MTV aired its first music video in the August of 1981. The video was for The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star. They knew what the future held.
When an artist announces the release of a new single, we expect a music video to follow suit. When they announce a new album, we eagerly await the news of tour dates. The music alone no longer satisfies our needs and we, as an audience, are looking to other platforms of entertainment.
According to statisticbrain.com, the human population has an average attention span of 8 seconds – 1 second less than a goldfish. External stimulation has lead to our attention spans decreasing over the past few years and as a result, more and more of us require some sort of visual in order to keep us fully occupied. Technologically advanced methods of obtaining music have taken over. Sixty Four per cent of teenagers listen to music through YouTube, a predominantly visual site, than through any other source.
Music videos are more PVC than PC. The world’s most influential artists are using sex for sales. Activist and cultural theorist Jean Kilbourne stated in a recent Ted Talk that, “The problem isn’t sex; it’s the culture’s pornographic attitude towards sex, the trivialization of sex.” In Beyoncé’s Partition video, over 20 seconds is dedicated to going back and forth between her performing various moves on a phallic looking object and her on the floor in a embellished bikini. Since when was using your body as an object to keep audiences entertained empowering? This is a woman who also champions female empowerment in Flawless but sings the lyrics ‘bow down bitches’ in the very same song.
Joe Boyd, singer/songwriter and founder of Agony & Ecstasy Records, observes, “With music videos I think it is easy for viewers to be more entertained by the visual aspect because of the increasing numbers of adult themes appearing in them. The shock value is a sure way of getting the videos viewed and talked about.”
Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video features Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I. fully clothed whilst their female extras spend the duration of the video in very little to no clothes. It seems as though, in the music industry, women are only interesting when they are in a bra and knickers.
Backtrack 15 years to Chris Issak’s Wicked Game from 1989. The black and white video, directed by Herb Ritts, stars supermodel Helena Christensen cavorting on a Hawaiian beach with Issak. The pair was topless throughout the footage but Christensen’s nudity was concealed by crafty camera angles. The video won several awards including Best Male Video, Best Cinematography and Best Video from a Film at the MTV Music Awards. It was also ranked 4th on VH1’s 50 Sexiest Video Moments and 13th on VH1’s 100 Greatest Videos. Perhaps without the video the song wouldn’t have done so well. In this case, *tasteful* sex sells and also wins awards.
Acoustic performer Erin Witton says, “There is obviously a huge commercial sector that relies on the video and touring industry, and while I believe that the loss of live concerts would be devastating to the industry, I daresay that it would be far better off without music videos and their often dubious or irrelevant content.” Ceasing to make such videos would force us to listen to the creative process come to life rather than just focus on the visual.
It’s not just music videos that are getting more elaborate by the day. Concerts are turning into freak shows. Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz tour saw her riding a suspended hotdog, slide down a giant tongue and touch herself repeatedly all whilst wearing next to nothing. It was an assault on all the senses. But concerts tours are where the real money is nowadays. None of the earnings from concerts go to the record label, so it makes sense for the artists to put on a good show to ensure they make as much money as possible.
When you see artists perform live, the show they put on often takes away from the actual singing. So much so, that, in some cases it means that the singer has to mime because the routines render them breathless. “Take the live shows of artists such as Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga as examples,” Witton suggests. “Their shows are much less an opportunity to showcase their music than an exercise in theatricality.” She also adds, “I think it may have a lot to do with the rise of celebrity, and musicians no longer having such an emotional connection to their songs, having not written them alone.” This isn’t an invalid point. Freddie Mercury wrote Bohemian Rhapsody singlehandedly. It took 6 writers and 4 producers to come up with Beyoncé’s Run The World (Girls); a song that repeats the same 13 lines 4 times over.
60s music enthusiast Jane Smith recalls, “In the 60s it was a big thing to go to a concert. You couldn’t buy DVDs or videos to see the concert, so when you were able to get tickets it was really exciting. Now it seems like everything is a shambles.”
However, Fleetwood Mac are a band that prove you don’t have to have a fancy set design and a million dollar music video to still capture the attention of the public. With Christine McVie choosing to re-join the band after a 16-year break, making the decision to do a world tour was an easy one. When tickets went on sale for the UK leg of the tour this past November, they sold out within minutes. No almost-nude girl humping giant teddy bears, no dancers, no foam squirting out of enormous whipped cream cans attached to boobs, just a group of 5 over 60’s standing behind their instruments singing the songs that they believe in.
Younger generations have been brought up in a visual age. Reverting back to how it was before MTV and the Internet is only but a dream. As The Buggles sang, we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far.