A few days ago, my friend and I visited Spectacle: The Music Video Exhibition in Australian Centre of Moving Image. The exhibition, which features 300 clips spanning 9 decades, seeks to explore the history and progress of music videos, and its significance to arts, politics and culture.
Music videos are usually associated with MTV in 70s and 80s. However, music videos are actually the first forms of moving images, considering that by the time the first talking film, The Jazz Singer was released in 1927, watching films with only music had already been the norms. Many filmmakers, such as D.A Pennebaker, also used musical shorts to venture into the film industry, after realising that recoding live sound can be too costly and troublesome. The exhibition presents some of these filmmakers’ music film works, and they are really amazing. One of my favourite videos (perhaps most favourite in the exhibition) is Pennebaker’s Daybreak, a 5-minute short that combines music and unique shots of railways and trains.
The next section of the exhibition features iconic music videos, such as Bowie’s Heroes and Madonna’s Just like a prayer. It is awesome to listen to some of my favourite tracks again, whilst also trying new music that I haven’t listened before. Most of videos in this section are not that shocking in the current standard, but clearly they are the foundation for many today music videos, which also try to be provocative and controversial.
Watching these videos, one cannot feel impressed at how fast social norms change. In 70s and 80s, Madonna’s videos were considered sexual and heretic, but if we compare her with the series of women appearing naked around Robin Thicke in Blurred Lines or hanging themselves nude in a wrecking ball nowadays, her videos are still much more innocent and neutral. This shows that music videos, like most other visual forms, have significant impacts on our perception of the world, and though I appreciate its contribution to the arts, it cannot be denied that many of its impacts are rather negative. For example, a study has shown that the frequent objectification and sexualisation of women in the media continues to reinforce gender stereotypes and ‘decrease guilt judgement about a male’s sexual aggression’ (Burges and Burpo, 2012: 758). So, whilst the development of music videos is fascinating, it also leads us to question the responsibility of music video producers/artists against their freedom to be creative. After all, not only adults watch music videos. There are teenagers and children as well, and many of them do take videos as a source of learning and imitation.
With the advent of Internet, music videos also evolve. The Spectacle: The music Video Exhibition recognises this, and I really love the part when they pay tribute to fan-remixes and fan-made videos. Honestly, I have been watching fan-made videos more than official videos on Youtube, and I also used to make videos for my favourite song by using clips from my favourite films. I think this is a really interesting trend, showing that (1) the Internet has made creating arts become more democratic and interactive, and (2) that nowadays artworks, once released, no longer belong only to the authors but can be appropriated, worked and edited by anybody else. There are many issues related to this such as copyright, but I personally believe that fan-made videos are ultimately good things, allowing ordinary people to express creativity and making arts always alive.
And finally in the exhibition are the art-house, the cinematic and the interactive music videos, some of which are mesmerising, some are just silly and incomprehensible. But for me, early works of music videos in 1900s (silent films) and music short films in 1960s are still perhaps the one leaving me with most impressions. That’s perhaps because before attending the exhibition, I didn’t know much about music videos of this period. However, what I really love about these early music videos is that even though their qualities can’t be compared with contemporary high definition videos, there is a sense of excitement and freshness within them, reminding us that when moving images first came about, they were not intended for political or ideological manipulation or commercial profits. Rather, they were created simply to capture beautiful and invaluable moments of life.
These above pictures are taken by me (Mai Nguyen) at ACMI.
Five of my favourite music videos popping out of my head at the moment
1> A-ha – Take on me (1986): this creative music video is about a girl entering a comic book and meeting her destined guy, the hero of the comic. The song is catchy, but the idea of venturing into a book and meeting awesome fictional characters totally wins my heart.
2> Kina Grannis – In Your Arms (2011): what is more amazing than seeing 280,000 jelly-beans coming together? Remember to check out how the video is made, too! It make you appreciate the video much more.
3> Returns – Lee Seung Gi (2012): I watched this video last week, and fell in love with Seung Gi’s sweet voice. I am not a fan of his singing, but the way he delivers ‘Returns’ is really emotive and sincere: if the song is about his nostalgic of first love as the video suggests, then he really conveys it convincingly. Meanwhile, the video is quite typical as a high-quality South Korean music video with a love narrative, beautiful and romantic shots and a cinematic feel. And Lee Seung Gi is handsome as usual.
4> Lana Del Rey – Summertime Sadness (2012): I love everything about this video: the vintage feel, the old film effect, the colour scheme and Lana Del Rey’s voice.
5> Woodkid – I Love You (2013): do you agree that black and white music videos resonate more? I think so.
What are your favorite videos?