Music Videos as an Artistic Platform

By Lilly Ball

In an era when viral videos rule the internet, musicians face growing competition when it comes to winning over viewers. A 10 second clip of a dancing animal can be shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media and still be entertaining, but a five minute music video of a pop star gyrating is nothing noteworthy anymore. While sensationalism like OK Go’s bright colors and quirky dance moves garner a degree of YouTube fame, some artists dare to create visual, as well as musical, art.

When Beyonce released a visual companion to her sixth album, “Lemonade,” in April, the music industry was shaken to its very core. Amongst a slew of cookie cutter music videos, the queen had made a statement, one both political and artistic, boldly establishing herself as a performer of no bounds. By incorporating pop culture and relevant political issues, Beyonce’s visual album made its way from platform to platform, sparking a heated discussion in the process. Articles were frantically written and links shared, skyrocketing the videos into a league of their own. Each boasting a storyline and cinematography usually only dedicated to film, Beyonce’s music videos are more of an experience than a casual YouTube view.

Following this cinematic, aesthetic-driven trend, Bastille has become notorious for strange and slightly discomforting music videos that lack direct connection to their songs. Each of their videos deliver a disturbing and mildly convoluted message on the current state of society — well, at least they can be interpreted as such.
On the other end of the spectrum, artists like Fergie embrace the popular philosophy of the slogan: “sex sells.” With her flamboyant video for “M.I.L.F.$,” the 41-year-old songstress danced with other celebrity mothers in barely-there outfits, and while they look great, the visuals succeed only at shock value. Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande and Zara Larsson all employ similar tactics, failing to break free from their “sexy popstar” mold.

In a realm entirely of his own is Porter Robinson, a DJ who shocked fans with his music video for “Shelter.” Similar to the animation and style of Studio Ghibli films, the video for “Shelter” is entirely animated and introduces viewers to 17-year-old Rin, a pink-haired girl who lives within a virtual reality. Rin’s story is more like a short film, evoking a large amount of emotion in a six minute video. Though this concept has already been introduced by Daft Punk and The Gorillaz, Robinson has perfected it by combining both modern anime and storytelling techniques.

“Shelter” transcends the limits previously set for music videos by establishing itself as a favorite among both anime and music fans, even prompting viewers to cosplay and create fan art based on its main character. While it is unclear if this style is a one time thing for Robinson, it certainly allowed him to become known outside his fan base, with the video being popular on several anime viewing websites.

However, one of the biggest tracks of the year, “Closer” by The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey, featured no eye catching visuals other than some steamy intersecting scenes of Halsey and Chainsmoker member Andrew Taggart nearly making out. Still, the video has over one hundred million views, proving that a catchy beat and repetitive lyrics are more than enough to garner attention.

Usually lacking a blockbuster budget and ticket purchasing audiences, artists’ creativity is stunted by lack of resources. Their videos will not be displayed on 30 foot screens, but rather on smartphones and laptops. Music videos are hardly respected as an art form, with their highest award being an MTV Moonman, yet we expect excellency with each release. Despite the dedication of some artists to both their craft and the entertainment of their fans, music videos remain a largely underappreciated medium with a lot of potential and relative unpredicatability of what will go viral.