“Music videos are simply a tool for promoting an artist”. With reference to two music videos, how far do you agree with this statement?
There has always been a debate about whether music videos should be classed as art or simple pieces of chewing gum for the brain designed for a male audience (mostly consisting of teenage boys), as most feminist theorists would say. It can be seen through the many years of music videos that there has been a progression from mainly promotion and performance to a more art-style, however some may argue that this is too deterministic and music videos still do promote the artist.
Take Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me” (Mandler, 2012) as a commercial pop artists song which we can apply to the narrative codes created by Barthes (Mythologies, 1957) in which he believed that the meaning of a media text is made by the audience through the use of different codes. One of these codes is the action code, in which audiences decide why an action has occurred and it’s meaning, so in Bieber’s video we see a fight between the Canadian pop star and the love interest’s father (played by Michael Madsen) in which the audience can either feel that the fight shows an abusive man, or deeper down the fact that he knows Bieber is trouble and so attempts to break up the relationship through violence. Another code is the belief of enigma codes in which the audience are forced to question what may happen, this is frequently shown in music videos through the use of narrative fuzz, in which we don‘t see all of what happens or the timeline is mixed up, which can be seen in As Long As You Love Me at the start of the video in which we already see a beaten up and bruised Bieber and so the audience are intrigued as to find out why this has happened.
Goodwin (Dancing in the Distraction Factory, 1992) believes there to be certain features within music videos that are seen within many of them, mostly being those of the mainstream kind. For example Goodwin believes that there is a relationship between lyrics and visuals, and this can be seen at one point during the beginning of a dance routine in which Bieber sings “I’ll be your soldier” and during this all the dancing, including Bieber, salute and begin to fight like soldiers, amplifying the meaning of the lyric. As well as this he also believes there needs to be a relationship between music and visuals, which is shown when the dubstep music in the chorus drops in and the editing pace suddenly increases, with the fast beat and visuals creating the feeling of energy, something which Bieber is known for.
Richard Dyer (Stars, 1979) writes about how stars, in whatever piece of media they are part of, have a star image that is constructed through a range of materials and they are commodities produced and consumed on their strength and meaning. Dyer believes that for a star to have their image and be attractive to their audience they need to be both incomplete as well as “open”, which creates two paradoxes Dyer writes about. The first is that the star must be both ordinary as well as extraordinary, this is present in Bieber’s music video as he is shown to be extraordinary through his use of fast cars he uses to drift through the LA streets and the flashy clothing he wears. However he is also shown to be ordinary through the story in which the narrative shows a young man in love who has problems with the girl’s father, which is aimed to be a problem which many young people face when they are introduced into the world of relationships and the belief that fathers are overprotective of their daughters. His second paradox is that the star must be simultaneously present and absent, meaning that the audience are never fully satisfied of seeing the star, and so this is shown in As Long As You Love Me when Bieber can be seen on screen throughout either singing to the camera or just part of the narrative, meaning he is there, but he is not present during the points in which we see the personal lives of the girl and her father. This promotes the artist and makes him more appealing and mysterious to the audience.
As Long As You Love Me promotes Bieber’s star image of a modern day Casanova and promotes the artist, but it’s cinematic style of having one minute of narrative in the video before the song has begun and so tries to file it’s way into being a more art style of video and so merges the two together to avoid criticism.
A music video that can be seen as having a more challenging style and more likely to be classed as an art piece comes from the young Nottingham singer-songwriter Jake Bugg with his song Seen It All (Cohen, 2013) which fits in very well with Barthes writing of narrative codes, and the video can be seen as enigmatic from start to finish, as we constantly see the main character (played by Michael Socha) escaping the police for an unknown reason and so the audience question this up until the end in which he is revealed to be a ghost. Narrative fuzz is also used in the video as at one point Bugg shows up in an alley with a ping pong table ready to play, who then suddenly vanishes, which never gets revealed to the audience. Bugg’s close roots of being a young man in Britain are shown explicitly with the use of cultural codes, as the young past time of smoking, partying and violence which can be linked to being British is shown through both visuals and lyrics.
Seen It All’s video contains many of Goodwin’s key features of a music video, most notably the use of interstitial references, as we go throughout the whole narrative thinking that Socha’s character is alive, however at the end we realise he is a ghost and he disappears upon realising this, which can be seen to be referencing The Sixth Sense in how this happens. The notion of looking is used effectively in the video when Socha enters the bathroom and we see him in a hall of mirrors effect which emphasises his odd behaviour and attitude throughout. There is also a very clever link between the lyrics and visuals within Bugg’s video, as the song is being sung from Bugg’s point of view in which he saw a man being stabbed at a party, but the video links into this with us seeing the boy who was stabbed live in purgatory for a day, linking the song with the narrative in an innovative way.
Bugg also fits in with Richard Dyer’s theory of the star image, however not on the same level as Bieber may be a star, as Bieber is an international star with millions of fans all over the world, whereas Bugg is more of a star in Britain with only a margin of fans in other countries. However Bugg can be seen to be extraordinary as at the age of seventeen he was performing on the Radio 1’s In New Music We Trust Stage at Glastonbury and so his fans understand that he has an immense talent and singing and song writing ability, however Bugg is also a relatively normal character as his songs revolve around growing up as a working class lad in England which most of his fan base can relate to, as well as his themes of love, rebellion and youth violence which mirror topics relevant to Britain, the way he sings his songs from his perspective also creates a parasocial intimacy with his youth audience as they can relate to his antics that he sings of. Within the music video for Seen It All Bugg can also fit in with Dyer’s second paradox of being simultaneously present and absent from the video as he is seen for a mere fraction of the video when he plays table tennis against Socha and suddenly vanishes mid-game, and for the rest of the video he is absent.
In conclusion I do not believe that music videos are solely created to promote the artist, although it is their main reason for existence, but they also allow the artist to emphasise the meaning of the song for example when the audience find out at the end of Seen It All that Socha’s character was the man stabbed at a party the viewer immediately gains the feeling of sadness and sorrow due to the shocking nature and so the song becomes more than simply just a song but something closer. Bieber’s video for As Long As You Love Me attempts to do the same of evoking emotion, however due to the fact that it is being used to promote Bieber as a performer it loses this emotion because of it’s use of dance routines and close-ups on Bieber’s face as he sings which only satisfies those young girls who believe they have a chance with the Canadian heartthrob. So yes, music videos are a tool for artist promotion, however it does depend on where on the “mainstream-ometer” the artist is and who their fans are, as Bugg’s target audience is well educated middle class Brits, and Bieber’s is young girls across the world.