Music Television [Part 3: Special Topics in Television Form]

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MTV, the United States' first round-the-clock television service devoted to popular music, went on the air in 1981. The first video broadcast featured a song by the forgettable British band the Buggies, titled "Video Killed the Radio Star." Recalling the Hollywood myth about stars of the silent period who because of their voices could not survive the transition to sound cinema, the title seemed to predict that television would supplant radio as the more important medium to the pop music industry. It suggested that video and the exposure of television might destroy some musical careers.

Changes in the world of pop music occur quickly. Styles and fads regularly appear and fade away. Whether music television has by its form proved detrimental to any popular musician is questionable, but many have certainly benefited. The apparent importance of music television and videos may change as other forms of advertising and promotion or other methods of delivering music to consumers develop. Since MTV went on the air, for example, computers have proliferated as means of communication about popular music and for the exchange of recorded music. The Internet competes with television for the time and attention of young audiences, yet also complements TV. While music television once seemed the young, brash intruder of television, a dedicated channel has existed for a significant portion of the total history of the medium, and music TV has become part of the mainstream.


For the sake of clarity, we should differentiate between music television and music videos. Music television is a general term used to refer to a system through which programming is delivered. Music TV may be a cable or satellite service for which the broadcast material is musical, such as MTV (which stands for Music Television), MTV2, or VH-1 (Video Hits-1) in the United States (or in the countries where the MTV format is licensed), CMT (Country Music Television, which originates in Nashville), or the Canadian English-language MuchMusic and MuchMoreMusic and their French-language counterpart, MusiquePlus, as well as the Canadian version of CMT. Alternately, music television may refer to programs and segments broadcast on television services that are devoted to music, mainly those that program videos. Coinciding with the introduction of MTV, other telecasters introduced programs to compete for viewers interested in pop music; probably the most prominent was NBC's Friday Night Videos (1983 1993), although appetite for music videos on network television diminished, and dedicated programs disappeared. BET (Black Entertainment Television), another cable channel, devotes a considerable portion of its schedule to music videos featuring African-American artists. Individual programs and series, such as the PBS broadcast Austin City Limits (1976-) and the independent Sessions at West 54th (1997-), may also qualify as music television.

Music television arose as a distinctive form at the end of the 1970s, however, as satellite communications and cable television services grew. MTV and com parable services arose alongside other specialized channels, directed at audiences that were more narrowly defined than the mass audiences sought by broadcast networks. Youth was quite clearly MTV's target audience, and popular music was the means to deliver that audience to advertisers.

Popular music has formed part of TV programming since television itself began, but the period of music television marked a shift due to the proliferation of music videos. Music television, a system, offers music videos, a specific form of production, as the mainstay of its programming. A music video is a visual representation of or accompaniment to a song or other musical selection that usually also exists independently as a recording. That the recording is generally available for purchase as a tape or disc underlines the role of the video as pro motion for recorded music. One of the elegant paradoxes of music television is that much of its programming material is also advertising. Videos that record companies provided constituted free advertising for them and free program material for the broadcaster, until MTV was challenged to pay fees comparable to those charged to radio stations for playing music on the air.

Although performers and record companies package music in albums (in whatever tape or disc formats), videos are most often produced for individual songs. The videos themselves may be collected and released for sale or rental on home video, though often as retrospective anthologies of diverse clips.

Music video, a simple term, incorporates two elements that merit brief exploration. For one, in common usage music video and rock video are generally interchangeable. Employing the former term simply suggests that rock is not the only form of music to lend itself to video. Nothing precludes the production and broadcast of videos of any type of music, from heavy metal to grand opera.

In fact, a British term for music video is pop promo, which suggests not only the range of pop music, beyond rock, but also the status of the clip as a promotional tool.

Second, most music videos are not shot on videotape at all, but on film.

Early videos, such as Queen's groundbreaking Bohemian Rhapsody (1975), were shot on tape, but following the example of clips such as Vienna (1980), directed by Russell Mulcahy for Ultravox, more directors used film. A video shot on video for the particular qualities of the electronic image-for example, Stone Temple Pilots' Big Bang Baby (1996) -marks itself as distinctive. The relation of film and videotape in the production of music videos illustrates the trade-offs be tween the two. Film offers an image with higher resolution than standard video, but video presents a vast range of possibilities for manipulating the picture with electronic, computer-controlled visual effects. As a consequence, while the raw image may be made on film, the film image is usually transferred to videotape or digital format for editing. Moreover, because the ultimate destination for most music video is a television set, a video may be completed on tape and never exist as a finished film at all. Some videos have been produced with high-definition television (HDTV) technology, which produces a more detailed image than any previously existing video standard. As HDTV is rolled out into the marketplace, and as more viewers buy high-definition receivers, we can expect to see the results in music television and all other formats.


Music videos and music television can be seen as an amalgamation of parts of the cinema, of radio, and of television. The music video draws from the cinema its defining feature, the synchronization of sound and image of musical performance. As far as the cinema is concerned, that feature goes back to the earliest presentations of sound cinema. The Hollywood feature film that popularized "talking pictures," The Jazz Singer (1927), was also a singing picture. Hollywood musicals are characterized by the alternation of dramatic sequences, which out line a story, and musical sequences in which characters break into song and dance. The musical sequences punctuate the narrative, but they also suggest that the act of performance has value of its own, that singing and dancing have significance. In Hollywood nowadays musicals are rare, apart from animated films, although some videos have modeled themselves on productions of the past. The writhing choreography in Paula Abdul's Cold Hearted (1989) resembles dances Bob Fosse designed for his film All That Jazz (1979), a connection the video makes explicit from the start, when a character calls the number "a Bob Fosse kind of thing." Director Spike Jonze staged Bjork's It's Oh So Quiet (1995) as a full-scale musical production on a sunlit street set (Fig. 10.1), like a Gene Kelly picture of the 1950s or, more precisely, the French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). The method of producing music videos is also essentially the same as that used to produce musical numbers for a film. Filmed musical numbers, whether for feature films or music videos, are usually lip-synced, or sung to playback.

The camera rolls while the existing recording plays over speakers on the set. This allows the performers to sing along with their own voices and move to the beat of the music, knowing that from one take to the next the musical quality will be consistent. On occasion a video may present a song filmed "live," though it is usually a filmed or videotaped record of a concert appearance, made with more than one camera. This, of course, is the case when performances are extracted from MTV Unplugged and aired as videos. Bruce Springsteen's Rosalita (1978), shot with several cameras at a Phoenix, Arizona, concert, is also a good example.

FIGURE 10.1; FIGURE 10.2

By contrast, his Dancing in the Dark (1984), which was supposed to take place at a concert appearance, was actually shot to playback, in part in the middle of a St. Paul, Minnesota, show.

The video takes from the Hollywood musical not only the form of visualized, recorded, musical performance and the methods of realizing it, but also the importance of the properties of musical performance in determining the form.

For instance, musical properties-particularly rhythm and song structure-or physical qualities of the performers may well take precedence over the coherent depiction of space. Probably the best-known examples in classical Hollywood are the Depression-era musicals choreographed or directed by Busby Berkeley, such as 42nd Street (1933) and Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), in which musical sequences arise in the story as stage shows. With vast arrangements of bodies and objects framed at unusual angles (overhead shots of chorus girls organized in circles, like human floral arrangements, were a Berkeley trademark), they would have been impossible to stage, and certainly would have been impossible for a theater audience to see. It's Oh So Quiet, already noted as indebted to the Hollywood musical, features overhead shots of dancers and umbrellas resembling Berkeley's patterns (Fig. 10.2), but such elaborate production numbers are rare in videos.

Spatial incoherence abounds in video, however. From one shot to the next, the musicians may appear in different costumes, different lighting and visual styles, different hairstyles, or totally different locations, yet they continue to appear to be performing the same song, without any corresponding aural changes. In fact, the music video has made such extreme visual discontinuity, married to the aural continuity of the music itself, one of the most characteristic parts of its stylistic stock-in-trade.

If the precedents of music television and music video can be found partly in the Hollywood musical, they can also be found in other forms of movies and television. These include such films as Jazz on a Summer's Day (1959), Monterey Pop (1969), and Woodstock (1970), filmed records of music festivals from the 1950s and 1960s, and celebrity profiles, such as Don't Look Back (1967), about Bob Dylan, and Madonna's Truth or Dare (1991). They have made the filmed representation of pop music and its performers part of the history of documentary film. Avant-garde filmmakers, too, have frequently married innovative combinations of images to music tracks. Bruce Conner's Cosmic Ray, made in black and white in 1961, matches a frenetic arrangement of short fragments of film to a recording of Ray Charles's "What'd I Say?" Using a similar technique, he recombined diverse shots from educational and promotional films to illustrate a recording by Devo in Mongoloid (1978). By way of contrast, Bruce Baillie's All My Life (1966) matches Ella Fitzgerald's recording of the title tune with a single shot, a 3-minute pan and tilt across a fence and a row of flowers under a brilliant blue sky. Music documentaries provide impressions of performers and events, and access to them, to some degree, while the avant-garde films indicate the expressive possibilities in combining images and popular music.

Films such as these were not necessarily produced to promote the per formers and their recordings, and avant-garde productions typically do not depict the performers. Soundies, Scopitones, and Telescriptions did represent the musicians, and were different types of predecessor for music videos and music television. Soundies and Scopitones, produced in the 1940s and 1960s, respectively, were short films of performances by popular musicians that were found in coin-operated machines, like jukeboxes. Telescriptions, produced by Louis Snader in the early 1950s, similarly packaged musical performances on film, marketed to television stations, which used them as filler or in variety shows.

In fact, the earliest format of American Bandstand (1957-87,1989) on television, in 1952 (before Dick Clark and then called simply Bandstand [1952-57]), featured an on-camera announcer who introduced Telescriptions-essentially a version of music television in its present form.

This example suggests that pop music formed part of what television had to offer long before MTV. For many years, variety shows were responsible for introducing the new pop sensations to the broadly based television audience.

Elvis Presley, for example, made his first national U.S. television appearances on Stage Show (1954-56) in 1956, with subsequent dates later that year on The Milton Berle Show (1948-67) and The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-71, see Fig. 4.9). Until its cancellation, the latter program was probably U.S. television's most prominent showcase for pop music, underlined by the successful repackaging of performances in half-hour shows called Ed Sullivan's Rock 'n' Roll Classics (1999-). Television followed the growth of rock culture in the 1960s, even if it did so at a measured pace. U.S. television venues dedicated to pop, with young target audiences, included Shindig (1964-66) and Hullabaloo (1965-66) and, later, The Midnight Special (1973-81) and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert (1973 82), which presented concert performances. The BBC series Top of the Pops (1964-) has been especially significant for fostering and presenting talent to British television viewers.

Among the most appropriate predecessors of contemporary music television were American Bandstand and Soul Train (1971-), both dance party pro grams. Their studios fill with teenagers, who dance to current hit records and act as an audience for guest performers who lip-sync their latest hits. Mouthing a song to the recording as it is played back, rather than actually singing it, the performers also guarantee viewers a flawless vocal performance, the same as the one the viewer can purchase. The dance party shows consequently function as showcases for both performers and recordings. They also serve as direct predecessors for such programs as Electric Circus, a weekly dance-music show staged in MuchMusic's Toronto studio.

Such variety programs acted as one general source for music television, but the other significant marriage of pop music and television preceding the MTV era was the NBC series The Monkees (1966-68). One of the few television programs to dramatize the growth of pop music culture in the 1960s, it was a parody along comic lines established by the Beatles, films, A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965). It combined situation comedy with musical numbers, several of which became chart hits, as it followed the adventures of a pop group.

The initially fictional Monkees, with the exposure of a weekly television series, quickly became an actual hit of the music industry. Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork, the actors who were cast as (and ultimately became) the Monkees, initially lip-synced their own voice tracks, in the manner customary to filmed musical numbers, but played instruments along with tracks that had already been recorded by session musicians. Later, in a widely publicized dispute with record producer Don Kirshner, they won their right to play music themselves, effectively forming themselves as a band, and subsequently played concerts.

The Monkees appealed to young viewers, many likely female, like the audiences so visible for the Beatles' shows (as did the Monkees' rare successors on television, such as The Partridge Family [1970-74], which made a teen idol of David Cassidy). Despite the anarchic slapstick or subversive humor frequently in the show (in one episode, for example, at a perplexing part of the story, Mickey Dolenz broke character and walked through the set to the writers' room for a solution), the situations that The Monkees presented were innocuous. Their music was catchy, rock-oriented pop, but distinctly polished and safe. The in fluence that the series had on music television was as an early example of the creative combination of television and popular music. Television exposed Elvis Presley and the Beatles to mass audiences, but the television industry created the Monkees to be exposed to the medium's broad audience. Incidentally, former Monkee Michael Nesmith was a pioneer producer of music videos, and his work was influential in the design of MTV and its format. Although accounts suggest that there was no love lost between him and the builders of the music television service, MTV paid homage to The Monkees in February 1986, by de voting almost all of one programming day to air 45 episodes of the series. The program has continued to have a presence in contemporary music television. In the 1990s, MuchMusic made The Monkees a weekly broadcast and a staple of its schedule, and in 2000 VH-1 produced Daydream Believers, a biographical TV movie.


In addition to movies and television variety, radio also preceded modern music television as a means of delivering popular, recorded music to mass audiences.

Music television originally adapted from radio a format, or pattern of organization, for broadcast. The format has changed over time, and differs from one broadcaster to another, but some features remain. Both music television services and programs have tended to emulate the model of popular radio.

It involves the serial presentation of individual units (recorded singles in the case of radio, videos for television), clustered and punctuated by commercials, promotional messages, news, and other segments. Generally a person introduces the individual song or cluster (or "pack," the MuchMusic term) of two or three. On the dedicated pop services, such as MTV and MuchMusic, the regular hosts are called VJs (or veejays), meaning video jockeys, adapting the radio term disc jockey (or DJ). Each takes a shift lasting a certain time or hosts a program, and introduces videos, makes announcements, and provides patter. Like other broadcasters' official voices, such as news readers, commercial pitchmakers, or game show hosts, they are authorized to speak directly to the camera, and hence to the viewer. In addition, they may speak to other people-to audiences in the studio, for example, or to a guest as an interviewer.

They act as the viewers' mediator, on the one hand speaking to us, on the other speaking for us.

Videos on music television are subject to a system that determines the frequency with which they appear on the air. That system, in which the broadcaster's programming authorities determine how often a video is played, was adapted from radio formats, and shares radio's name for it, "rotation" MTV and other broadcasters have different ways of dividing the range, but the simple categories light, medium, and heavy or high suggest the range. A popular artist's video of a new release, which the recording company is promoting heavily, may be put in heavy rotation and played several times a day. A lesser-known performer's video, or a clip that has been out for some time may appear only once or twice a week, in light rotation. Of course, music television forms part of the promotional apparatus of the recording industry, so the level of rotation can play a role in the exposure of the public to the tune and in its sales. Other forces-an appearance on another TV show, for instance-may propel an unknown musician or recording into unexpected popularity and cause music television services to move a video from light rotation to heavy.' Like all broadcast media, music television services organize not only the materials they transmit, such as recorded music, speech, and advertising, but also time. Many radio stations operate around the clock, offering a continuous stream of sound that is available to listeners to switch on at any time, like water from a tap. MTV and other music television systems operate similarly.

News reports, weather forecasts, and traffic updates-all of which must change regularly-act as markers of the "live" nature of much radio broadcasting.

Music television may be similarly immediate, although in many cases it simply gives the impression of being broadcast live. With some exceptions, such as TRL (Total Request Live) [1998-], which is broadcast live from MTV's Times Square studio, the segments in which MTV's VJs talk between videos are prerecorded and dropped in amid the clusters of videos and commercials. In Canada, MuchMusic's and MusiquePlus's VJs generally broadcast live once during the day, but entire shows may be rebroadcast later in the day. Repeat broadcasts offer the viewer more opportunities to see a specific program; for the broad caster they mean more time filled with fewer hours of original programming, and consequently lower costs. Through much of the 1980s, music television services tended to be organized primarily around VJ shifts, lasting a couple of hours, but increasingly their time has been segmented like other forms of television. Andrew Goodwin has pointed out that in 1988 MTV began two particular practices. "Day-parting" refers to the practice of presenting distinct types of music in blocks at different times of day, and effectively it means the growth of specialized programs. "Stripping"--as many comedy and drama programs are scheduled when they are syndicated-- involves presenting those programs at the same time each day. 2 Increasingly, then, MTV organized itself around a predictable schedule and programs, which might be an hour long or even a half-hour rather than the longer VJ shifts that characterized the broadcaster in its earlier years.


TABLE 10.1 MTV Programming, 8 November 2000


6:00Am MTV Video Wake-Up 7:30AM MTV Jams 8:00Am TRL 9:00Am Best Sports Moments on MTV 9:30Am Music Videos 10:00Am Music Videos 11:00AM Music Videos 11:30Am Hot Zone 1:00Pm Behind the Scenes of MTV's Campus Invasion Tour 1:30Pm Adam Sandler's Hell of a Movie Special 2:00Pm Diary 2:30Pm TRL Presents: Christina's Greatest MTV Moments 3:30Pm TRL 4:30Pm Real World New Orleans 5:30Pm Direct Effect 6:30Pm Jackass 7:00Pm Adam Sandler's Hell of a Movie Special 7:30Pm Diary 8:00Pm Say What? Karaoke Moments 10:00Pm Jim Carrey Uncensored 11 :00PM MTV's Truth 11:30Pm Undressed 12:00Am Undressed 12:30AM Adam Sandler's Hell of a Movie Special 1:00Am Limp Bizkit's Playboy Bash 2:30AM Diary 3:00Am Hot Zone (From Campus Invasion 2000) 4:30AM The Return of the Rock


TABLE 10.2

MuchMusic Programming, 7 August 2000, 1:00-1:30 PM.


00.00 VJ: Rachel Perry

03.45 Video: Nelly, Country Grammar

06.25 MuchMusic logo

06.27 Video: Wyclef Jean and The Rock, It Doesn't Matter

10.25 Feature: Much Sty/in' (on fashion)

12.00 VJ: Rachel Perry 13.12 Station Promo: "Janet Next on Much"

13.22 Station Promo: Electric Circus at Paramount Canada's Wonderland

13.52 Ad: Soft drink, Pepsi-Cola

14.22 Ad: CD, Planet Pop 2000

14.32 Promo: MTV Video Music Awards Contest

15.02 Ad: Movie, Bless the Child

15.32 Ad: Candy, Jolly Rancher

15.48 Ad: CD, Dance Hits 2000

16.20 MuchMusic logo

16.25 Video: Janet Jackson: Doesn't Really Matter

21.00 Video: 11:30, Ole

Ole 24.22 MuchMusic logo 24.24 Promo: Canada Concert Listings 24.55 Ad: Game, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Playstation 25.25 Ad: Cosmetics, Neutrogena cleanser 25.40 Ad: Phone line, Mind and Spirit Tarot Readings 26.40 Ad: Movie, Bless the Child 27.10 Ad: Food service, Burger King 27.40 Ad: Candy, Skittles 27.55 Feature: Speaker's Corner (vox pop)

29.25 Station ID: MuchMusic 29.55 VJ: Rachel Perry


Although most music television broadcasters have common traits, each has its own specific and continually evolving approach to scheduling. (Table 10.1 presents MTV's schedule for a single day in 2000.) Among other differences between the two, the Canadian service has retained more of the longer shifts of programming in which VIs introduce an eclectic range of videos. Whether or not anyone was aware of Raymond Williams, MuchMusic calls these blocks "Video Flow" (although there are no introductory titles to identify these segments as a program). Like MTV, Much also groups videos by type within titled programs, such as DaMix, which presents black music, or French Kiss, a set of music by Francophone artists. Programs may also present a variety of videos organized around a structuring concept, in such series as the MuchMusic Countdown, a "Top 10" list, or Much OnDemand, a request show. A number of programs, such as French Kiss and the Spotlight, a half-hour of videos by a single artist or band, as well as the larger VideoFlow blocks, are stripped horizontally across the week-the work or school week, usually--while other programs are scattered throughout the schedule. Vertically, program material first broadcast in the afternoon may also show up in the evening or in the overnight hours.

Like radio, music television is organized in relatively small segments. Radio is often used as background to everyday activities at home or work. Apart from, say, public-radio documentaries or sportscasts it rarely gains a listener's exclusive attention, though it periodically attracts the listener to the radio for a moment, with the comments of a DJ, with a catchy commercial or piece of music or with a familiar record. Table 10.2 charts MuchMusic programming for one half-hour, and illustrates the size of the segments into which the time is divided. The longest, the Janet Jackson video, is just over four and one-half minutes, and the shortest is two seconds, a station logo that appears to run continually to be dropped into the broadcast at any time. The actual videos constitute just seconds under half the half-hour, and the VJ segments add considerably more time to what might be considered the broadcaster's program materials, by comparison with advertising, whether for paying advertisers or MuchMusic itself. This fragment of the broadcast day contains 28 segments, however, just over one per minute.

The momentary structure of such broadcasting suggests that we are invited to join and drop out at will (or to pass over the station while grazing the channels with a remote control), or to let the television play like a radio until a piece of music or other sound might attract us to pay attention and watch.


Music television drew for its format and structure in part from radio and its precedents in television variety, and it addresses its audience in ways drawn from those ancestors. Each format has its own type of person who speaks for the broadcaster, but there is little difference between a DJ introducing a record, a TV host introducing a performer, and a VJ introducing a video. There may be distinct differences in personality between stiff, older hosts-squares such as Ed Sullivan (Fig. 4.9) -and a young, relaxed, articulate, cool, and attractive Vis who presents themselves as part of the community and culture of the music. These are differences in specific cases, however. The VJ who mediates mu sic television at least in part speaks for the viewer, and the viewer of pop-music television is typically young. Similarly, VJs have tended to be young adults who at least appear to be part of the audience for pop music, and a few are musicians themselves.

The VJ speaks for the broadcaster, but other forms of address are also ex pressed in music television, including additional graphic or verbal information.

For example, music television helped set a model for many other broadcasters who decided to mark entire programs with a corporate logo or bug discreetly tucked in a corner of the screen throughout or appearing periodically during a show. Specialized programs might have their own logos. In addition, titles and graphics identify each video clip (see Fig. 10.1). Superimposed over the start or end of the video, they graphically name it, usually by song title, artist, album title, and recording company. All this information helps viewers to negotiate their way around the broadcast. If music television is organized in such a way that viewers may tune in and out or attend to the broadcast with only partial or distracted attention, then the broadcaster has devised ways for viewers to be continually regrounded. A viewer may switch on or hear an enticing tune.

Within a few minutes, that viewer can know the name of the artist, the title of the song, and the name of the album on which it is found. Of course, such information also makes it possible for viewers to identify and buy a copy of an appealing tune, and underlines the status of the television service as an advertiser.

It also tends to attribute authorship for the video to the performer and responsibility to the recording company that underwrote the production. Unlike films or other television programs--but not unlike commercials--music video telecasts tend not to name the companies that produced the videos themselves.


Films became well-known when its logo was affixed to the end of each episode of David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990-91) or his feature film Wild at Heart (1990), but, creditless, it had little opportunity to advertise publicly its prolific volume (approximately 150 videos in 1990 alone), and its production of a string of distinctive videos in the late 1980s, including Steve Winwood's Roll with It (1988), Paula Abdul's Straight Up (1989), and Don Henley's End of the Innocence (1989). Similarly, the director of those videos also directed Madonna's expensive and elaborately designed Express Yourself (1989), as well as Oh Father (1989) and Vogue (1990), but they are identified less with David Fincher of Propaganda Films than they are with Madonna herself. (Fincher later used his considerable style in his feature films, including Alien 3 [1992] and Se7en [1995].) Some music television broadcasters include a director's credit as a matter of course, which probably has helped to generate some new creative pantheons and to propel some feature film careers. Perhaps the most notable example at the end of the 1990s was Spike Jonze. In a July 2000 MuchMusic marathon of the "100 Most Eye-Popping Videos of All Time," Jonze placed 2 in the top 10, Daft Punk's Da Funk (1997) and Weezer's Buddy Holly (1994), and two more, Fatboy Slim's Praise You (1999) and Bjork's It's Oh So Quiet, at the 25th and 26th spots. Admittedly a nonscientific and highly subjective list, it nonetheless suggests the mark Jonze made in only a few years as an imaginative visual stylist, just as evident in his first feature, Being John Malkovich (1999). While there are a few stars behind the cameras, nonetheless much of the credit, authorship, and responsibility for music videos is attributed to the musicians, and credit invariably also goes to the recording company that distributes and promotes the sound recording, its product, and underwrites the video as a promotional tool.

Music television employs direct address in a number of forms to engage its viewers: by the VJ, by the use of informative graphics, by the musicians in the videos, who typically direct their performance to the camera and hence to the viewer. Even more than that, however, music television frequently invites viewers to respond or participate by holding contests and by staging competitions, including game shows, such as MTV's Say What? MTV Karaoke and Sisqo's Shakedown, a dance contest. VJs also solicit viewers' requests or dedications, as DJs have done of radio listeners for many years, and implore viewers to vote in order to rank new releases.

Both MTV and its Canadian counterparts have taken measures to make this virtual contact more real. In the late 1990s, MTV moved into its second floor studio in the recently refurbished Times Square, where Total Request Live is produced. The show combines the interaction of viewer requests with the immediacy of a live telecast, but the location of the studio puts it out of the view of the people on the street. Still, fans turn up during the program, hoping to be invited into the studio during the broadcast, or perhaps to glimpse VJ Carson Daly and his guests, or maybe just to be on TV as one of the people outside.

Each year, moreover, MTV goes to meet some of its audience, when during the summer months it relocates some production from New York City to a locale that suggests holidays. In 2000, it was "SoCal Summer" on the beaches of San Diego, where the VJs and hosts apparently mixed among the locals and visitors to Southern California at the beach.

MuchMusic makes the evidence of interactivity even more apparent and part of its daily routine. Its production center is located in the trendy commercial district of Toronto's Queen Street West, in a large building extensively renovated for Much and the other television operations of its owner ChumCity (named for the radio station CHUM and CITY-TV). Many of its production operations are at street level and visible through large display windows. VJs sometimes conduct their shows from the street, and the windows open for greater access. On Friday nights a crowd invariably gathers during the Electric Circus dance party, and when stars make personal appearances, fans crowd the streets.

If part of the purpose of commercial television is to provide advertisers with viewers, then some of the practical reasons for these devices should be quite clear.

Evidence of audience response supplements ratings as markers of who exactly is watching. A goal of music television, however, seems to be to generate a heightened relation with its audience, by comparison with that of audiences for much other television. MuchMusic produces an irregularly scheduled show titled Intimate and Interactive, with an artist or band in performance and interview in front of a small audience in the studio and whoever collects on the street outside. Telecast live, the program also provides telephone and fax numbers and an e-mail address, inviting viewers to provide questions for the guests. This particular case illustrates the bond that music television strives to generate between viewer and television service, trying to appear both "intimate and interactive."


Attempts to pin down a finite number of types of music video generally fall short. The vast number that have been produced in the history of the medium, and the differences among them, tend to confound easy categorization. There are always examples that defiantly cross lines marking one type from another.

Of course, videos are generally associated with each other according to the type of music they employ, not by forms or conventions that might define other types of television. On the basis of content or intent, for example, television might be subdivided into drama; news and public affairs; commercials; games; sports; and other such forms, of which music television would be one. As a narrative form, dramatic television might break down into such genres as police shows, medical shows, soaps, or family dramas, among others. News and public affairs might branch out with morning shows, nightly news, news magazines, and so-called tabloid television. With content as the basis for division, music videos are most likely to be identified through types of music: rock, rap, hiphop, country, alternative, heavy metal, classical, middle-of-the-road, jazz, and so forth. The television services themselves have organized along these lines, with MTV devoted to current music for young audiences (rock, pop, dance, rap, metal, alternative); VH-1 to other types of pop music, as well as programs about music and music videos, such as Behind the Music and Pop-Up Video; CMT to country. Segments or programs within the broadcast days are even more specialized and exclusive.

Videos can also be read according to categories that cut across their musical affiliations. As expressive forms, videos are poetic, and like poetry or other art forms, different means have been used to construct different types of expression. Most videos arguably incorporate to varying degrees elements of all the following categories: performance, narrative, non-narrative, and graphic.

They all include musical performance, of course. In that they define characters enacting incidents, they invoke narrative, even if the characters are a musician or musicians and the incident is the performance of a song. Moreover, in most cases, the song itself has narrative facets, describing characters (who may be just "I" and "you") who interact. Many videos incorporate non-narrative elements and imagery that may be related by associative, rather than narrative, principles. The look of the video in itself, defined by cinematography, art direction, costume, and other crafts, is moreover a very important part of production, suggesting the significance of the graphic, although in some cases graphic properties characterize a video to particularly high degrees, even removing the action from the conventionally photographic and situating it more in animation or other pictorial forms.

Performance The basis of the music video is musical performance. All videos concern musical performance, some exclusively so. Performance videos are often shot at a public concert. (Many videos incorporate concert footage with other visuals; some are shot at a concert, as Dancing in the Dark was, to use the fans as unpaid extras.) In some cases, performance film or videotape that has been shot for other purposes is repackaged for television and transformed into videos. A number from a concert film, such as Monterey Pop, or a television show, such as Shindig, may find itself on an oldies video broadcast. That a video is concerned principally with documenting a performance makes it no less meaningful than any other type of video. A performance video frequently has something to say about the audience's relations to the music and the performance itself.

Although they may take place somewhere other than a conventional entertainment venue, some videos still mainly concern the performance of a musical number. In Limp Bizkit's Break Stuff (1999), for example, the band and a variety of other people lip-sync the tune as they mug and otherwise heave themselves in front of the camera. Throughout much of the first part, the camera remains static, so different individuals appear and disappear to take a line or phrase of the song. In the last minute or so, the soundtrack includes the sound of other people, and the camera angles change to reveal fans outside the space to which the action has been restricted, and then the action moves outside, where the music continues and the band is surrounded by the rock fans.

Few music videos do not depict the musicians in action. In Being Boring (1990), the two Pet Shop Boys may be visible among the revelers at the wild party the video describes, but only momentarily, and Neil Tennant is not lip syncing the song he sings on the soundtrack. Enigma's Return to Innnocence (1994) unfolds as a series of actions run in reverse, suggesting the sentiment of the title, but without any musicians represented in the video. In a few cases, the musicians may simply refuse to participate in video production. In some others the musical style-such as techno, where the action of the musicians may be visually less vivid than rock or rap artists', for example-may be consistent with the musicians' nonappearance in a video.


Many videos are narrative in form. They outline a story, or at least the trace of a story or incident, and they delineate fictional characters, or make fictional characters of the musical performers who themselves have public personas.

Unless they just play music, in videos musicians play roles and function as actors. They have already developed roles as musicians through their songs and performances, but the parts they play in videos may add to or alter their character images.

Experienced in club performance, Madonna became well-known to a wide audience through her videos before she had established her skills as a concert artist. Her videos seemed to describe her talents as a musical actor, as much as a musician. She took on a range of roles, from the original "boy toy" figure of Like a Virgin (1984) to the Marilyn Monroe-styled movie star of Material Girl (1985). She has portrayed a teenage waif who angers and disappoints her father in Papa Don't Preach (1986); salvation hunter in Like a Prayer (1989); and a sex slave in the futuristic industrial society of Express Yourself with several other stops in between and since, including Beautiful Stranger (1998), in which she is a club performer-like the one she herself once was-who be guiles and ultimately rides off with "International Man of Mystery" Austin Powers.

Except for the last, in all these cases the video outlines a story in which Madonna plays the central character. In Live to Tell (1986), however, she portrays a figure whose song comments on the story. This video is a specialized case, but quite a common one, because the publicity campaigns for many movies include a video for a song on the soundtrack, as the release of Beautiful Stranger preceded and paved the way for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1998). "Live to Tell" was a theme featured in At Close Range (1986). Like a "Coming Attractions" trailer, the video borrows footage from the film, presenting visual and narrative highlights that, even though the scenes are brief and out of order, clearly indicate the conflict the young man played by Sean Penn feels. Separated visually from the locations of the movie by the limbo lighting of a darkened studio, Madonna's song addresses his problems, seeming to speak for him--"If I live to tell the secret,/ It will burn inside of me"--like the chorus of a classical tragedy.

Many such videos position the musicians as narrator and the song as narrative, and the image track as a complement that may have a relation to the music that rewards close examination. The band or the singer frequently appears in shots completely separate from the narrative action, as, for example, Aerosmith does in Janie's Got a Gun (1989), but the relation of the song's narrative to that of the visuals may be less than direct, as in their Crazy (1993). The narrative sequences convey a story about two teenage girls (played by Alicia Silverstone and lead singer Steven Tyler's daughter Liv) on the road and on a tear, shoplifting, stripping in a bar, and enticing a farm boy out of his pants, then ditching him, all providing a particular story and characters to the more generalized lyrics.

The ways that such videos fragment the narrative suggest that the flouting of conventions of continuity typical of videos in general persists even in those that are recognizably narrative in form. Understandably for productions that run an average 5 minutes or so, the stories in videos are very condensed.


Narrative suggests a story that is to some degree coherent, with characters who have definable relationships and situations that are recognizable, but many videos appear simply to be strings of images. The images themselves may be recognizable, and have associations with each other that accumulate to express a theme. They may come together less through a story than through ideas, impressions, or feelings. If we think of poetry as a literary form corresponding to the music video, and narrative videos comparable to narrative poetry, then perhaps non-narrative videos are the counterpart to lyric verse. The voice and visual presence of the performer act as a source for the impressions and images that unfold over the course of the video.

Perhaps the most self-evident case of this type is the video without images of the performer. Springsteen's Atlantic City ( 1982) stands as a short observation on contemporary social depression, represented by an assortment of barren, gray shots of the resort on the New Jersey shore, which in turn illustrate economic and social failure as they are felt by a man who clings to the last trace of hope.

Because of its social theme and documentary imagery, this example may at first seem more like an essay or a speech than poetry, but poetry communicates as wide a range of ideas as any expressive form.

More often, the video incorporates the performer as a visual presence who is both involved with the imagery and, as a writer and speaker, separate from it. Streets of Philadelphia (1993) drew from the opening title sequence of the feature film, Philadelphia (1993), adding shots of Springsteen, apparently a witness singing while walking purposefully through the inner city. Paula Abdul's (It's Just) The Way That You Love Me (1989) organizes diverse images that illustrate wealth and power defined by brand names--Dom Perignon champagne, Visa Gold Card, Mercedes-Benz-associating them with a romantic and sexual connection between the singer and a young businessman. This suggests, on the one hand, that material goods are unimportant by comparison with the way that he loves her, and on the other, that she is one among his many possessions.

Shania Twain's Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under? (1995) intercuts the performer in two situations. Dressed in casual clothes, she sits on the porch of a country house, simply singing and playing the tune to the camera. Wrapped in a form-hugging dress, she is also depicted in a diner, singing the song to the male patrons, oblivious as she nuzzles them or sashays around. In these sequences, she is something of a magical figure, unseen and unheard by the men in the restaurant as she presumably accuses them all of infidelity, the subject of the song, while showing us what they have been missing. In both cases, the images illustrate overtly or obliquely what the performer onscreen is singing about, and amplify the commentary.



Some producers use image-making or image-processing techniques to make videos that are pictorially highly imaginative. Techniques may include forms of animation or computer-generated graphics, or may employ video processes that drastically change a conventionally shot film or video image. Often the net result is the creation of an unusual or alien space for human figures. As an early example, You Might Think (1984), with the Cars, uses video techniques to set the action against a black background, and to manipulate the image of band leader Ric Ocasek-flattening him, or putting his head on the body of an animated housefly-as he relentlessly pursues a young woman. Kiss (1988), a cover version of Prince's song, sets Tom Jones against a constantly changing grid of suggestive animated drawings (Fig. 10.3). In some cases, a capacity to synthesize images and backgrounds makes it possible to create settings that have more concrete roots; the first two videos with the dance band Deee-Lite, for example, are set within bright colors and swirling and geometrical patterns that suggest the psychedelic era of the 1960s. In their Californication (2000), the Red Hot Chili Peppers are reconstituted as action figures racing through the video terrain of a video game, earning points as they go.


Among the most best-known examples is the animated Sledgehammer (1986). In simple terms, the video pixilates (pixilation is a term for frame by-frame animation of human figures) Peter Gabriel in a close-up as he sings his hit. Starting with microscopic images of sperm, ovum, and fertilization, and ending with a human figure covered in black and strung with lights blending into a starscape, the video could be said to have a life-to-death theme culminating in union with the cosmos. What that human goes through between conception and cosmic end, however, is just as important, and the graphic treatment of Gabriel probably provides the stronger impression. His image continually transforms itself into something different, with more and more elaborate animation: de signs swirl around him, moving pieces of fruit cover his face and adopt its shape, an ice sculpture of his head appears and quickly melts (Fig. 10.4). In form, music videos are aurally restrictive but visually widely variable.

Contained by the musical recording that they illustrate, the visuals have exceptionally wide possibilities. They have attracted much attention and appeared to some as an entirely new art form. This is due to visual invention, the abundance of rapidly edited, fragmentary images, and the range of image-making techniques-from photography to animation to video processing to computer graphics-that producers mobilized to visualize familiar and evolving forms of popular music.


The most prominent formal trait of the sound of a music video is its featured musical selection. Usually it was recorded prior to the production of the video and exists independently as a recording. More often than not, it is also a song.

Instrumental videos are rare, although some popular jazz artists have merited the investment, and some classical pieces have been given video treatment. Like the recording industry, however, video is ruled by popular music, in which vocals predominate.

A video is usually devoted to a single song. The song may form part of an album, and the album may yield a number of video releases. For example, Michael Jackson's album Thriller (1983) -a landmark for its success in sales- also produced three important videos in the formative years of MTV: Beat It (1983), Billie Jean (1983), and Thriller (1983). His follow-up recording Bad (1988) generated even more: Bad (1988); The Way You Make Me Feel (1988); Dirty Diana (1988); The Man in the Mirror (1988); and Smooth Criminal (1988). Within the video, the song may be introduced or framed by nonmusical material; the full version of Bad, for example, sets up the song with a narrative prologue much longer than the song itself. But once the song starts, it takes the most prominent role on the soundtrack, and almost invariably runs uninterrupted.

As with any type of television production, a number of elements combine on the soundtrack, principally the speaking voice, sound effects (which may include sounds recorded synchronously with dialogue, or effects added after ward), and music. Music is of course the defining element of music video, so it adopts an understandably important role in relation to speech or other sounds.

In movies or television, however, voice and sound effects play important roles in constructing an impression of the reality of the depicted scene. They define a sound perspective that shapes distances and the space we see on a screen- someone or something that appears far away usually sounds far away. The sound perspective and ambience for a musical recording are uniform and consistent, however, unlike the shifting visual settings of a video. Most performance videos shot at concerts, for example, include camera angles that change from close shots to wide views of the venue, but the sound perspective remains consistent.

In terms of physical space, then, the relations between music and image may seem disjointed, or the sound may not suggest the dimensions of the visual space at all.

Sound effects may add to the realism of a video, keeping the music from entirely taking over the soundtrack, or they may have an expressive impact beyond realism. Throughout Bad, the dozens of metal buckles on Michael Jackson's leather outfit clank and jingle as he moves. The noise underlines the musical score and reinforces at least one layer of realism in the scene. However, the soundtrack accentuates other movements with effects that are expressive-the gunshot-like beats when Michael Jackson snaps his arms, for example--but inexplicable in any realistic terms. ("Weird Al" Yankovic calls attention to this device in Fat (1988), his parody of Bad; when he notices that his arm seems to make these gunshot noises, he stops and tries it out a couple of times before he shrugs and goes on with the musical number.) Voice in music video is mostly musical, whether singing or the rhythms of rap, but many videos also include some dialogue or other spoken voice. In many cases, dialogue is restricted to a prologue or to scenes at beginning and end that frame the musical number with narrative. California Love (1996), with 2Pac and Dr. Dre, for example, sets up its futuristic Thunderdome-style motif with a narrative prologue before the song starts. At the start of Buddy Holly, which emulates the sitcom Happy Days (1974-84), Al, the cook, introduces the 1990s band Weezer, who are playing Al's diner, also imploring his patrons, "Try the fish." At the end of the video, when Al asks whether anyone has taken his food recommendation, one of the band members comments, "Ah, that's not so good, Al," rounding out the situation and setting up the catchphrase that serves as a punch line.

Extensive dialogue in music videos, when they are programmed, may be entirely dispensable. After the first few weeks of its release, for example, broad casters of Bad tended to drop the long sequence in which Michael Jackson's character returns from an exclusive school to the city, where his former buddies challenge him, and picked up the action near the end of their taunting, just before the song starts. In such cases, however, once again a form of nonmusical sound-voice-serves both realistic and expressive purposes.

Knowledge of the history and conventions of pop music aids any discussion of videos, because it helps illuminate the song itself. It is far beyond the scope of this discussion to outline a history of popular music, or to do more than suggest the range of current musical forms and styles that have affected the shape of music television. Nevertheless, analysis of music videos cannot justifiably ignore the music any more than analysis of narrative television can disregard exposition. The literature of music criticism has a wide range. However, videos feature songs with lyrics that can be read, quoted, and discussed for what they say and how they are arranged in relation to the images. Similarly, the songs have musical structures-whether the alternating verse/chorus pattern typical of popular song or another, more complex organization-and properties that contribute to the effects and meanings of the video. A video that might at first seem less creative or innovative than many others can serve to illustrate this point.

Bruce Springsteen's video Born to Run (1987) serves as a concise document and something of a souvenir of his worldwide tour in the mid-1980s, and follows the song's structure closely. It alternates between sequences drawn from a single performance in Los Angeles, at which the audio recording was made, and montages of diverse images from different concert appearances. In the montage sequences, from one shot to the next, the performers may be costumed differently, on obviously different stages, or in the daytime or under stage lights at night. The video starts with a brief montage, but the first two verses make up a coherent sequence from the Los Angeles show. It returns to a montage only at a saxophone break, then later at Springsteen's guitar break, which leads into the last verse. Instead of returning to the Los Angeles show, the video continues the montage sequence through the verse to the end of the number. The performance of the song builds to its climax through the second instrumental break to the final verse; by following its pattern, then adjusting to change that pattern slightly, the visuals both gain from the force of the music and add to it.

By blending images of the many performances of "Born to Run" given by the band on its monumental tour and the single performance that, selected to be issued as a recording and video, gains status as an exemplary performance, the video also implies that all the performances were as special, as exciting, and as rewarding as that one.


Music video has many different looks. Along with commercials and graphic title sequences, videos have been a site for technical and artistic exploration beyond the conventions of everyday television. Lots of money and extensive resources can be concentrated into producing a 5-minute music video, such as Scream (1995), Michael and Janet Jackson's starkly futuristic, black-and-white clip, which cost a reported $7 million. Alternatively, a new and unknown act or an independent label might produce a successful video for only a couple of thousand dollars, although they still face the challenge of getting such a clip on the air, since most videos programmed on music television come from the major labels.

FIGURE 10.5 Visually, there are few requirements or strict conventions in videos. In fact, part of the force of music videos resides in their capacity to flout conventions and run contrary to expectations. This is because video producers acknowledge the status of the television as image, not exclusively a representation of the real world. They use and adapt properties of the film and video image that producers of television drama or news are likely not to touch in the body of their programs.

Since the 1960s, for example, color has been a standard for broadcasting. Almost no programs are regularly produced in black and white, and the very few black-and-white sequences or episodes that might appear are usually bracketed as a character's memories, as historical images, as fantasy, or other wise different. In music video production, however, the black-and-white image has been adopted as part of the expressive palette. The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Give it Away (1991), for example, combines black-and-white imagery with expressive makeup and costuming to produce imagery with a disarmingly alien sheen. Sheryl Crow's Leaving Las Vegas (1993) uses similar techniques to similar ends. Video processing also permits the alteration of tones and color within the image. The overall look of Michelle Shocked's On the Greener Side (1989) is black and white, except that in each shot some objects or items of clothing are colored green.

Some video producers have mimicked existing visual styles of black-and white photography or cinema. Madonna's Vogue recalls the rich glamour photography of George Hurrell, and the close-up portraits that constitute Lyle Lovett's Pontiac (1987) might bring to mind some of Walker Evans's Depression-era photos, while Don Henley's The End of the Innocence (1989; Fig. 10.5) imitates both the snapshot style and roadside imagery of Robert Frank.3 Smashing Pumpkins' Tonight Tonight (1996) imitates Georges Melies's 1902 film A Trip to the Moon, for example; Stone Temple Pilots' Interstate Love Song (1994) opens with a prologue that emulates silent-era melodrama; and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Other side (2000) poaches the visual style and imagery of the German Expressionist The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). In general, video producers who choose black and white likely do so precisely because it is different from the conventional television image, and consequently stands out as distinctive among the predominating television images made in naturalistic color.


In addition, of course, color photography provides a wide range of possibilities for distinctive looks, from the rich saturation of Madonna's Express Yourself (Fig. 10.6), its story and elaborate design modeled on Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), to the muddy brown tones of Nirvana's slow-motion pep rally, which conveys anything but pep, Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991). In some cases, again, the look of the video may echo or refer to a specific, other style. One of the best examples, because its concept required the meticulous matching of new images with old, is Weezer's Buddy Holly, which intercuts shots from Happy Days with images of the band, shot as if they were actually appearing on an episode. The video reproduces not only the setting of Al's place and the personal styles of the characters, but also the flat lighting and washed-out color of the 1970s sitcom in order to be able to edit reactions by Richie, Joanie, and other characters, as well as a concluding dance by the Fonz, clearly seen from the front in older shots and from the back in newer ones, into the clip.

Content involves a wide range of possibilities, but a music video typically does depict the performer. If the aural function of the video is to present recorded music, the main visual function is to present the performers-to attract fans not only by their sound, but also by the way they look, act, move, and dress.

Since the musical number exists prior to the video, the images are edited to correspond to properties of the recording. As the Born to Run example suggests, such connections can be made on the relatively large level of structure, where sequences in the video might correspond to entire stanzas or instrumental breaks in the song. Videos are also edited according to the beat of the recording. This does not mean that every cut or movement happens on a beat of music, but the changes between a loose correspondence and a more rigid one can create a very strong impact.

As with all television, one means by which videos position the viewer is through exchanges of looks by figures onscreen. Often performers look off screen, toward a single listener or an audience. The listener or audience may be implied, or may be represented through a returned look. Such an exchange, alternating the looks of a performer and a listener, involves the viewer to some degree in the relationship. For most of Dancing in the Dark, Bruce Springsteen sings to a large, faceless audience of thousands. We see Springsteen from the perspective of a member of the audience, and we see the audience for whom he performs. As he reaches the end of the song, the view of the audience concentrates on the front row and several female fans, isolated from the crowd by lighting. What was a generalized exchange of looks between thousands of viewers and one performer becomes an exchange between two people, as Springsteen appears to make eye contact with a young woman (played by Courteney Cox), reaches out his hand, and pulls her onstage to dance with him as the song fades out.

This video illustrates the specifics of the relation between performer and fan that the exchange of looks implies, but often such exchanges are used to outline more general relations among characters or figures onscreen. Alanis Morissette's Ironic (1995) relies heavily on this editing figure, as she plays, apparently, four women in an automobile. Unlike Britney Spears's Lucky (2000), for which special visual effects created composite images allowing the singer to play two parts, Morissette's multiple figures result solely from the editing, and the characters never appear in the same frame. Editing creates a coherent space in the automobile, in which the four Alanises occupy different quarters of the car, and the vehicle always appears to be traveling in the same direction. When we see the Alanis in the driver's seat, for example, the landscape passes from screen right to left (Fig. 10.7), while the Alanis in the passenger seat, the re verse angle, sits in front of trees passing left to right (Figs. 10.10, 10.12). Eyeline matches generate the impression that they interact, and that they are singing together. Alanis 2 appears to sing a line in response to Alanis 1. Video form follows song form, to an extent, since the song starts with a slow and wistfully sung verse about different types of disappointing situations. The rear-view mirror discloses that Alanis 2 (Figs. 10.8, 10.10) is listening to Alanis 1 (Figs. 10.7, 10.9, 10.11). When the verse ends, the song slams into a shouted chorus, sung by Alanis 2 in the back seat, followed by a new verse sung by a third Alanis, also in the back (Figs. 10.12-10.13). As the video starts and ends, the Alanis who is driving is actually alone. Perhaps the video suggests diverse facets of the young woman Alanis Morissette portrays, but the impression of multiple characters generated by editing, within the world the video describes, is illusory, too.

Performers often look into the camera, implicitly to make eye contact with and sing directly to the viewer. Such a device underscores the address of a song to someone other than the performers or characters within the video, and generates a relation of identification for the viewer with the person to whom the song is addressed. However, it can be used to elicit different emotional reactions. Sinead O'Connor's extended gaze into the camera in Nothing Compares 2 U (1989) suggests a reflective appeal, as the title implies, though her looks off-camera are not evidently directed at anything or anyone, and seem to be moments of punctuation as she collects her thoughts before resuming her song (Figs. 10.14-10.15). Bruce Springsteen's unwavering gaze into the camera in the single-take Brilliant Disguise (1987) adds intensity and immediacy to the song, which recounts a troubled conversation with a lover. By contrast, the gaze into the camera of David Byrne's Don't Fence Me In (1990) removes personal emotion, depicting in quick succession close-ups of dozens of people lip-syncing the Cole Porter song.

Figure 10.7

Figure 10.12

FIGURE 10.14

FIGURE 10.15

FIGURE 10.16

Videos are frequently cited for the diversity of images they include and the rapid pace of their editing. To be sure, such qualities are typical of many rock videos, but they are not a requirement of the form. Some videos are frenetically paced, others have a slower rhythm. R.E.M.'s Everybody Hurts (1993) matches the languorous tempo and keening lyrics of the song with measured traveling shots along a highway bumper-to-bumper with vehicles intercut with people caught in the traffic jam, as subtitles appear under the images, informing us of the individuals' thoughts. In the Verve's Bittersweet Symphony (1998), singer Richard Ashcroft strides up a street, and people watch him as he walks by, sometimes brushing against a passer-by, pushing others out of the way, as the camera steadily follows his action, pulling back from his front or following him from the rear. Another example even more self-consciously runs against the grain of the typical music video: the wryly and subversively titled This Song Don't Have a Video (1989), in which, in a single take, Loudon Wainwright III sits in a chair, turns on a tape recorder, and listens to "This Song Don't Have a Video," until he gets up, leaves the frame, and lets the song finish and the tape run out.

Such a case, where the visuals are as continuous and unbroken as the mu sic, are rare. Videos are typically discontinuous. A single video may use images ranging from elaborately produced scenes to stock footage from a past production to actual home movie footage. Color and black-and-white images may adjoin each other, and pictures of widely varying quality and resolution may combine to illustrate a single song. They frequently isolate and depict in parts- of bodies, of objects, of actions, and of events. Even the screen itself may comprise parts, as in the Tragically Hip's Ahead by a Century (1996), in which several frames within the frame are arranged to depict the band members (by contrast with the more conventional image qualities of the allusive narrative with which the band images are intercut; Fig. 10.16). R.E. M.'s Man in the Moon (1993) uses a similar technique, situating screens within the screen. In effect, many videos fragment the visible world and recombine them with music.

One of the most important features of the video image is movement it self. Obviously, rhythmic movement is an integral part of dance and musical performance. Cutting on movement-making a splice while an object or figure onscreen is in motion, or while the camera is moving-is a convention of editing that can yield an enhanced sense of continuity and seamlessness from shot to shot in the organization of a sequence. Many videos employ a nearly constantly moving camera, permitting such continuity, as well as generating a visual rhythm corresponding to the rhythm of the music. The movement of objects or people onscreen, or the movement of the camera over objects, per sons, or a scene, along with the continuity of the music track, acts as means of reintegrating the visual pieces.


Everything is Everything (1998) has a narrative component, in that it depicts a fantastical situation in which the people of New York City discover that Manhattan has become a long-playing record on a turntable. Lauryn Hill is the central character, although her role largely involves noting this phenomenon, and walking through the streets of New York while other people come to realize what is happening. Story of any complexity in the video remains subordinated to the computer-generated, visual conceit.

The video starts with a traveling shot, moving along a city street, accompanied by ambient sounds, but that realistic effect soon vanishes as a gigantic turntable arm drops into frame (Fig. 10.17). When the stylus touches the road way, a click ends the street noise and replaces it with the surface noise of a vinyl record and the growing pitch of music as the record seems to be gathering speed. (That the steady traveling shot suggested the record might already be up to speed seems unimportant.) As the music of Lauryn Hill's recording starts, wider angles reveal Manhattan Island turning around a spindle represented by the Empire State Building, inflated in size to dwarf all the other skyscrapers, with the turntable arm resembling one of the bridges to the island (Fig. 10.18). One view presents the Empire State Building's shadow, static in the frame as it falls across the revolving city, seen from high above (Fig. 10.19). Lauryn Hill appears first not as a performer, but in a fuzzy, haloed image (Fig. 10.20). It turns out to be an shot made through distorting layers of glass, in a diner where she is served through a slot. She sings the opening chorus in this setting, in this style of image. The picture clears after she sits to eat, and she first sees the gigantic turntable arm pass by the restaurant window. From the restaurant, she watches a shakedown across the road, but then a massive hand reaches down to the ground, moving the disc-the whole island, actually-back and forth like a club DJ, in the process breaking up the bust (Fig. 10.21-10.22). Not only has the city been transformed into a record, but also someone is in control of the turntable.

Hill then leaves to walk through the city as the giant stylus also tracks through the streets (Fig. 10.23). As she does, the video depicts people engaged in events, such as loading clothes at a laundromat or taking out one's frustration on a public phone, everyday occurrences that contrast strongly with the bizarre transformation of a city into a long-playing record. Hill's character is the first to react to the weird sights, but while others discover the strange turn of events incredulously, although understated in their astonishment, she walks or runs with an apparent resolve, following the movement of the stereo cartridge toward the center of the record. Like many singers in music videos, she moves through the world while singing about it, both part of it and apart from it. This is consistent with her status as a narrator and commentator, in song, while New Yorkers gape upward as they see what's going on.

Figure 10.17

Figure 10.23

"What's going on" is significant, since the recording featured in the video recalls Motown recordings, including Stevie Wonder's work, but also Marvin Gaye's landmark 1971 hit of that title. In style, it recalls the rich, rhythmic, and orchestral soul of Gaye's recording, while also adding features of hip-hop and contemporary dance music, a combination that characterizes Hill's first solo album, The Mis-education of Lauryn Hill, which includes "Everything is Everything." Where Gaye's arrangements are fluid, carried in part by a soaring soprano saxophone and wordless chorale, Hill's contains a forthright beat and the abrasive sounds of a scratch DJ playing the turntable. Hill's song also includes a rap, which maintains the beat of the music while considerably changing both the vocal style from singing to speech and the verbal, shifting from a more conventional lyric to the allusive and highly encoded language of rap and hip-hop. This passage creates a distinctive musical bridge. Gaye's recording predated rap by several years, although in addition to his luscious tenor singing voice, a responsive, spoken "Right on" or two punctuate the tune.

Both Hill and Gaye pose questions or set problems and posit conclusions or resolutions in answer. In his song Gaye asks, "What's going on?" about the decimating impact of the Vietnam War, racial strife, and social dissent on the United States, resolving, "... we've got to find a way/to bring some lovin' here today:' Hill's lyric echoes Gaye's incomprehension about the current state of things, observing, It seems we lose the game Before we even start to play.

Who made these rules? We're so confused, Easily led astray.

Later she observes, in a passage that clearly echoes Gaye's song, Let's love ourselves then we can't fail To make a better situation.

Gaye's chorus first asks, "What's going on?" but finally concludes, "I'll tell you/ What's going on:' Hill's starts with a holistic "Everything is everything/After winter must come spring," finally concluding, "Change comes eventually." The imaginative concept for the video may derive from the song's central rap.

This passage alludes to religious myths and practices and builds a chain of images: I philosophy Possibly speak tongues Beat drum, Abyssinian, street Baptist Rap this in fine linen From the beginning My practice extending across the atlas I begat this In part, it suggests the spiritual unity of the speaker with a higher being, a general tenet of Rastafarianism. With references to Abyssinia and the "tomb of Nefertiti," and "the Serengeti," this segment of the lyric suggests the "return to Africa" sentiments of the Jamaica-based movement, while also, with a mention of "cherubims [sic] in Nassau Coliseum," referring both to the Caribbean and to New York's suburban Long Island. Like the song as a whole, this section resolves in an image of hopeful change, as "Where hip-hop meets scripture/Develop a negative into a positive picture." Imagery in the video restates the connection with Rasta culture. Hill's own personal appearance, crowned with dreadlocks, suggests the culture, but so does the use of Jamaican colors, green, red, and yellow, and the image of the lion of Judah on the window of the restaurant where the action starts (Fig. 10.24). The structure of the video matches the structure of the song, although generally not in lockstep. When the tune is scratched, like a turntable, the image may shift laterally to represent the disc-like, back-and-forth movement of the city, but video sequences do not rigorously coincide with the verses and chorus or with musical changes, with one significant exception. The first point at which Hill sings directly into the camera, in close-up, appears at the rap that serves as the song's bridge (Fig. 10.25). This new angle and direct visual and vocal address emphatically punctuate the video, as the rap does the song, providing an equally strong vocal and verbal change. Overall, the shape of the video can be said to follow that of the song, in that the clip starts with the stylus dropping into the groove of the roadway and ends when the needle reaches the center label. So does Lauryn Hill, whose destination on this trek through the city ends up the record label revolving around the spindle, the Empire State Building (Fig. 10.26). Links between Hill's song, "Everything is Everything," and the video imagery are not rigid, however. The video does not simply illustrate the song, and it goes without saying that the song is not about an oversized stylus tracking the Manhattan streets, although the use of surface noise and scratching as features of the original recording may have suggested the visual conceit of the video. In fact, the video modifies the musical mix, also reinforcing connections between audio and video. The scratching rhythm so prominent on the CD is significantly reduced on the soundtrack of the video. Its audible presence rises when it is matched with the shifting of the image representing the manual movement of the turntable. At another point, the video actually adds an audio feature not in the original version of the song, explicitly connecting the audible qualities of the soundtrack to the action on screen. When the giant stylus catches a newspaper front page (with the headline, "WAR!") and drags it through the street, the sound quality thins, as a piece of dirt might diminish a stereo system's fidelity (Fig. 10.27). In both these cases, of course, the properties of the soundtrack underline the idea that the gigantic stereo system actually is playing "Everything is Everything," encoded in the streets of the city.

Like many videos, Everything is Everything has something of an open form that does not yield a single message. Lauryn Hill's song carries suggestions of a search for a holistic existence, and a resolve that it will come to pass. Although it refers to social distress and confusion, it also conveys ideas of evolutionary change, something that perhaps is also suggested by the image of a musical apparatus tracking irresistibly through the city streets, from the edge to the center, raising music all the way.

Although the image of a city magically transformed into such an object as an LP might at first seem disruptive or threatening, it also suggests that the world is subject to the DJ as deity. Although this characterization may seem a bit flip, it does suggest ideas of higher spiritual powers, or a being who over sees the everyday lives of people, and of the transformative values of music.

That the overall structure follows that of a recorded song-from dropping the needle to its arrival at the label-and that the central character follows this same path strongly indicates the video's concern for the music itself. The musical style, which mixes the melodic qualities of soul with the rhythmic properties of hiphop, is conventionally associated with the city, one of the key subjects of the video. While the city is depicted as a place of some stress, a higher power can elicit the musical properties of an urban setting. In fact this 4-minute video, in that it imagines music encoded in the streets as it is imprinted in the groove of a record, figuratively depicts urban music as "music of the streets?' SUMMARY After a prehistory in cinema, radio, and other forms of television, music television and music videos as they developed after the introduction of MTV have exerted tremendous impact. That it may be difficult to tell the difference be tween a commercial for jeans and a music video suggests that each has drawn from the other. Television dramas and situation comedies regularly use musical sequences. Beyond their influence on television itself, videos have been seen as detrimental to morality, as time-wasters, for some as evidence of postmodern culture, for others as evidence of social decay, but music television has persisted as a staple among the selections on the dial.

Music videos are a form of advertising for recorded music and promotion for the performers they feature, but they also make up the programming material for music television services and programs. They are intended to sell as well as to entertain. They have become one of television's main venues for the presentation of popular music and the representation of its performers. They consequently are affiliated with the music industry and share some of its interests.

Whether narrative, non-narrative, performance, or graphic (most likely combining elements of all these), a video generally revolves around a single musical number. Visually, it may be coherently organized by principles of continuity editing, but just as likely it has discontinuity, relying on associations of images to construct themes or evoke feelings that lend it unity for the viewer. The tools by which music television and music videos may be analyzed and discussed are essentially no different than those used for any other type of television, although rhythm and structure, which have as much to do with the music as the video, may seem more abstract than do the story and character that underpin narrative.

By comparison with narrative television, music television is a more evidently open form.


The hit parade of music television changes constantly, making the selection of current examples to illustrate this discussion impossible. What is in high rotation on MTV as this is written will have fallen off the charts by the time you read this section. You may be able to find the examples discussed here in collections available on home video. As important, however, you should be able to measure these observations against other examples of music video and music television.

Several examples in my discussion of music television are drawn from MuchMusic, in Canada. In part that is because I am writing from Canada, where MTV and VH-1 are not carried on cable TV. (A version of MuchMusic, by the way, is available in the United States.) This offers you an opportunity to make comparisons. You should be able to measure these findings against MTV or whatever music television service is available to you, which may turn up some subtle and some not-so-subtle differences.

MTV's and MuchMusic's Websites ( and offer valuable adjuncts to examination of music television. They provide information about the broadcasters, programs, and VJs, but they also offer useful material for an examination of the ways music television tries to interact with its audiences. They suggest moreover the growth and breadth of the broadcasters' reach, not least in the links to international services the two corporations operate in Asia, Europe, and South America.

Video and music television have become important parts of the world of pop music. This change is reflected in contemporary writing on the music and its performers, such as the five articles Simon Frith commissioned for his anthology, Facing the Music (New York: Pantheon, 1988), including his own "Video Pop: Picking Up the Pieces." An early consideration of video by an authority on popular music is Dave Laing, "Music Video: Industrial Product, Cultural Form," Screen 26, no. 2 (March-April 1985): 78-83. One of the key sources for investigating music television is the popular press, in particular the segment of the press devoted to music or youth. Rolling Stone, for one, covered the innovation and development of MTV, and presented the first book-length assessment in Michael Shore, The Rolling Stone Book of Rock Video (New York: Rolling Stone Press, 1984). For institutional studies of the U.S. music television service, see R. Serge Denisoff, Inside MTV (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1988), and Jack Banks, Monopoly Television: MTV's Quest to Control the Music (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996). The impact of music videos and music television is reflected in the volume of criticism devoted to the form in the 1980s. One of the first substantial discussions is Marsha Kinder, "Music Video and the Spectator: Television, Ideology, and Dream," Film Quarterly 38, no. 1 (Fall 1984): 2-15. A later contribution to the same journal is my own "Musical Cinema, Music Video, Music Television," Film Quarterly 43, no. 3 (Spring 1990): 2-14. Several journals devoted entire issues to articles on music television, or relations of music, film, and TV. Journal of Communication Inquiry 10, no. 1 (Winter 1986)

included a number of influential articles, such as Margaret Morse, "Post Synchronizing Rock Music and Television": 15-28, reprinted in Television Criticism: Approaches and Applications, eds. Leah R. Vande Berg and Lawrence A. Wenner (New York: Longman, 1991). Wide Angle 10, no. 2 (1988), titled "Film/Music/Video," contains articles not only on music videos and MTV, but also Japanese music video production and Spanish-language music television, as well as musical performance in feature films. A valuable, detailed analysis of a single video can be found in Kobena Mercer, "Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson's Thriller," Screen 27, no. 1 (January-February 1986): 26-43.

MTV and the proliferation of music video on television coincided with the rise of postmodernism as an intellectual and historical frame for cultural studies. In fact, television and music television were frequently cited as evidence of the postmodern era. The first book-length, critical study of MTV appeared in this context: E. Ann Kaplan, Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism, and Consumer Culture (New York: Methuen, 1987). Kaplan's analysis, from the perspective of a U.S.-based feminism, informed by psycho analytic theory, and an approach deriving from film studies, opened itself up to rebuttal from the point of view of cultural studies, informed by Marxism and musical studies, notably Andrew Goodwin, "Music Video in the (Post)Modern World," Screen 28, no. 3 (Summer 1987): 36-55. Goodwin developed his discussion in his valuable book Dancing in the Distraction Factory: Music Television and Popular Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992). Com parable positions appear in the anthology Goodwin edited with Simon Frith and Lawrence Grossberg, Sound and Vision: The Music Video Reader (London: Routledge, 1993), which also includes Mercer's article on Thriller. Furthermore, Kaplan's study caught MTV at a point of organizational transition, made clear in Lauren Rabinovitz, "Animation, Postmodernism, and MTV," Velvet Light Trap 24 (Fall 1989): 99-112. This augments the literature with a brief discussion of the political economy of MTV, as well as a consideration of the significance of animation techniques in music television. Among other valuable investigations of music television and its political and ideological implications are Deborah H. Holdstein, "Music Video: Messages and Structures," Jump Cut 29 (1984): 1, 13-14; and Pat Aufderheide, "Music Videos: The Look of the Sound," in Watching Television, ed. Todd Gitlin (New York: Pantheon, 1986), 111-35.

Robert C. Allen, ed. Channels of Discourse (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987, revised in 1992, and re-titled Channels of Discourse, Re assembled) is a collection of original essays that discuss television from different critical approaches, and music videos figure prominently in Kaplan's essay on feminism and John Fiske's on British cultural studies. Both use as examples Madonna, and Material Girl in particular. Fiske develops his analysis of music TV in his book Television Culture (New York: Methuen, 1987) and in the two part section titled "Madonna" and "Romancing the Rock" in his Reading the Popular (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 95-132. Madonna is also a central character in Lisa A. Lewis's investigations of popular music, music TV, and female fans. See her book Gender Politics and MTV (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), which concentrates on four stars: Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner, and Pat Benatar.


1. Jack Banks discusses some of the implications of the rotation system, and the changes in it over MTV's history, in his Monopoly Television: MTV's Quest to Control the Music (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996), 184-85.

2. Andrew Goodwin, Dancing in the Distraction Factory: Music Television and Popular Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), 142-43, reprinted in his "Fatal Distractions: MTV Meets Postmodern Theory," in Simon Frith, Andrew Goodwin, and Lawrence Grossberg, eds., Sound and Vision: The Music Video Reader (London: Roudedge, 1993), 57.

3. For examples of the photographic style that inspired Madonna's Vogue, see George Hurrell, Portfolios of George Hurrell (Santa Monica, CA: Graystone Books, 1991). Walker Evans's pictures are widely reproduced in collections concerning U.S. government sponsored photography of the 1930s, but probably the best source is the classic book in which they were first collected, James Agee and Evans's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941). The images of Don Henley's The End of the Innocence derive from Robert Frank's influential collection The Americans (New York: Grove Press, 1959).

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