when I listen to a song doesn’t have the band posing while they play into a camera, no budget restrictions and no director deciding what his vision for the video is. My imagination has no limitations while music videos have nothing but limitations.
I guess dislike is a strong word in this case, because for the most part I don’t think about them and honestly don’t even search them out. If it’s the only way for me to hear a new song from a band I like thanks to YouTube I can just like on another tab in Chrome while it plays. It was only in my twenties that I thought about the limitations of video versus my imagination mostly from exploring the adaptation of books but I was teenager when I discovered my disappointment with music videos.
I can recall exactly where I was and what video it was. I was over my former best friend’s house and we were watching MTV waiting for the world premiere of Eminem’s Stan. I remember thinking, I’ve listened to this song at least fifty times. This is not how I imagined it at all. What were they thinking?
I didn’t understand budgets, productions, or the fact that unless you framed around programing there was no way for music videos to make any money because it didn’t count towards nielsen ratings. No nielsen ratings means no advertising means no money means Real World / Road Rules Challenge marathon.
I think part of the reason I loved underground hip-hop so much was because they couldn’t afford music videos so the picture playing in my head was never tainted by bad acting, no money, and poor decisions.
There’s only one music video that matches the story in my head, and I think part of the reason is that the video is so ingrained in pop culture that you can’t help but think of it.
That video is of course Michael Jackson’s Thriller