“Music videos are simply a tool for promoting an artist”. With reference to two music videos, how far do you agree with this statement?
The main purposes of music videos are to sell the song and invoke a reaction so it leaves the viewer thinking about the song, to give the listener a greater understanding of the song if the video is narrative, to entertain the audience i.e. show off any other talents the artist may have, and ultimately marketing the song/artist for the purposes of exposure and expansion of the artist’s profile. Despite all of these being factors being important, some people argue that some music videos are not solely for promotion, but in fact are an art form in which the director can be completely experimental. There are three types of music videos; performance, narrative and concept based. Performance based videos are ones in which the artist is features performing the song through most, if not all of the video. Narrative based videos contain mostly footage that attempts to tell a story through the moving image. This usually involves actors, and the storyline is sometimes linked to the lyrical content of the song. Lastly, concept based video is a style of music video which is based around a concept or idea. These types of videos tend to be fairly unusual or utilise a particular editing or filming technique.
Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke ft. TI and Pharrell (directed by Diane Martel) follows many conventions of popular music videos, especially when it comes to how females are portrayed. The video is solely performance based, with all three artists in one location performing to the camera, engaging with the audience in a first person mode of address. The video is extremely sexist, with three women wearing little to nothing, dancing seductively and playing with a variety of sexualized objects such as a stuffed lamb clearly all elements being used to reinforce the status of the men in the video.
The video complies with all of the seven representations of women created by Goffman, Jhally and Kilbourne; artificial look of the women, i.e. slim, tall, long-legged, tanned etc.; dismemberment such as the camera focusing on the lips of the women; commodification i.e. the women being presented as objects rather than other humans; the feminine touch where the women are seen to caress their bodies; relative size – women are always pictured to be shorter than men, showing male dominance; function ranking i.e. men act, women help men act; and lastly, ritualization of subordination where women are seen to be on the floor or considerably lower than the males and where women are often shown to have some childlike qualities. All of these representations appear in this music video, dehumanizing and objectifying these women.
Making the women play a more subdued role however, works in favour of the males as it draws attention to the completely different characters of the men and women. This is an act for promotion as the target audience of teenagers can watch the video, consume it and enjoy it; males are able to lust over the dancers in the video, and females are able to consume the artists who all have equal screen time in comparison to when the dancers are shown. This technique can be seen in other commercial music videos such as Toxic – Britney Spears and She Wolf – Shakira.
In recent years, there has been an influx of music videos that reimagine the preconceived concepts of marrying moving image and music to create a piece of art rather than a stereotypical music video. Somebody That I Used To Know – Gotye ft. Kimbra (directed by Natasha Pincus) is a music video, which is considered to be artier, and challenges conventional popular music videos as it is performance based, but also partly concept based due to the fact that it focuses on paint and humans as part of art. There are some similarities to typical music videos, such as the first person mode of address where the artist mainly addresses the camera to capture the audience, and editing techniques such as a cutting rate suited to the tempo of the song. The video however focuses on expression; when Gotye sings, his face is full of expression, which would not necessarily be a huge feature in a commercial music video. This expression of emotions amplifies the passion in both the lyrics and his singing voice.
This video has many connotations used to create meanings, such as the way the drawing is filled in with paint during the performance could represent the scale of the artist’s heartbreak. The way that these connotations are constructed reinforces the ideas that Barthes (1957) created in his writing of Mythologies. He said that in media texts, five codes are created to be interpreted by the active audience. The codes that are present in this music video are enigma codes (why are Gotye and Kimbra being painted to be camouflaged by the background?), symbolic codes (what the paint represents) and semic codes (connotations i.e. the paint). All of these aspects are ways in which the audience can think about the codes being used and then question them. When the audience questions the video, usually they want to consume it again to fully understand the text. This is a promotional technique used in most media texts as the audience will then purchase more of that particular artist’s music.
However, even though this video is more of an art form, the sole purpose is indeed to promote the artist and song. The video and lyrics relate to heartbreak and dejection, both of which the target audience should be able to relate to and therefore want to consume more of the artist, which is also the one purpose of most commercial music videos.
In conclusion, I believe that all music videos are a tool for promoting an artist as the only reason for an artist to create songs and videos is to get them heard. Even if the director of a music video has very small intentions of promoting the video, Barthes codes will be created almost unconsciously as different people will interpret the video in different ways; therefore creating buzz about the text and promoting it once again.