The history – and future – of music videos

Think of iconic music videos, and you’ll tend to be dealing with songs from two specific periods. The ‘MTV era’ – Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the gymnasium scene from Smells Like Teen Spirit – and the online era, from OK Go’s much-imitated treadmill-hopping to Psy’s record-breaking Gangnam Style.

MTV became a huge player in the music industry. (Source – MTV)

With the latter racking up more than two billion views on YouTube, it’s obvious that the conjunction of music and images still appeals. What’s interesting, though, is that for a period in the mid-2000s this seemed far from a foregone conclusion.

Picking a starting point for music videos is difficult – the iconic Dylan performance in Subterranean Homesick Blues is one option, but there are plenty more. That MTV took the concept and ran with it is undeniable. In a neat touch, it launched with Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles – over the next two decades the channel influenced the tastes of a generation, courting plenty of controversy along the way.

Madonna, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Eminem – all used MTV to provoke, entertain and consolidate their image. A well-crafted music video could reach a huge audience and make a hit almost on its own. But by the mid-2000s, this was no longer the case.

Noel Gallagher has recently realised how terrible Oasis's music videos were.
Noel Gallagher has recently realised how terrible Oasis’s music videos were. (Source – Jose Francisco Del Valle Mojica.)

Figures from Nielsen show that the number of music videos being played in 2012 had fallen to around 70,000; even worse, they’d become synonymous with vacuous 80s excess and jobbing, addled directors. Noel Gallagher’s acerbic commentary on his band’s various and variously terrible flirtations with the world of moving images is a great indication of how irrelevant they had become by the heydey of Oasis.

So what changed? Predictably, the answer is the internet. The most-watched videos on YouTube are all from musicians, assuming you consider Justin Bieber and Pitbull to be musicians. Even better, online platforms have made it far easier for independent artists to produce and distribute their own relatively low-budget videos – the OK Go song Here it Goes Again is the best example.

In fact, from making a Rube Goldberg machine to dancing with dogs, the Chicago band have a habit of producing fun, viral videos.

“After we come up with a simple concept, the four of us (and often times our collaborators) get together and start playing around with ideas until the concept starts coming to life, changing, and getting better than we ever could have imagined,” bassist Tim Nordwind told Mashable.

The music video is even expanding and changing to fit its new technological niche. Arcade Fire worked with Chris Milk to produce a short interactive film, The Wilderness Downtown, for their song We Used To Wait.

At Clowdy, we’ve welcomed the return of the music video. This stunner, from HighFields, is a particular favourite – as is Twin Hidden’s Unconditionally, which looks as if it might have taken a few tips from Here It Goes Again and other low-budget but high-concept videos.

The multimedia nature of our platform facilitates collaboration, so directors, photographers and musicians can hook up. Hopefully, one of these cross-fertilisations of creativity might go on to emulate OK Go!


Fearghus Roulston

Fearghus was tempted into training as a journalist after an injudicious exposure to the Tintin books at an early age. He worked in several content marketing and writing jobs before starting at Clowdy, where he deals with blogging, social media and other non-Tintin or international espionage-related activities.