Music Video Style

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  • 1. Music  Video  Style     These  features  have  enabled  music  videos  to  have  an  easily  identified  style.  Use  of  camera,   editing,  narrative,  mise-­‐en-­‐scene,  representations  etc.  all  contribute  to  this.     Camera       As  with  any  moving  image  text,  how  the  camera  is  used  and  how  images  are  sequenced  will   have  a  significant  impact  upon  meaning.  Camera  movement,  angle  and  shot  distance  all   need  to  be  analysed.  Camera  movement  may  accompany  movement  of  performers  (walking,   dancing,  etc)  but  it  may  also  be  used  to  create  a  more  dynamic  feel  to  stage  performance,  by   for  instance  constantly  circling  the  band  as  they  perform  on  stage.     The  close  up  does  predominate,  as  in  most  TV,  partly  because  of  the  size  of  the  screen  and   partly  because  of  the  desire  to  create  a  sense  of  intimacy  for  the  viewer.  It  also  emphasises   half  of  the  commodity  on  sale  (not  just  the  song,  but  the  artist,  and  particularly  the  voice).   John  Stewart  of  Oil  Factory  told  me  that  he  sees  the  music  video  as  essentially  having  the   aesthetics  of  the  TV  commercial,  with  lots  of  close  ups  and  lighting  being  used  most   prominently  for  the  star’s  face.     Editing     Though  the  most  common  form  of  editing  associated  with  the  music  promo  is  fast  cut   montage,  rendering  many  of  the  images  impossible  to  grasp  on  first  viewing  thus  ensuring   multiple  viewing,  there  are  videos  which  use  slow  pace  and  gentler  transitions  to  establish   mood.  This  is  particularly  apparent  for  the  work  of  many  female  solo  artists  with  a  broad   audience  appeal,  such  as  Dido.     Often  enhancing  the  editing  are  digital  effects  which  play  with  the  original  images  to  offer   different  kinds  of  pleasure  for  the  audience.  This  might  take  the  form  of  split  screens,   colourisation  and  of  course  blockbuster  film  style  CGI.       Narrative  and  Performance     Narrative  in  songs  is  rarely  complete,  more  often  fragmentary,  as  in  poetry.  The  same  is  true   of  music  promos,  which  more  often  suggest  storylines  or  offer  complex  fragments  of  them  in   non-­‐linear  order.  In  doing  this  the  music  video  leaves  the  viewer  with  the  desire  to  see  it   again  if  only  to  catch  the  bits  missed  on  first  viewing.  As  Steve  Archer  puts  it:     “Often,  music  videos  will  cut  between  a  narrative  and  a  performance  of  the  song  by  the   band.  Additionally,  a  carefully  choreographed  dance  might  be  a  part  of  the  artist’s   performance  or  an  extra  aspect  of  the  video  designed  to  aid  visualisation  and  the   ‘repeatability’  factor.  Sometimes,  the  artist  (especially  the  singer)  will  be  a  part  of  the  story,   acting  as  narrator  and  participant  at  the  same  time.  But  it  is  the  lip-­‐synch  close-­‐up  and  the   miming  of  playing  instruments  that  remains  at  the  heart  of  music  videos,  as  if  to  assure  us   that  the  band  really  can  kick  it.”  (Steve  Archer  2004)     The  video  allows  the  audience  access  to  the  performer  in  a  much  greater  range  of  ways  than   a  stage  performance  could.  Eye  contact  and  facial  gestures  via  the  close  up,  role  playing   through  the  narrative  and  mise-­‐en-­‐scene  will  present  the  artist  in  a  number  of  ways  which   would  not  be  possible  in  a  live  concert.    
  • 2. The  mise-­‐en-­‐scene  may  be  used  as  a  guarantee  of  what  Simon  Frith  terms  ‘authenticity’  as  in   the  stage  performance/use  of  a  rehearsal  room  by  a  band  whose  musical  virtuosity  is  their   main  selling  point.  It  can  be  important  to  a  narrative-­‐based  video  to  establish  setting  and   relationship  to  existing  film  or  televisual  genres.  Equally  it  may  be  used  as  part  of  the   voyeuristic  context  by  suggesting  a  setting  associated  with  sexual  allure,  such  as  a  sleazy   nightclub  or  boudoir.  Or  finally,  as  John  Stewart  suggests,  it  may  be  used  to  emphasise  an   aspirational  lifestyle  for  the  audience,  as  in  the  current  dominance  of  a  futuristic  look  with   emphasis  on  the  latest  gadgetry.     Other  commentators  have  divided  music  videos  in  terms  of  style,  though  often  there  will  be   crossover  between  these;  apart  from  Performance  and  Narrative,  it  is  possible  to  identify  at   least  six:  Gothic,  Animated,  Dreamscapes,  Portraiture,  Futuristic  and  Home  Movie.     Star  Image       As  Richard  Dyer  has  noted:     “  a  star  is  an  image  constructed  from  a  range  of  materials”  (Richard  Dyer  1979).     For  pop  music  these  materials  include  the  songs  (their  lyrical  themes  and  musical   structures/genres),  the  record  covers  (singles  and  albums  and  the  image  of  the  star  they   present),  media  coverage  (from  interviews  about  career  and  private  life  through  to  tabloid   gossip),  live  performance  (the  image  through  the  stage  show)  and  arguably  most   significantly  the  music  videos,  which  may  draw  upon  the  image  presented  in  each  of  the   other  aspects.     Each  video  may  also  draw  upon  its  predecessor  both  in  reinforcing  the  star’s  existing  image   and  in  taking  the  image  on  further,  perhaps  in  new  directions.  Thus  even  more  than   Hollywood  films  may  be  seen  as  vehicles  for  their  stars,  music  videos  will  act  as  a  showcase   for  their  talents  and  a  significant  part  in  the  construction  and  maintenance  of  their  image.       Voyeurism     This  idea  comes  from  Freud,  and  has  been  much  used  in  Media  Studies,  particularly  in   explaining  the  gendered  pleasures  of  cinema.  Broadly  it  refers  to  the  idea  of  looking  in  order   to  gain  sexual  pleasure.  It  has  been  argued  that  the  male  viewer’s  gaze  at  the  screen  is   geared  to  notions  of  voyeurism  in  that  it  is  a  powerful  controlling  gaze  at  the  objectified   female  on  display.  In  music  promos,  as  we  have  seen,  the  female  on  display  has  been  a   staple  element  through  the  Scopitones  to  Duran  Duran  and  beyond.  Goodwin  argues  that   the  female  performer  will  frequently  be  objectified  in  this  fashion,  often  through  a   combination  of  camerawork  and  editing  with  fragmented  body  shots  emphasising  a   sexualised  treatment  of  the  star.  In  male  performance  videos  too  the  idea  of  voyeuristic   treatment  of  the  female  body  is  often  apparent  with  the  use  of  dancers  as  adornments   flattering  the  male  star  ego.  This  process  of  males,  viewing  an  objectified  female  is  referred   to  by  Laura  Mulvey  as  the  ‘male  gaze’.     The  idea  becomes  more  complex  when  we  see  the  male  body  on  display  and  we  might  raise   questions  about  how  the  female  viewer  is  invited  to  respond  –  often  referred  to  as  the   ‘female  gaze’.       Exhibitionism  
  • 3.   Equally,  the  apparently  more  powerful  independent  female  artists  of  recent  years,  from   Madonna  onwards,  have  added  to  the  complexity  of  the  gaze  by  being  at  once  sexually   provocative  and  apparently  in  control  of,  and  inviting,  a  sexualised  gaze  –  in  what  could  be   termed  the  opposite  of  voyeurism:  exhibitionism.       Debate  is  increasingly  polarised,  as  it  is  on  pornography  –  who  is  exploiting  whom?  Is  the   female  flesh  on  display     a) An  exploitation  of  the  female  body  to  increase  (predominantly)  male  profit   margins.   b) A  life-­‐enhancing  assertion  of  female  self-­‐confidence  and  sexual  independence.       Intertextuality     The  music  video  is  often  described  as  ‘postmodern’,  a  slippery  term  which  is  sometimes   used  as  a  substitute  for  intertextuality.  Broadly,  if  we  see  music  promos  as  frequently   drawing  upon  existing  texts  in  order  to  spark  recognition  in  the  audience,  we  have  a  working   definition  of  ‘intertextuality’.  Not  all  audiences  will  necessarily  spot  the  reference  and  this   need  not  massively  detract  from  their  pleasure  in  the  text  itself,  but  it  is  often  argued  that   greater  pleasure  will  be  derived  by  those  who  know  the  reference  and  are  somehow   flattered  by  this.     It  is  perhaps  not  surprising  that  so  many  music  videos  draw  upon  cinema  as  a  starting  point,   since  their  directors  are  often  film  school  graduates  looking  to  move  on  eventually  to  the   film  industry  itself.  From  Madonna’s  ‘Material  Girl’  (Mary  Lambert  1985,  drawing  on   ‘Diamonds  are  a  Girl’s  Best  Friend’)  to  2Pac  and  Dr  Dre’s  ‘California  Love’  (Hype  Williams   1996,  drawing  on  ‘Mad  Max’)  there  are  many  examples  of  cinematic  references  which   dominate  music  video.  Television  is  often  a  point  of  reference  too,  as  in  The  Beastie  Boys’   spoof  cop  show  titles  sequence  for  Sabotage  (Spike  Jonze  1994)  or  REMs  recent  news  show   parody  ‘Bad  Day’  (Tim  Hope  2003).     John  Stewart  sees  visual  reference  in  music  video  coming  from  a  range  of  sources,  though   the  three  most  frequent  are  perhaps  cinema,  fashion  and  art  photography.  Fashion   sometimes  takes  the  form  of  specific  catwalk  references  and  sometimes  even  the  use  of   supermodels,  as  by  George  Michael  in  both  ‘Father  Figure’(Morahan/Michael  1988)  and   ‘Freedom’  (Fincher  1990).  Probably  the  most  memorable  example  of  reference  to  fashion   photography  is  Robert  Palmer’s  ‘Addicted  to  Love’  (Donovan  1986),  parodied  many  times  for   its  use  of  mannequin  style  females  in  the  band  fronted  by  a  besuited  Palmer.  Shania  Twain   copied  it  for  her  ‘Man  I  feel  like  a  woman’  (Paul  Boyd  1999)  and  Tamra  Davis  directed  a  $350   parody  of  it  for  Tone  Loc’s  ‘Wild  Thing’  (1988).     For  the  near  future,  John  Stewart  suspects  that  the  influence  of  video  games  will   predominate  for  the  younger  audience  with  the  more  plasticised  look  of  characters   emerging  (as  seen  for  example  in  Robbie  Williams’  ‘Let  Love  be  your  Energy’  dir.  Olly  Reed   2001  and  The  Red  Hot  Chilli  Peppers  ‘Californication’  dir.Jonathan  Dayton  and  Valerie  Faris   2000)     His  description  of  the  music  video  “incorporating,  raiding  and  reconstructing”  is  essentially   the  essence  of  intertextuality,  using  something  with  which  the  audience  may  be  familiar  to   generate  both  potentially  nostalgic  associations  and  new  meanings.  It  is  perhaps  more   explicitly  evident  in  the  music  video  than  in  any  other  media  form,  with  the  possible  
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