Publication Date

April 2018


Anthony Scott, Scott Higgins


Film Studies


English (United States)


What makes a music video, a music video? What separates the medium from musicals, short films with songs, visual art installations, or straight-up commercials? Even as they become increasingly more cinematic, what keeps music videos on the level of ?low art?? Originating as straightforward promotional material, music videos have mixed and mingled with various other media throughout their decades-long history. In the Ed Sullivan Show years, the Beatles would submit videos of themselves performing their songs as a stand-in for actually being onstage. 1975?s ?Bohemian Rhapsody? is widely considered to be the first true ?music video,? but not until the rise of MTV and the influence of pop monarchs like Michael Jackson and Madonna were music videos seen as a form of artistic expression. Even as MTV declined, former music video directors such as David Fincher and Spike Jonze went on to make critically acclaimed feature films, and the medium found a new life through YouTube and online streaming services. Even as artists like Beyonc? are revitalizing and redefining the format through feature-length ?visual albums,? music videos are still largely considered a commercial enterprise and nothing more. But the two aren?t necessarily mutually exclusive. Drake?s video for ?Hotline Bling? demonstrated that the methods in which cultural artifacts spread and proliferate could be a form of art separate from the artifact itself; the millions of memes and Vines in the wake of ?Hotline Bling? have taken on a life of their own. The director-driven works of the 1990s, directed by auteurs such as Michel Gondry and Mark Romanek, have proven successful, entertaining, and provocative in the long run, demonstrating what this unusual medium can do that feature-length films cannot. Through historical, cultural, and visual analysis, I will explore the art and evolution of the music video. Based in temporality and cultural zeitgeists of the current moment, music videos have been unable to transcend their corporate, commercial tie-ins and achieve the same level of respect as film or, to a certain extent, television. However, it is this temporal, emotional pure quality of music videos that also makes them intrinsically valuable for cultural critics.



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