Following the release of two cutting-edge productions by two of music’s biggest stars, Devon Bianchi asks whether we are entering a new era in the history of the music video.
This week saw two monumental developments occur in the history of the music video, as both Pharrell Williams and Bob Dylan both released new, interactive versions of the medium onto the web. But does the fact that two of the music industry’s biggest icons have jumped onto a newly-emerging technological bandwagon mean that we are entering a new age of the interactive music video? Or will music lovers always have an affinity for the straightforward viewing experience that is engendered by a single click on YouTube?
The interactive music video – a video in which the viewer has some degree of control over the trajectory of events – is not, by any means, a new concept. Arcade Fire, for example, have consistently pioneered the digital medium, creating several promotional videos coinciding with album releases. The Wilderness Downtown is an interactive, digital experience that is individually tailored to the viewer, taking them on a nostalgic trip down memory lane as they watch images of their hometown set to a musical backdrop of the band’s track, ‘We Used To Wait’. Granted, it may be straightforward to simply click onto Google Street View and bring up a wealth of images of streets that are of emotional relevance to you, but there is something rather magical about them appearing in a video made by your favourite band.
But what is the purpose of such videos? Are they created in the hope of attracting new additions to current fan bases by appealing to today’s egocentric, ‘me me me’ cyber culture of self-absorption, self-righteousness and the strong desire to be ‘different’? Or are they made as a gift to the fans by delivering a personal, individual experience that creates a direct artist-fan connection?
It is unlikely that Bob Dylan is searching for more potential fans to recruit for his loyal community. However, releasing a video for his 1965 hit, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, which allows viewers to surf through 16 different ‘TV channels’, each of which display a different host of characters lip-syncing to the lyrics of the song, makes a statement that Dylan is still at the forefront of musical advancement and remains culturally relevant, even after more than 50 years in the industry.
Likewise, Pharrell Williams, by releasing a 24 hour video for his track, ‘Happy’ – which involves a large cast (and several celebrity cameos) dancing to the four-minute song on a loop for a full day in various locations – has ended 2013 with another roaring success. By inviting viewers to ‘share’ any of the 1440 minutes of the video with their friends or followers, Williams has cleverly utilised the powerful platform of social networking sites to show the music industry who’s boss.
On the flip side, attempting to engage with technology can have a detrimental effect if it is not perfectly executed. For example, Beck’s 360-Degree interactive video of his version of David Bowie’s ‘Sound and Vision’ takes an astonishing 20 minutes to load in high definition (and is like an enigma when it finally does). This is undoubtedly a step in the wrong direction when the idea of everything being at one’s fingertips at ultra high speed is the modern American dream.
We can analyse and deliberate all we like but, all things considered, the success of a music video is unquestionably relative to the fame and popularity of the artist rather than how innovate and exciting it is. Arcade Fire, who despite being a hugely successful band in their own right, do not fit the conventional criteria for mega-stardom, whereas global pop superstar Justin Bieber, who has over 47 million Twitter followers and who owns a share in the heart of almost every teenage girl on the planet, has hitherto achieved almost one billion YouTube views of his video for bog standard pop tune ‘Baby’.
Whether the interactive music video is an ephemeral craze whose lifespan will prove similar to fads such as Farmville, Candy Crush and planking or if this is just the start of a revolutionary new way of enjoying and connecting with the music we love remains to be seen. However, we do know one thing for certain: if all else fails, employing a South Korean musician to do a silly dance is a sure-fire way of getting people to watch your video.