Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why Have Music Videos Gotten so Dark All of the Sudden?

Like a lot of people, I lament the decline of the music video as a cultural artifact and was hoping the emergence of YouTube would jump start a new interest in the medium since MTV has all but abandoned the pretense of the very thing that put them on the entertainment map. OK Go has obviously demonstrated how to turn a mediocre song into an awesome listening experience with a great video (or two), but that's been a very conscious part of their business model or entertainment package from the very beginning. I'm still disappointed that that many established pop acts have largely ignored any attempt at a music video renaissance.

Or at least until this last month when Lady Gaga and MIA released two "controversial" music videos.

Gaga's video defies a brief description and has inspired everything from a cottage industry of feminist cultural analysis to multiple parodies/homages by Marines in war zones. For a song that sounds like it's about a missed connection with someone dancing in a night club, the video revolves around the mass poisoning of a dinner full of patrons. If I had to come up with one word to describe the video, it would be "vengeful." The prison setting sets the tone early for the recurring retribution motif and the video really doesn't pull any punches when it comes to reveling in violence.

Then there's MIA's "ginger genocide" video, which makes the Gaga video look like a live action collage of unicorns and rainbows. Visually, it's very well done -- indeed, almost terrifying -- but it's not very clear why the graphic violence is anything other than gratuitous. Conceptually the video suffers the fact that it takes deathly serious an idea that South Park satirized rather memorably. For as taut and dramatic as the video is independent of the music, the whole package just swallows itself in the morass of its dystopian fantasy; any thoughts that were intended to be provoked by the video seemed to be replaced by "Dude, didn't South Park already do something like this before?"

The trend goes back at least as far as last year when the Dead Weather released this video that seems to wander into a dark place.

So what's up with all that?

I can think of a million reasons why this is happening that range from the absence of MTV standards/censorship to the acceptance of music videos as a legitimate art form (an entire generation of musicians has now grown up with videos) to the need to attract attention through shock value and on and on and on. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's definitely a dark thing.


CJ said...

Dark yes.

Have to take it up a notch so that it's "edgy".
But certainly not new.
Shock factors have always been the gauge.

*back in the day* I remember Wendy O. Williams at the Electric Ballrom and Miss Divine at 219.

Ah, those were the days....

stew said...

well you brought up a ton of stuff, O Chiefy-mine. and to really discuss this is kinda hard in these lil boxes.

First off, I guess I am used to the word "dark" being applied differently - I personally would not call the Gaga video dark. At all. I guess if I had to shorthand it, it would be "flamboyantly" sarcastic. Is there a kind of aggression/anger in it? I'd say yes, but nothing pathological or actually hateful. More like a "omg I wanna bang my head, you idiots" kinda thing.

I would call the Weather one dark, and I found it somewhat eloquent in it's way. I watched with no sound so haven't heard the tune yet.

I'm gonna skip MIA, had enough o her yesterday, she seems dumb to me.

I'll probably come back and share more thoughts on the W. vid and Gaga too. but for now what I'd call dark is just anything flavored with goth-y steampunk-y styling? But just being dark doesn't mean visual violence, can even be romantic/idealistic/innocent under it all. Like MCR's Helena or Black Parade, Within Temptation's Stand my Ground or even the look of Daniel Ash (of Bauhuas, Tones on Tail, and Love and Rockets) in his Walk This Way vid. He looks like a Gaiman character there (and hawt! lol)And quite different from his more glam look in No Big Deal, So Alive etc.
Speaking of Gaiman, he's a dark lil fella, as is all of the Tim Burton onslaught

so.. back later

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