MTV launched in 1981 with the tagline "You'll never look at music the same way again," and it was true. To say that the music video revolutionized music is an understatement.  Music videos allowed artists to visually express themselves and add more meaning to their records than they could have before.  Although MTV began with a 24/7 all music video format, it eventually moved away from that until even short clips of videos were far and few between.  The end of an era, symbolically at least, came on Valentine's Day 2005.  That was the day the domain name www.youtube.com was activated.

     YouTube made the original purpose of MTV irrelevant.  There was no need to sit through videos you didn't care about while you waited for the ones you wanted to see.  There was no need to wait for a record label let Yahoo! music videos put their video online.  YouTube idealized the wild untamed frontier of the Internet.  It also represented the continued fragmentation of pop culture.  In late 1983, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video was inescapable.  If you turned on MTV for any length of time, you'd end up seeing it.  That's the kind of pop cultural homogeneity you get when there is only one place to watch music videos.  In the Internet age, it takes a lot more work to pull it off.

     One of the first groups to show the world how it was done was OK Go.  It was summer 2006 when the band released their choreographed treadmill dance video for "Here It Goes Again".  The video was shot in one continuous take and cost only five dollars to make.  The video is interesting and humorous and it's no surprise that it quickly went viral.  The clip racked up millions of views on Youtube and the band scored its first and only Hot 100 hit.

     It wasn't until fall 2008 that a major pop star capitalized on what OK Go had taught the industry, and even then, it was an accident.  Beyonce was preparing for the release of her third solo album, I Am...Sasha Fierce.  To launch the campaign, two singles would be released simultaneously, the ballad "If I Were A Boy" and the dancefloor filler "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)".
     
     "We’d spent all the budget on the video for "If I Were a Boy"," said Beyonce in an interview with the Times Online.  "And with ["Single Ladies"], we didn’t even have a treatment. So, it’s the least expensive video I’ve done. Not for a moment did I think, ‘This is going to be a movement.’"

     But a movement it was.  Kanye West called it "one of the best music videos of all time" and hundreds of fans uploaded (mostly embarrassing) videos of themselves in black leotards dancing along with the track.  Beyonce did what OK Go did, but on steroids.  Unless you lived under a rock, the "Single Ladies" video became inescapable, but in a different way than the hits of MTV's heyday.  Even if you never watched the video, you probably had a friend send you a link of an overconfident guy or group of overweight girls recreating the video or you saw Justin Timberlake give it a stab on SNL.  Even my young sisters are familiar with it from watching a Chipmunks movie.

     Although Beyonce proved that going viral could require only the simplest of videos, she also took part in one of pop's most elaborate videos, "Telephone" with Lady Gaga.  "Telephone" was the exact opposite of "Single Ladies".  It was over nine minutes long and Gaga's cigarette sunglasses probably cost more than the entire budget for "Single Ladies".  Lady Gaga was trying to bring back the event video in a way that hadn't been seen since the height of Michael Jackson or Madonna.  She succeeded.  Sure, she had to hawk a dating site, Miracle Whip, and Virgin Mobile in the process, but Lady Gaga took one of her weakest and shallow songs, and made not only an event, but "pop art" out of it.

     Just days after "Telephone" blew up the Internet, Erykah Badu stole the spotlight a different way when she sparked outrage with the video for "Window Seat".  The singer took a stroll through Dallas' Dealey Plaza, the site of John F. Kennedy's assassination, while taking off her clothes until she was completely nude.  It wasn't staged, it wasn't scripted, it was all impromptu.  The reactions of the people on the street are real.  The video ends when she pretends to get shot.

     Badu later tweeted, saying the video "was shot guerrilla style, no crew, 1 take, no closed set, no warning, 2 min., Downtown Dallas, then ran like hell."

     M.I.A. also shocked a month later with the video for "Born Free", a short film where soldiers wearing U.S. flag patches break into people's apartments, beat people up, and shoot a child.  Sure, it was a striking and haunting political statement, but it was also a chance to get flagged on YouTube and create some buzz.

     "Production values mean nothing when your competition is a YouTube clip of a cat jumping into a Doritos bag," said Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone.  "Nobody's getting airplay handed to them anymore - they have to scrounge for clicks, which requires a lot of old-school showbiz hustle."

     The rules of the game have changed in a post-MTV world. Your video can't just be cool, it has to be cool enough that bloggers write about it.  It has to be cool enough that people send the link to their friends.  It has to be cool enough that people think it's a good idea to recreate their own version and post it online for the whole world to see. There isn't one right way to do it.  It can be simple or elaborate, funny, or controversial, but if you want a YouTube hit, you need the clicks.  It's as true in 2010 as it was in 1981, you'll never look at music the same way again, because if you do, people will choose the jumping Doritos cat over your video. 

1 comments:

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