Wednesday, January 12

Pulling Rabbits: The Music Videos of 2010

2010 saw some very interesting music videos. This is not a rundown of the best of those, but an analysis of three of the more interesting ones.


We all know the song. It's not particularly remarkable, but it's a catchy and danceable tune that comes by on the radio now and again. I can say it's really my style, but everyone can sing along with it and it's far less obnoxious then most top-40 songs nowadays. But then there's the video:

What the fuck?

The "mainstream" has gone completely bonkers over the last few years, and this is a perfect example of that. The video has been compared with Stanley Kubricks work, and I can see why. So what, you might ask? Well, it's Stanley Kubrick. His movies were some of the most innovative and controversial of their day, and they still polarize cinephiles. Truly an renegade. And now a world famous singer has a video based on his work? And it has gotten over 300 million views? I have honestly no idea what this could mean.  Is this a blend of high and low culture? A sign that there isn't a "safe and wholesome norm" anymore? Whatever it is, it's certainly something different then just a video of a pretty chick playing a song,


(I didn't embed this video because watching it in low quality completely destroys the effect. Click the link and watch it in HD.)

The music is this short is from Wests new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He made quite a comeback with that album: after being called a jackass by no other then the president of the United States, Fantasy is now being called "the Sgt. Peppers of hip-hop" and "the best album in 10 years" by critics. It's pretty good, 's what I'm saying. But it's doesn't stand on it's own.

Kanye West is someone everyone has an opinion of: some people think he's a complete douchebag, some people think he's a musical genius, some people think both, and one person appears to thinks that he's the voice of our generation. That person is Kanye West himself. The funny thing, however, is that he's aware of the fact that many people hate him. He explicitly talks about it on the album, both defending himself and apologizing. And the video is an extension of the music. Everything is connected to each other: the video, the music, his public image, his image of himself. Everything is commenting and the other things, making them inseparably connected.

The film itself is also quite a on oddity. It's kitschy, over-the-top and generally just in bad taste. Yet somehow, West manages to make this strengths instead of weaknesses. The cinematography and the set design are both ridiculously pretty, but it's used for an aesthetic that I've never seen before. It's like a mix between high art and a hip-hop sensibility. Mixing visual art and music have been done before, of course. Just look at Pink Floyd's The Wall or R.E.M.'s Losing My Religion. But this is the first time I've seen it done with other music then rock. This might just be the first video of it's kind. A hip-hop opera, if you will.


(Because this is an interactive video, I cannot embed it. You can find it here:

The Arcade Fire released the other record-of-the-year in 2010: The Suburbs. It draws on the memories that frontman Win Butler has of his youth in the suburbs in Houston. He has stated that the album doesn't try to glorify or condemn suburbia, but rather "[write] a letter from the suburbs".

The music video, set to the song "We Used to Wait", connects with this sentiment in a very unique but very effective way. When you go to that website, enter the address and press "play", your browser basically explodes. Windows pop up faster then you can manage to organize them, and they disappear just as fast and unexpected. The effect is rather unsettling. You lose control over that one place in the world that you have absolute, totalitarian control over: your computer. Even if it's only for a moment, you feel powerless.

I think this is where the music and the video meet. The music has a sense of remembrance over it about our childhood, and the video makes us feel like a child again. Powerless against the constant onslaught of new impressions that the world is at a certain age. It's a sense of hopelessness that will be instantly familiar.

What turned most heads about the project, however, was it's personalization. Before the video starts, you have to enter the address of the street you grew up in. Images and streetviews from Google Maps are then used in the video. It might sound a bit silly, but it really works. The video becomes about you, the viewer, instead of about the band. Quite the departure from the usual egotrip that is a music video.

The thing that unites these things seems to be it's medium of distribution: the internet. The Arcade Fire's video makes use of it in the most obvious way, but I get the sense that the other two also have a sensibility that people will watch it on the internet. It doesn't really matter if you watch away for a moment from Bad Romance, and Runaway knows that you can stop watching it any second and does everything to keep this from happening. The ways the internet is used (and not used) are really starting to come alive in this videos, making them much more vibrant then they used to be. I have no idea what 2011 will hold in store, but it sure as hell is going to be interesting.


I think that's enough music for today.

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