Game Changing Music Videos
When an artist does something exciting or original with their music videos, in my opinion their creative integrity increases. Of course, a brilliant song can exist without a video - and many do. But most of the artists listed have compelling creative influences for their videos, and defined a new medium of supplementing powerful music with captivating visuals. A narrative that sheds new light on the meaning of the song often accompanies this.
OK GO – This Too Shall Pass
Possibly the forerunners of insanely cool music videos, OK GO are renowned for their This Too Shall Pass video. It took months of preparation, over 50 crewmembers, and a vast amount of creative genius. They worked with a group of engineers to design a huge Rube Goldberg machine that performs a series of weird and wonderful actions over the course of the track, in perfect time with the music. The video is a single shot, and took over 60 takes before it was perfectly captured.
M.I.A – Borders
No stranger to thought-provoking creative decisions, M.I.A.’s 2016 comeback ignited with her controversial video for single Borders. The video was shot in India and comments on the refugee crisis, finding particular poignancy in light of M.I.A.’s own background as a refugee from Sri Lanka when she was a young girl. The video sees masses of people marching, chanting, running and climbing, using the quantity of imprisoned human bodies to make a statement about liberty and equality.
FKA twigs – Video Girl
Although this song according to twigs is about her being recognised from a Jessie J music video before she launched her own career as a solo artist, the video tells a much darker story. FKA twigs is known to write, produce and be thoroughly creatively invested in both her songs and her videos, and her choreography in this is spellbinding. The narrative implies some kind of dark connection between twigs and a man about to be executed by lethal injection. The video is both captivating and harrowing, conveying perfectly the song’s dark, twisted energy.
Beyoncé - Lemonade
One of the most revolutionary visual albums in history, it was hard to pick just one track from this album. Lemonade engulfed Western popular culture in a dialogue about so many important issues. Indeed, it was so influential that people can now study a course in it at a Texas university! The film accompanying the album is divided into eleven acts, incorporating poetry and prose by various writers, particularly women of colour. It features segments honouring the mothers of the Black Lives Matter movement and very personal home video footage of Beyoncé’s family, as well as very abstract sequences unusual for a pop music video. The album has won countless awards and more importantly, raised the standard for music videos as a medium.
Solange – Cranes in the Sky
Creative auteurship clearly runs in the family – Solange’s A Seat at the Table celebrates and discusses blackness and womanhood in a way that – in Solange’s own words – ‘represent[s] black sisterhood, strength, pride and elevate[s] the black man and all his beauty and glory’. The video for Cranes in the Sky was shot in 9 different cities in the US, the contrasting landscapes reflecting the album’s celebration of diversity. Solange sits still within the frame, sometimes alone, sometimes surrounded by groups of women. This video is so beautifully artistic, using shape, movement and space in a mesmerising way. It by no means trembled in the shadow of Lemonade.
Arcade Fire – We Exist
Arcade Fire’s 2014 video for We Exist stars Andrew Garfield as a transgender woman struggling to find identity and acceptance. While the video was highly controversial for casting a cisgender actor in a trans role, the director – David Wilson – defended his casting choice based on Garfield’s enthusiasm for both the song and the video project, and with the fact that trans artist Lady J coached Garfield for the role. We Exist, visually and musically epitomises Arcade Fire’s manifesto of accepting diversity and rejecting the pressure to fit the mould.
björk – mouth mantra
One of the most avant garde music videos I’ve ever seen comes unsurprisingly from one of the most avant garde artists in history: Björk. Mouth Mantra was a 360° video shot on 12 cameras inside an intricate 4-foot model of Björk’s mouth as she sings the song. The mind-bending visuals are shockingly intimate and create an atmosphere of both terror and ecstasy, along with the song itself. Premiered at Björk’s virtual reality exhibition showcasing many of her revolutionary videos from this album, the video is an intense and emotional sensory overload.
Back in 1987, U2 were at the height of their career prior to the launch of their album, The Joshua Tree. Instead of conventionally promoting their album in a stadium gig or on a late night talk show, the band performed their single, Where the Streets Have No Name, on top of a one storey liquor store on the corner of 7th and Main in downtown LA, a poor area where the streets literally have no name. The filming of the performance attracted over 1,000 people (causing an attempt by the police to shut down the filming) and demonstrates the band’s commitment to the spirit of the song in making their performing accessible to those who would otherwise have never got the opportunity to see them live.
Grimes – Oblivion
Grimes is known as a hugely creative individual, in her fashion, art and heavy involvement in the production of her music. Her music videos are no exception. The Oblivion video was made on next-to-no budget, parodying the classic performative pop video by showing Grimes dancing and singing in a packed football stadium, confusing onlookers. The juxtaposition of the song’s lyrics, which tell the story of sexual assault, with the predominantly male football audience, is powerful. Yet Grimes’ characteristic energetic bobbing gives it an upbeat euphoria, capturing the song’s attempt to portray a similar contrast.
Drake - God’s Plan
A recent Drake scandal that made headlines for more wholesome reasons than usual was the release of the video for God’s Plan. He was given almost a million dollars by his label to make what probably would have been a stereotypical rap video, full of cars and drugs and expensive houses. Instead, in collaboration with director Karena Evans, Drake gave all the film budget away to citizens of Miami who were in need of financial support, and shot a simple, low-budget video which showed him gleefully dancing around the city, donating. While some criticised the video as a basic PR stunt that feeds the materialistic mantra ‘money makes the world go round’, I think the video shows Drake’s sincere wishes to help people. Importantly, it appears that his production team did research those in the city who truly needed help, such as young single mothers and students unable to afford college tuition, as well as giving to the general institutions like the fire department and state-run schools. The goofy dancing that he graces many of his videos with is not absent from the God’s Plan video, giving his persona even more charm and humility. While the video can’t exactly be called a major humanitarian movement, it did temporarily change the lives of those it affected, and is enough to put a smile on the face on even the most cynical viewers.