Remember back in the day when MTV would still give the illusion that they played music videos? Yeah, me neither, but at least at one point they did show these things called music videos and for a brief second they were in fact seen as a new and cool art form that were also the launch pads for many of our modern day filmmakers’ careers (most notably Spike Jonze and David Fincher).
When people hear the song Buddy Holly by Weezer they automatically think of the inspired video done by Jonze featuring the band playing at Arnolds, the famous diner from the hit 70’s show Happy Days. Every time Nine Inch Nails play their hit song Closer at their live shows they have director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) to thank for creating the eerie music video that accompanies the song. The video features, among other things, a monkey being crucified and a pigs head being spun around in circles on a spike. Neither of these songs would have been as popular if they didn’t have some truly inspired images that accompanied them. It is with a heavy heart that I must officially declare the music video a dead art form that does not appear to be resurrected any time soon.
The question then becomes: who is to blame for this sudden decline in the popularity of the music video? The obvious answer would be MTV and their slow decline into the abomination that is reality television, but to put the blame squarely on them would be a little closed minded on my part. The fact is that we as music fans are just as much to blame for the death of the music video as MTV is.
The music video used to be one of the three major ways in which we found out about the cool new song by our favorite bands, the other two being radio and going over to a friends house so he or she can let you hear the new CD that has changed their life. When the concept of being able to go online and download an entire album without having to pay for it changed the game forever. It cuts out the middle man of giving people a sample of what kind of songs appear on an album, when you can go on and download whole albums and just pick and choose which songs you would like to keep. While this does have its advantages it also causes our patience for other forms of music marketing to deplete because we stop seeing the point in music companies trying to sell us something we can get for free. The negative ramifications that are brought on by this phenomenon thus become obvious. It has killed an entire art form which has given pop culture some of its most enduring icons.
Most people do not know anything about the people who direct music videos even though they are some of the most talented artists to come out of the late eighties, nineties and on into the early part of the twenty-first century. They are people like Michel Gondry, who would go on to direct Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind the best film of 2004. A couple of his most famous videos were for the White Stripes’ Fell in Love with a Girl, where we get to see Jack and Meg animated as Legos, and the Foo Fighters’ Everlong, which features Dave Grohl moving in and out of bizarre dreams where his hand grows to the size of a car and has to deal with a giant ringing telephone. Without cutting his teeth on music videos Gondry would never have developed the skills that made Eternal Sunshine such a creative movie in the first place. His videos were like short films in the first place, so his talent was already at a high peak when he first started creating things. Luckily there are now DVDs available that feature the works of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and Mark Romanek, among others, so at least the art form will live on in memories.
The saddest irony of all is that there really is no reason for the music video to die off. There are still visual artists out in the world who are looking for jobs and can create beautiful images that can be set to music. Music still needs to be sold and marketed, even if the marketing is radically different from what it used to be ten years ago. Hopefully there will be a turn around in this trend and we will once again be bombarded with images of Christopher Walken dancing around an empty hotel building.