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2018: A Renaissance For The Music Video

From Childish Gambino to Miley Cyrus, Ed Smith discusses why 2018 has been an important year for music videos

'This Is America' - Childish Gambino

In a year that saw my music taste being diversified and broadend to primarily old school discotheque, it was interesting to see the growing appeal of music videos with more artists and producers creating cinematic visuals to accompany pop music. The seeming growing importance of music videos is interesting to chart, as producers especially, have clearly noticed the developing prominence that apps and websites such as YouTube have in making or breaking their song. As a result, 2018 has seen a renaissance of the music video, which had largely been forgotten about because of the rise of downloading via iTunes. Unlike downloading music, streaming has undoubtedly influenced the renewal of music videos, yet in their own way, I believe artists have re-imagined the possibilities of their music being transcribed in a visual dimension, as well as an important tool to cast their outlook on the sociopolitical climate.

An outline of how music videos have entered a renaissance cannot begin without first mentioning the outlandish and rightly celebrated, ‘This Is America’ by Childish Gambino. The combination of the video and song chart and draw reference to the challenges of being black in America, whilst emphasising through the psalmic chorus the rich black culture of America. Furthermore, the video draws the viewer's attention through a seamless single shot motion to how American society can at one extremity be so rich and diverse, yet continuously grieve the tragic deaths following mass shootings. This serves to emulate the insensitivity that faces America today. Similarly the continuous references to the fictional racist character of Jim Crow by Glover refers to historical context of racism in America and how African-Americans are inextricably linked to producing entertainment yet are seen as cannon fodder. This is demonstrated by the hooded black body being dragged off stage, whilst the gun used to kill him is handled with extreme care. Without the music video, the song, in my view does not make as much sense, and Donald Glover’s decision to release the track through the music video epitomises the power visuals still have in portraying the artist or character’s outlook on the world.

Aside from the wider contextual meaning of discriminatory violence against black people in America, Drake’s ‘Nice For What’ music video was one that had a depth of meaning whilst portraying each female role as enjoying life and thriving in success. Whether this success was personal or professional, the medium of dance expressed their joy in the world and demonstrated a clear message of empowerment. The director, Karena Evans, contextualises each woman who appears in the video, from socialite to single parent, as in control of their environment and therefore a strong character. The message of empowerment thus shines through the video particularly as Drake’s lyrics depict the cut throat world where women and particularly black women are the most discriminated socially and culturally, to create a highly visual and contemporary piece that rains with positivity despite the wider contextual issues being a potential barrier to achievement.

Now I could continue to analyse various music videos from 2018 to depict how the reemergence of big budget music videos are being used to mobilise causes against Gun violence or the continuous ill treatment of people of colour across the globe, though I think it would get rather repetitive. Therefore I believe the recently released video for ‘Breaks Like A Heart’ by Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus. This best summarises the various social and political battles that have plagued America in recent years with the cinematography and the visual artistry, depicting a classic 1990's police car chase that dominated newsreels during the decade. Specifically, the film’s central narrative of a highway car chase draws reference to the infamous OJ Simpson car chase. In addition, the cinematography accentuates an intimacy with Cyrus who guides the viewer whilst remaining omnipresent in her car through her own personal troubles and simultaneously portraying some of the most troubling aspects of America today. These individual elements of the central car chase narrative focus on gun violence, LGBTQ+ rights, having a celebrity figure as President and the cost of excessive consumer capitalism. The final point articulates a view towards a possible disastrous future by illuminating the viewer to the humanitarian and environmental consequences of greed, a theme that is implicitly referenced throughout the video.

In my view, music videos are re-emerging with increased vigour and intensity by demonstrating a greater depth to their video whilst simultaneously highlighting the need to enjoy life. The popularity of YouTube as a streaming platform has indefinitely increased the renewal of music videos as another social media platform to communicate the artist’s view on individual and collective struggles through a visually expressive form. Though it must be highlighted a few artists, such as Beyoncé have influenced the renaissance of music video as the visual effects of her videos from the Lemonade album carry agency and weight in a manner that was not seen before in America.

Will the renaissance continue or will artists revert back to being mundane, visually boring with a performance in front of a few backing dancers? Maybe, but it’s clear that definitely following the movements of Black Lives Matter and the election of Donald Trump, videos from American artists especially will continue to emphasise the wider sociopolitical issues and their concern towards them through every media outlet available to them.

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