The Impact of Music Videos on Pop Culture
by Jasleen Munsalud
It comes as no surprise that a song that climbed to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 and broke single-day streaming records on Spotify would also receive hype for its music video. Ariana Grande released a music video for her latest single, “thank u, next” on Nov. 30. In her long-awaited video, she draws inspiration from four iconic movies of the early 2000s: “Bring It On,” “13 Going on 30,” “Legally Blonde,” and “Mean Girls.” Full of cameos from celebrities, including Kris Jenner and Troye Sivan, and colorful visuals inspired by scenes from each female-empowering movie, Grande’s video did not disappoint. In just 24 hours, the video amassed over 50 million views on YouTube, breaking the Vevo view-count record previously set by K-pop boy band BTS with their music video, “Idol.” It also broke a YouTube record: the video accumulated more views than any other YouTube video in 24 hours.
The music video for “thank u, next” is just one of many music videos that Grande has put out this year. Other music videos that she has put out are for the songs, “no tears left to cry,” “God is a woman,” “breathin,” and “the light is coming.” Each one contains stunning visuals and positive messages of hope and female empowerment, which seem to be Grande’s M.O. recently. Fans have gone ecstatic over all of Grande’s videos, with millions and millions of views on each one.
The popularity of music videos such as the one for “thank u, next” raises a question not many people have asked: how and when did music videos become an important part of pop culture?
The origin of music videos goes back to the 190s, when there were musical “short films” that were created in the 1920s. The Beatles contributed to bringing music videos into the light by showing taped performances on television of their songs, like “Rain” and “Paperback Writer,” in 1966. However, Music Television (MTV), is credited with bringing modern music videos into pop culture in 1981. MTV made music videos popular and successful, airing them on their television channel 24/7. Artists from different genres of music promoted themselves on MTV with clips of themselves performing their song with choreographed dancing and visual imagery that represented the lyrics. Many music videos play out the story that the song seems to be telling, like a boy trying to win the heart of a girl, with the artist doing some acting as well. A song that someone heard on the radio or on the internet can be easily forgotten, but a music video can help keep the song in people’s minds long after it was viewed. People like Michael Jackson and Madonna owe a lot of their success to the publicity that they received from being featured on MTV.
Today, popular music videos are almost exclusively uploaded and watched on the internet, specifically YouTube. People can watch it whenever they want as it is easily accessible right at their fingertips. The fact that it costs nothing to watch them makes them especially appealing.
The ultimate purpose of a music video is to promote the artist and their new song while entertaining the audience. However, many artists today have been using their platform to tell their audience about their opinions on the current climate of the world, whether that be politically or socially. The platforms that celebrities like Grande have can be used to spread a message to millions of people. In the “thank u, next” music video, Grande is seen reading a book titled “Immigration and Reform Law and Policy.” A detail so small that if you blink you might miss it, the addition is a statement nonetheless that speaks volumes contextualized by the events that recently transpired at the U.S.-Mexico border, the migrant caravan igniting immigration debate throughout the country. Grande uses her platform in subtle, clever ways like this, but she also voices her opinions on political and social issues online, usually via Twitter.
Some other popular examples of political or social implications in music videos include Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” video, Shawn Mendes’ “Youth” video with Khalid, and Beyoncé’s “Formation” video. All of these videos have political commentary on the state of America and the world today, discussing topics such as racism, terrorism, and police brutality. Artists are becoming more outspoken and proclaiming their opinions in the best way they feel that they can: in creative form, whether through their lyrics or their music videos.
This raises another important question: should artists have the power to influence their audience politically using their platform? Or should they stick to singing about love and heartbreak? Ultimately, artists have a right to share their views. Politics is not be left to just politicians; citizens have a right to speak what they believe, and oftentimes people forget that celebrities are regular people who are citizens too. Celebrities are exercising their right to freedom of speech.
Music videos can change how people perceive the music itself. Every time they listen to the song afterwards, they will be reminded of the scenes from the music video. The messages music videos, whether political or not, will be linked to the song. These messages can resonate with everyone, with the hope that we, the viewers, can aid in the spread of an important statement and change the world for the better. The power that music and their accompanying music videos have in influencing society is a tool that more and more artists are using. Because of this, music videos have become more than just about the music itself; it’s a chance for entertainers to use their platform and speak against what they believe is right, and it’s up to us on whether we agree with them or not.