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OP-ED: The Evolution of the Music Video

by Taleen Simonian

Photo Courtesy of Beyonce's Facebook Page

Almost everyone has seen the visual masterpiece that is Beyoncé’s Lemonade. The critically acclaimed visual album points to a new era of the music video, a music format that many millennials forget is relatively new. In a short time, the musical medium has come a long way for Bey to bob and thrash—and tell the stories of black lives—in the “Formation” video.

In the mid-1900s, music videos were merely abstract concepts. Artists relied on consistent touring to uphold public interest and the success of live performances made alternative publicity methods appear extraneous. The Beatles were among the first musicians to flirt with the idea of promotional videos for their music, aiming to reach a wider audience. The years that followed proved to be stagnant; music videos lacked complexity and didn't strike viewers as anything particularly noteworthy. Things suddenly changed in 1975 when Queen released the video for “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

The video features the band’s performance of the song complimented by visuals crafted by contemporary editing technology. Queen’s video opened the doors to the true era of music videos and since then the doors have done nothing but widen. The merging of sound and sight created something that irrevocably altered the mechanics of the music industry, and created a phenomenon that overtook music fans.

In 1981, MTV hit the airwaves and began shaping a revolutionary era. The inaugural music video broadcasted on the network was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” From there, the hype over the music video began. By the early 2000s, music videos had turned into spectacles that incorporated choreography, costumes and advanced video effects. However, they lacked a certain depth and purpose, characterizing them as both a staple for entertainment and a diversion from things of greater importance. These videos included Brittany Spears’ “Baby One More Time,” in which Spears croons about love and regret while prancing around a school with backup dancers. Yet, it may have been the video’s focus on choreography rather than a deeper meaning that kept viewers so entertained.

“When I was in middle school, I’d watch music videos by artists like The Pussycat Dolls and try to follow the background dancers as much as I could. I felt more connected to [the videos] because I could emulate the stars that I watched,” said Grace Li (CAS/COM ’19).

YouTube launched in 2005, offering free and instant music video streaming worldwide. In 2009, Vevo came to life and introduced the The 24-Hour Vevo Record. As the Vevo Record gained momentum, so did musicians’ desire to break it. This resulted in artists releasing more videos and incorporating enticing aspects to gain viewership. The fiercer the competition between artists to allure viewers, the more it was felt that controversy was necessary. In 2013, Miley Cyrus’ video for “We Can’t Stop” was released and featured provocative imagery and outlandish props. It was these aspects that encouraged viewers to watch the video over and over again, helping Cyrus earn the (now broken) Vevo Record of 10.7 million views in one day.

The heightened exposure of music videos transformed their entire concept, turning them into an outlet to evoke change. Artists began teaming up with charitable organizations and utilizing their prominence for a good cause. Videos began depicting global hardships and urging people to donate money or time to specific issues. In 2009, Fall Out Boy released a video for “I'm Like A Lawyer With The Way I'm Always Trying To Get You Off (Me & You)” that took place in Northern Uganda, shining a light on the children forced to fight as soldiers.

“I don’t think [music videos] have ever not been a place to express change. They’ve always been a platform to speak out about issues that people may not otherwise see,” says Yinka Fasehun (COM ’19).

As society continued to evolve, so did the changes musicians wanted to evoke. Soon enough, music videos became a way for artists to express their beliefs to fans. This became extremely evident with the 2016 release of Beyoncé’s “Formation” video. The video was filmed with expertise, clearly depicting powerful images of black power through visuals, dress, and location. Suddenly, Beyoncé’s message was received by millions and, in a matter of days, the entire world was made aware of the movement she was behind.

In modern times, music videos resemble films due to their clear footage, elaborate sets and high quality video editing. In most cases, their purpose has shifted from a means of gaining publicity to burning a message into the minds of viewers. The most recent development of the music video has been pioneered by Beyoncé, who has introduced the concept of the visual album. With the release of Lemonade, a film encapsulating each and every song off of Beyoncé’s new album, came the introduction of an era where albums are not just listened to, they are watched. Nearly an hour in length, Lemonade is one continuous production, that pieces together twelve videos seamlessly into one stunning visual presentation. It was the final blow that broke down the wall that stood between music and professional film.

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