Daily Archives: July 16, 2010

The Music Video: What Is It Selling Anyway?

Many in the Archie fandom are quite exuberant at the prospect of David reuniting with “Crush” music video director DeClan White Bloom, to work on his music video for “Something ‘Bout Love,” as production takes place today in LA.

What I love about the “Crush” video, other than the heated debates it spurred on about “window-dressing” and the like (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I will not tell you, lest we find ourselves revisiting controversy once again), is the way it cast David as a musician.  I love, love, love that opening shot of David at his piano down by the lake.

Now, I personally found the “Dawson’s Creek” vibe of the video a bit generic and quite unoriginal, but for a debut, I was proud that David pulled it off as the leading guy.  His natural cuteness and shyness came off rather honestly, and I thought that worked quite well with the song.

The Scott Speer-directed video, “A Little Too Not Over You,” in contrast, didn’t take off in the same way, some believing that it didn’t capture David in the same sincere manner.

I find this video much more stylized than “Crush,” but somehow that doesn’t seem to be as “authentic” to David as we found with “Crush.”  I disagree that David seems too young to experience what the song is about (as some have said), but I do agree that it doesn’t quite pack the same punch.  I believe this has everything to do with it seeming too much like the “Crush” video, he’s not a convincing “guitar player,” and his “moody” poses are too far-fetched.

Not to mention that little product placement of the digital camera was more than a little overdone.

So, here we are, nearly two years since these first videos, and from what Bloom has called for in his “casting call,” I know we’re getting some “ethnically ambiguous” Caucasian leading lady and a bunch of “skateboarders.”

Sigh.

I can’t help but think, just based on this call, that we’ll be treated to “Crush” 2.0, west coast style!

Less “Dawson Creek” but more “Clueless”!

So, of course, I’m all perked up to ask: just what exactly is the label trying to sell about David and his music?

Because that’s what music videos are: stylized commercials to sell music and the artist.

Casting David in a teen-based drama or comedy just reeks of more of the same old, generic approach to marketing his artistry, and I wish there was somebody more creative on his label team.

I once read an article about music video production pertaining to hip-hop music, and it was all about how labels pretty much dictate the kind of music video they want for their artists.  So, no matter how creative and unique an artist and/or director wants to get, they need their labels on board (at least Lady Gaga gets that with her label!).  There have been many a rap artist who wanted to do ground-breaking, cutting edge videos, but somebody higher up will always nix it because it doesn’t “fit” into the hip-hop formula of “booty-shaking party scene” nonsense that we have come to associate with the music genre.

When black women and other women of color are routinely degraded in such videos, we tend to blast the artists for their shameless objectification, but at some point, we need to hold their record label execs accountable since they have determined that “overly sexed” banal videos are “more commercially viable” than something original.

We should all be grateful that we had musical geniuses like Michael Jackson, who took the bull by its horns and dictated the kind of videos he wanted to make.  In sum, MJ realized he needed to “sell” his image, not his music, which is why his music videos were so awesome!

At some point, when David becomes more comfortable with his artistry and his public image, and gains more power in decision-making, he will need to do the same; otherwise, he will be stuck starring in yet another generic teen-movie set to 5 minutes or less.

Here are some of my favorite music videos of all time, which demonstrate how the artists understood that the video was about selling their image more than selling the song itself:

1.  “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson

The video isn’t even about the song (something about some groupie trying to pass off a child she had as his); it’s about the magic that is Michael Jackson!

2.  “Waterfalls” by TLC

OK, so this video is the reason why TLC went broke, but man, the images employed were simply fantastic! A political song and video, and incidentally one song David has included on his list of influential songs in Chords of Strength, it tells a compelling story while also quite literally invoking its metaphoric song title. How it sells the artists: they have always been politically conscious, AIDS awareness-type entertainers who also knew how to have lots of fun as a girl trio.  Before there was Destiny’s Child, there was TLC (RIP Lisa Lopes, who had set up a foundation in Honduras, which I believe David has supported).  At some point, I know these are the kinds of videos David will want to make.

3.  “Rhythm Nation” by Janet Jackson

Speaking of politically conscious videos, this is by far my favorite Janet Jackson video, which was part of a series of a mini-movie, which promoted racial harmony through the use of systemic, industry-type imagery.  It’s really progressive when you look back on it.  I mean, we don’t get creativity in videos like this anymore.

4. “Single Ladies” by Beyonce

But we do get great dancing in our current era, and I will give Beyonce props for taking a Bob Fosse-inspired dance from the ’60s and updating it, turning it into the first Internet-based dance craze.  The funny thing about “Single Ladies” is that Beyonce and her label had to scale back on music video production costs because they spent so much on her video for “If I Were a Boy.”  They needed to do something “low budget,” so they came up with a cheap white backdrop highlighting Beyonce and her back-up dancers.  The rest, as they say, is history.  For it’s not the “song” being sold but Beyonce as Sasha Fierce!

5.  “Toxic” by Britney Spears

By the same token, sometimes a big budget produces some really fun and campy videos, like this one for Britney.  Say what you will about her generic talents, but when it came to performance, Britney knew how to do her thing, and I’ve always found this “Toxic” video of the comic strip superhero femme fatale disguised as your friendly flight attendant quite hilarious.  Again, it’s not the song but Britney as campy sex pot that’s being marketed. And, if we weren’t so caught up in taking everything she did so literally, we would recognize the ways that she is just having a whole lot of fun playing at these various feminine signifiers. (Oh, and there is the hot looking Tyson!)

6. “Take On Me” by A-ha

This video just blew me away when I first saw it on MTV.  It is still by far one of the most original integrations of animation and live action.

7. “One” by U2

The lyrics to this song are vague enough, but the video adds a whole different layer, which then makes you go, Hmmm… on its deeper message.

8. “Not Ready to Make Nice” by Dixie Chicks

Now, here’s a “message video” that needed to be delivered, and in spades! Total standing ovation for the Dixie Chicks in fearlessly coming back with a strong album and equally strong video after being so ruthlessly blacklisted.

9.  “Stranger in Moscow” by Michael Jackson

This was one song I wasn’t aware of until David nicely recommended it during one of his “song for the day” blog posts.  Ever since discovering the video, I’m constantly blown away by its stylistic images and beautifully shot narrative of loneliness and alienation.

10.  “All is Full of Love” by Bjork

And then there’s Bjork.  ‘Nuff said. (See also Joga.)

I could come up with more, but I’ll stop at these examples.  In sum, I’m looking forward to the time when David gets as creative with how his music videos will look as he is about getting involved with the songwriting process.  The music video matters just as much, perhaps more for his image than for his music.

This too should be able to sell what he is about in general. And David is about love, peace, harmony, and great music.  He will soon need to try and influence that these general ideas that he embraces shines forth in his videos since he’s more than just a “fun-loving youth.”

And who knows? Maybe he’s already doing that with this latest video production.

I’m sure the SBL video will be as refreshing as “Crush,” but sooner or later, David will wanna go deeper than this.  And when he does, it will be exciting to see what new images and narratives he takes on to introduce the world to David Archuleta.