The other night, I was in a bar trying not to vomit from the ear pounding bass in the room. As I stumbled casually towards some seats something caught my eye, something I can only describe as a mesmerizing mess of absurd images interspersed with tall blonde beauties sent from outer space. In reality it was just a ‘trashy’ music video, so I sat down and carried on my night as usual. The next day however, all I could remember was that video, so much so that I lost a day searching for it. I trawled the Internet for hours, I phoned all my friends, I searched high and low for a music video set in the dessert, with dancers on top of a big trucks and a playground swing set on fire. At this point I thought I had suffered a stroke. As the day went on I found out it was Iggy Azalea’s ‘Work’, that had enveloped my hung-over mind.
Music videos rarely tell stories, and they aren’t really supposed to, they are supposed to be marketing tools. They are a way to present the artist in manner that conveys their ethos or the label’s ethos (in most cases). They are a way to forge an emotional connection with you, the audience, in the hope that you consume them until the end of time. That night at the bar made me realise how music videos have changed over the years.
Not so long ago, music videos used to be about the artist summing up all the passion in their music and sharing the gift of rock stardom with you the fan; vicariously ‘rocking’ with the band if you will. Seems simple enough.
As the industry progressed, the ‘video’ became about tapping into generational aspirations, channeling your wildest dreams into a 4:3 aspect ratio: showing you exactly what happens if you ‘hit it big’. Fair enough, Rock stars love to show off and we love to watch them.
Now music videos have become something more complex. In an effort to reach the youth of today the ‘music video’ has become a mess of cultural and psychological stimuli.
Iggy Azalea’s 2011 song ‘My World’ sounds harmless enough. Standard catchy, hip-hop song, ear warping bass, auto-tuned air-raid alarm claxon melodies, all pretty normal here. But the video, that’s a whole other story. In an effort to communicate with ‘us’, the video rockets hundreds of these visual ‘buzz words’ into our living rooms. Successions of graffiti, reversed footage, neon-paint cascading from the walls; cheerleader’s sporting ‘drugs’ logos across their uniforms, a leaf blower billowing smoke across the screen; close ups of women in hot pants, Voodoo skeletons in limo’s flipping you off; all in under 3 and ½ minutes to the tune of, ‘Cotton Candy laced in Gold/ V.I.P. it, Overload. Everything a post-modern culture needs, excess.
Oddly enough the video makes a convoluted sense. Maddening visions of ‘women stretched out on cars’ and ‘cheerleaders with baseball bats’ seems quite normal in this ‘fem-rapper’ video. The bold pastiches of culture are so deliberate that they seem absolutely commonplace. In fact the notion that this video is all very staged becomes the main point of reference that we connect with.
Playing on the ideas of screen conventions is nothing knew. Filmmakers in every avenue have been blurring the fourth wall for years; even music video ‘conventions’ are established enough to be played with. In Azalea’s ‘My World’, the smoke machine in shot makes us aware of its presence as a prop in a music video; the Doberman barking in close up, as a trope of the ‘rap video’ informs us of Azalea’s stature; the fluffy gold candy… well everyone wants gold candy, right? These are the visuals cues that we as an audience take for granted. We understand them, are thrilled by them and are reminded of them every time we hear the song.
Over the last 10 years the speed at which such advertisements have become normalised is really unsettling. The hyper-real music videos of today are self-referential dreamscapes, refined to a science, shot out of a canon, molded to sell you music. What do the music industry think we want then, to aspire to have a music label willing to shill out for the expenses of all this anarchy? Maybe.
Or more worryingly, maybe our minds are the problem. We are so routed in these images that they become a point of generational convention. These music videos embody a culture that demands instant gratification. A culture locked in to aspirations to live in sparse moments of utter gluttony.
As I sat there memorized by my 50th viewing, I still couldn’t tell you what the song was about or even what the tune was. After this maddening display of excess, I felt dizzy and simply vomited on the table. Blame the hangover or blame the video, who knows? Maybe I had caught a virus?
Written by Matthew Iredale