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The Day the Music (Videos) Died

Written by Maisha Kazi

March 6, 2024

Okay, they’re not dead. But they’re certainly not as prominent as they used to be.

Growing up, I was lucky to be the sibling with the television in my bedroom. While my brothers set up camp in my room at night to watch their favorite TV shows, I could just roll over and turn the screen on whenever I wanted. My TV was always at my fingertips, ready to be watched at my disposal.

However, I could not control what kind of media was playing. Yes, there was a time when we could not watch any show at any given moment. Early mornings on the weekends, in particular, were a rather boring time to be watching TV, as networks put on mostly old cartoons and news. Music Television channel, better known as MTV, made a quiet summer morning feel exciting. I loved watching people dance and play their guitars at seven in the morning. When MTV was on, I would be able to watch music videos I had never seen before.

MTV does not play music videos anymore. The program that gave us Kurt Cobain’s famous 1993 “MTV Unplugged” episode and iconic VMA performances like Britney Spears with her snake in 2001, has arguably fallen out of relevance along with its primary programming: music videos.

People simply do not watch music videos like they used to. The widespread anticipation for releasing a music video doesn’t exist anymore. Nowadays, YouTube has replaced MTV. Yet, views for more recent music videos on YouTube struggle to reach the high numbers of viewership compared to a few years ago. Why is that?

Well, streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music have taken over. Users nowadays prefer to scroll and do other things on their phones while they listen to music, which also speaks to our collective diminished attention span - a whole other topic. When watching a music video, you’re forced to sit down and pay attention, or else you might miss something critical to understanding the story. On Spotify and Apple Music, users do not need to do this. Listening to music on streaming services can be as mindless as you want. Spotify has actually started adding visuals alongside songs. On the app, artists can upload a short, 30-second looping clip to play in the background during the duration of a song. However, this clip can be anything from a scene in the music video, to a shot from a concert, to even displaying new merch. These clips are not confined to advancing visual storytelling, and it is not the same as sitting down and watching an entire production.

Along with streaming services, YouTube videos are just ad after ad. Music videos still exist on the platform, but YouTube videos are constantly interrupted by unwanted content. Additionally, with the rise of platforms such as TikTok, social media users have gotten more comfortable with short, succinct videos—the antithesis to a music video. Seeing a 15-second clip from a five minute video makes us feel we’ve seen enough. Different TikTok users also tend to post different clips from the same video. As a user scrolls through their For You Page, they may see various timestamps stemming from a longer video. This allows users to string together an entire, full-length video without leaving the app.

So whatever happened to extravagant, thought-provoking productions that tested boundaries? People used to be forced to listen to songs because they heard the music video was ‘crazy’. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” or Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” were known to be, for a lack of better words, insane, but this notion ultimately drew in viewership. Most people could recall many iconic music videos, but they are not from recent years. Recall “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, which surely everyone knows the dance to. Or what about “Telephone” by Lady Gaga, or “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift? They all fall under this category of memorability.

Thankfully, the good news is that there are still artists who create these extravagant productions. There are more recent music videos that deserve recognition for reminding us of the visual artistry that should come with a song. Troye Sivan’s “One of Your Girls” music video has gained 24 million views in just under five months. Lil Nas’s “Old Town Road”, released in 2019, is the first music video to hit over one billion views. And not to mention Miley Cyrus’s “Flowers”, which greatly assisted in amplifying the song’s message. Many artists today build a creative visual image around an entire album release, and they keep that aesthetic as a continuity throughout media releases. Two of my favorite artists, Tyler, the Creator and The Weeknd, are great examples of this. A curated aesthetic allows for even more interpretation by the listener.

But, why do music videos even matter? Well, people associate albums with the album covers and music videos.

For artists, it helps them plan visuals when they go on tour and have to set backdrops or light shows for their concerts.

For listeners, it helps create an image around the audio, enhancing the connection to and experience with a song.

Music videos transform listeners into audiences. They connect you to the artist and provide their perspective of their song, something that listeners cannot assume. They allow for conversation, questioning, and satisfaction. Music videos are an essential part of creativity and should not be left behind by artists nor music lovers.

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