The End of Music Videos As We Know It

09/10/2010

I don’t usually pay any attention to music videos anymore. I used to run home from school so I could catch the entire TRL Top 10 but those days are thankfully long, long gone (RIP TRL). Occasionally something like Jay-Z’s “On To The Next One” comes around and I’ll watch that a few times until I get sick of Swizz Beatz acting ridiculous. But the majority of the videos I see by happenstance are so generic that they scarcely deserve mention or a minute of my time. Almost thirty years since MTV debuted the four minute video, it seems to have become a really lame parody of its former self. Long gone are the days of TooL making interesting, if somewhat incoherent, six minute movies about whatever weird thing had Maynard’s attention:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhjG47gtMCo[/youtube]

It seems like directors and artists have stopped trying altogether. Was “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” really the hottest video of all time or even of the last year? Imma let you finish Kanye, but no it wasn’t, not by a long shot. This has more or less been my position on music videos since I was about 15. Having recently seen both “The Wilderness Downtown,” an interactive web experience set to and inspired by Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait,” and Das Racist’s video/game for “Who’s That Brooown,” I think the era of the 2D music video where one passively engages a screen is becoming dated and is destined to be surpassed by the malleable wonders of the internet. If you have remotely paid any attention to MTV’s daily programming, you realize they came to this conclusion ten years ago and adjusted accordingly.

MTV's major cultural export.

The internet might be putting a serious dent in the music industry’s collective wallet, but it has given musicians and artists a whole new platform on which to collaborate and innovate. The aforementioned Das Racist and Arcade Fire video experiences, mixtures of flash, HTML and classic video work blend the finest aspects of the internet with the classic form of the video narrative. Given the way things go viral these days and how few people over the age of 18 watch anything on MTV besides Jersey Shore, creating original internet ready content seems like a more effective, less expensive way to get the word out. It would seem that Das Racist, who continues to offer Shut Up, Dude for free on the internet, has taken this approach to heart. I doubt their video and videogame for “Who’s That Brooown” cost much to make. It’s strength is in the wry, goofy wit that defines Das Racist’s lyrics and sound in general. Production value, in this case, has far more to do with originality than anything else. The result is a crass, ingenious mix of The Beastie Boys, Gawker, Hipster Runoff and Contra. It’s pure, hilarious pastiche that pretty accurately describes what these dudes are about.

Nintendo FTW, bro!

Arcade Fire: “Suburbs
[audio: https://sites.google.com/site/sfcritic7/sfcritic/ArcadeFireTheSuburbs.mp3]

Ostensibly, “The Wilderness Downtown” has little in common with the “Who’s that Brooown” video(game). But, like Das Racist, Arcade Fire seem to have a keen sense of the moment and their place in it. Sometimes, as on Neon Bible, it can cause them to overreach but, at their best, Arcade Fire articulates a certain sensibility that Chris Milk’s visual contributions to “The Wilderness Downtown” harness and amplify, giving an added quality to the atmospherics already rendered musically. In a way, that’s the case with Das Racist as well. These interactive multimedia build on ideas each group has already spent considerable time refining. Each becomes a natural extension of what its like to listen to their album or go to a concert. The way they managed to include the participant’s own experience was a brilliant twist that takes advantage of the role computers now play in our daily lives to further envelope us in their world. Like opposite ends of the same phenomena, I can imagine the hooded figure from “The Wilderness Downtown” running away to Brooklyn, where he is likely to encounter the vapid characters the boys from Das Racist dispatch on the hunt for their hypeman. This connection to the real makes each piece all the more trenchant. With interactive televisions that have features formerly reserved for computers a new era of interactive audiovisual content may take over and reinvent what has become a tired medium. I can’t wait.