Film Feature: The Art of the Music Video

One of the greatest things about listening to music is imagining yourself in the music video. Walking down the street in a really cool way while you picture the alternating emotional close-ups or aerial shots over the city. Songs trigger images, emotions or memories and it’s amazing to see these captured in the official music video. Instead of just shots of the lead singer mouthing the lyrics or footage of the band playing, music videos have nowadays become incredible productions that could often be described as short movies. There is, however, quite a different feel to a music video than to a movie.

A feature length film has to be occupied with many things: telling a story, developing the characters and their emotions, communicating themes as well as tackling the visual side, and it often seems as if this last aspect is overshadowed by the rest. With the focus on the narrative, the dialogue and the connection between characters, the visual aspect of a film usually doesn’t get enough attention from both directors and audience. In a music video, on the other hand, it’s all about the visuals. The length of a song is too short to portray or develop all-round characters, and the music itself, which we usually already know when watching a music video, acts as the dialogue or voice-over. Therefore, it’s the images that tell a story.

A music video definitely shows the power of images. Often we see characters without knowing who they are, having only vague suggestions of relationships between them. Our minds fill in the gaps, our own imagination thus becoming a part of the story that’s told. Leaving many questions unanswered or ambiguous would probably not work in a feature length film, the lack of clarity overwhelming the audience. However, it’s something I’d love to see more mainstream films adapt in some way. Not everything has to always be completely clear and easy to understand.

Usually a music video is commercial as much as an accompanying work of art, with the artist and the song as the product being advertised. Including shots of the band playing might make them more accessible, whereas never showing any images of the artist allows you to concentrate on the music. The nearly 7 minute-long music video for ‘Alright’ by Kendrick Lamar (directed by Colin Tilley) portrays the artist as a charismatic but vulnerable superhero who flies through the city and dances with people in Compton, as well as presenting absolutely wonderful black-and-white shots of dollar bills falling like snowflakes and glimpses of the city. The video exists between the realistic and the surreal, definitely matching Lamar’s beautifully complex song.

One of the most significant music videos of all time is Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video from 1983 (directed by John Landis). The 13-minute mini-movie showed the possibilities of music video as a creative form of film-making for the first time and established MTV as a cultural force. With the emergences of YouTube, film-makers have to think unconventionally again in order to have their work rise above all the junk online. Only in the last few years we’ve had an eleven-year old incredible dancer (Sia, ‘Chandelier’), a proper action movie starring a proper girl squad (Taylor Swift, ‘Bad Blood’) and a fusion of high school sexuality and King Kong featuring choreography, animation and psychedelic paint (Tame Impala, ‘The Less I Know The Better’).

Rising far above all these videos is Beyoncé’s just released visual album ‘Lemonade’. This hour-long film is much more than a music video, just as the album is about much more than Beyoncé’s relationship with Jay-Z. Featuring women like Serena Williams and actresses Quvenzhané Wallis and Amandla Stenberg, mocked for their dark skin or kinky hair, ‘Lemonade’ celebrates black women and culture. By showing the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown holding portraits of their sons, Beyoncé makes a statement about the Black Lives Matter-movement. Home videos of Jay-Z and their daughter Blue Ivy are an additional revelation of the deeply personal stories of life, love and infidelity ‘Lemonade’ tells. And the lush imagery of the American South pays homage to the history of slavery and history of black women in America. This compilation of videos, with spoken word intertwining the songs, tells us everything that simply cannot be put into words. A phenomenal work of art that definitely shows the potential of music videos.

A music video combines two forms of art, music and film, into a usually incredible, always surprising unity. It gives us a little insight in the mind of the artist or in the story the song wants to tell. Above all, they create a short cinema-experience that’s often more interesting than what you actually see in a cinema. In short, feature length films can learn something from the wonderful music videos that are around. Telling a coherent story is important, but paying more attention to visuals, feelings and mood can turn an average film into a true work or art.

[Aike Jansen]

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