When I ask my friends if they have seen a particular music video, the most common response is “I don’t really watch music videos.” But why? I am constantly sending them videos they NEED to see. I rave about the video and crave a meaningful discussion, but they are always less interested than I am. Personally, I can’t get enough. I could watch music videos all day and never get bored. Not only are music videos entertaining to watch, but the great music videos also hold the power to change perspectives and tell a much-needed story.
The Power to Change Perspectives
A music video’s power begins with the song. I like to think a song and a song’s video have a dynamic relationship. After all, the best kind of relationships are dynamic. Dynamic relationships allow for change and growth so that both parties involved can reach their full potential. With that being said, let’s break this down.
For starters, songs are always changing. On the surface, the words of a song don’t change. But, the meaning and interpretation of those words are constantly deviating. Think about it:
Have you ever listened to a song thinking it was about one thing and later discovered the artist wrote the song about something totally different? Have your friend and you ever reacted differently to a song’s lyrics? Has the meaning of a particular song changed for you over time?
Ultimately, music and lyrics are meant to be interpreted. When we listen to music, we typically think about how the song relates to our own life experiences and personal perspectives. It is only natural that our interpretations of lyrics are different from others because we all experience life differently.
Music’s visual art form, music videos, have the power to enhance the growth of a song. Bringing a song to life in the form of visual art can allow viewers to hear a song from a different perspective. For example, when I first listened to the song “Happier” by Marshmello and Bastille, I heard a song about a romantic heartbreak. One lover was unhappy in the relationship so the partner was deciding to let them go to allow for their lover’s happiness.
On the other hand, the music video for this song allowed me to hear the song from 3 more perspectives.
(1) Viewers see a Father gifting his daughter — who I will call Yellow– with a puppy in hopes of making her happier. Therefore, we are hearing the song from the first perspective — the Father’s. (2) As the video progresses, we follow the bond between the Dog and Yellow. Now, we are hearing the song from a different perspective — the Dog’s. The dog wants to make the daughter happier and succeeds. (3) As time progresses, Dog’s health deteriorates and we hear the song from yet another perspective — Yellow’s. We see a sad mood change in Dog due to his health problems. Now, because Dog is sad, Yellow wants to make Dog happier. To make Dog happier, Yellow must let Dog go and she does. However, the video doesn’t end. Instead, the perspectives reset. (1) We now see Yellow as an adult, and the same Father gifting the new daughter, Red, with a Puppy. (2) Seeing Red happy with Puppy makes Yellow happy again. As a sweet final touch, the music video ends by showing us viewers 2 pictures — Yellow with Dog and Red with Puppy.
In my opinion, the 3 new perspectives presented by the video are teaching us an important lesson:
sometimes we need to let go of someone we love who makes us happy in order to make them happy. And even though we let that love go, the memories and feelings of love stay with us.
Ultimately, the song without the video taught me the same lesson about love. However, when paired with this music video, my perspectives grew making the song all the more powerful. Without the music video, I would still only be hearing the song from 1 perspective compared to the 4 I hear now. And THAT is the power of a well-made music video…boom.
The Power of Great Story-Telling
A song and music video do not magically form a great dynamic relationship. And every music video out there today may not enhance its respective song. One key factor enhances this relationship: the power of great story-telling.
Think of a great story-telling music video right now (“Happier” by Marshmello and Bastille counts again — absolutely incredible) and answer these questions with me. Are forms of imagery and symbolism used? Check. Is there character development? Check. Is there a climax to the story? Check. Are you left wanting more? Check. Each of these factors are not only included in your chosen music video, but also within every great story ever told — whether a novel, movie, or otherwise.
This is the most awe-inspiring and miraculous aspect of the music video industry. The creators of a great music video are able to tell a dynamic story from start to finish in 3 to 5 minutes, which covers the average length of songs today. I have watched full movies which are 2 hours long that fail at providing the dynamic story a music video can.
Every great story bears emotional range. From heartbreak to happiness and so much in between, every great story makes us feel some type of emotion. And the really great stories make us feel several. When I think of really great story-telling in a music video that feeds me a range of emotions (other than “Happier”), I think of “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
This video takes me on a rollercoaster of emotions. I go from happy to conflicted to thrilled to heartbroken to ecstatic to content, all while being completely awe-inspired. Watching this story unfold as the song played and seeing the pure representation of an entire community thrive on screen was exactly what I needed. This was because at the time I watched this video in 2012, I was a closeted gay. The power of this story inspired me to live in my truth and accept my sexuality, and quite literally changed my life. And THAT is a living example of the power of telling a great, socially-needed story within a music video.
Not only did this music video change my life personally, but its story opened the minds of many around the world. It brought an under-represented community in the media to the forefront while ringing in over 200 million views at a time when the story needed to be told most. The video was made in support of civil rights and the national attempts to legalize marriage equality. On Macklemore LLC’s Youtube channel, the video’s description states,
“we support civil rights, and hope WA State voters will APPROVE REF 74 and legalize marriage equality…”
Pairing this particular story with this particular song serves a monumental purpose: to support an entire community of people around the world. The story enhanced the song and the song enhanced the story — the perfect dynamic relationship.
Undeniable, Yet Under-Appreciated
Unfortunately, not every song is paired with great music video. However, the great music videos that do exist enhance the particular song by producing an impeccable story open for dynamic, personal, and sometimes even social interpretation. This elite group of visual art has the power to change people’s perspectives while providing raw entertainment in less than 5 minutes. Because of the various and efficient ways a great music video can enhance a song, music videos stand as an undeniable visual art form that I don’t believe receives the credit it deserves. And for that reason, I will continue sending my less-than-appreciative friends great music videos in hopes that they will begin to appreciate a great music video’s undeniable power.
[Marshmello]. (2018, September 24). Happier (Official Music Video) [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7Bc3pLyij0
[Macklemore, LLC]. (2012, October 2). SAME LOVE feat. MARY LAMBERT (OFFICIAL VIDEO) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlVBg7_08n0
MORE TO COME
If you can’t already tell, I really really really really love music videos. My plan is to dive deeper into the music video industry. Some hopes and dreams for discussions:
- appreciate more incredible aspects of music videos
- analyze some of the best music videos of all-time, and the worst
- break down the changes in the music video industry over time
- artistic approaches vs. promotional approaches to videos
- categorize and provide music videos based on the global story being told (ex. addiction, war, death, heartbreak, etc.)
- (ultimately) constantly provide examples of more great music videos across all genres of music
The possibilities for discussions are truly endless. Can’t wait to share more, hope you enjoy.