Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Shortcomings of the High-Budget Music Video.

  • Guns N’ Roses – November Rain
  • Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger
  • Meat Loaf – I Would Do Anything For Love
  • 30 Seconds To Mars – From Yesterday

Being sung from the mouth of their owner’s gigantic ego is not the only thing that these four songs have in common, however that is not to say that these singers’ beliefs of high self-worth are unrelated to the similarity that I wish to draw: they have each fallen victim to the high-budget-music-video trap. A trend which is easily recognisable, most frequently rearing its ugly head once said performer has managed to make a few million for their record label and has thus come to the ‘realisation’ that what their fans really want now – regardless of the direction that has previously proved popular – is to see their idols dressed in outrageous costumes, acting out an absurd and nonsensical chain of events and generally letting their musical success lead them to believe that they now deserve a place in a high-budget Hollywood blockbuster. Well, they don’t, and nor do I wish to see them conducting this embarrassing, self-indulgent dance across my visual senses.

Perhaps just more evidence in the argument that all one achieves when giving genuinely talented musicians copious amounts of money as soon as they achieve mainstream success is to extinguish their ambition and talent like piss on a bonfire. No longer able to relate to those people who championed their success; it must be hard to write about people of the streets from a penthouse suite at the Four Seasons. All one needs do is observe the incomprehensible transition that occurred to Axl Rose between the making of the music video for Paradise City and Don’t Cry, the former being one of the greatest live action music videos ever made, and the latter perfectly illustrating the singer’s descent into self-obsessed ‘Guns N’ Roses fans would love to watch me argue with my supermodel girlfriend in my Malibu mansion whilst battling serious emotional issues’ territory.

Without delving further into the extent to which success is the enemy of genius and ambition, I would like to swing back to what I wish to talk about today: the simplistic beauty of the music video. I think that perhaps the most important thing to remember if you’re in a band that has just achieved a high level of success, is that your appeal is (probably) due to the music and is not dependant on its visual accompaniment. I began to consider this point the other day when pondering which music videos I would deem to be favourites, or the most effective and enjoyable to watch. In doing so, I discovered that not a single one of the multi-million dollar productions even got a look in, and in fact, it was all about low-budget live action music videos; footage of musicians doing what they do best – playing music and looking fucking cool.

Should you need to see an example of what I mean by this, I would suggest you check out either Oasis – Rock n’ Roll Star, She Bangs The Drums by The Stone Roses, Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2 or The Libertines – Can’t Stand Me Now. Each of which offers a fine illustration of a music video not detracting from the song itself, but instead managing to capture the energy and original sentiments of the song and presenting it in a very direct and powerful way; working as an aid to the audio instead of a distraction. This all draws back to the basic fact that if something is genuinely good; it does not need to cower behind layers of fakery, smoke and mirrors. 

When the concept of the ‘song film’ was initially founded, its intentions were to provide viewers of music television programmes such as Top of the Pops with footage to watch in the event of the band or musicians being unable to appear live in the studio due to touring commitments. Very simplistic, low-budget and often rushed at the last minute, the charm of these early promotional videos is perhaps why the more unpretentious efforts still hold more appeal today, but also because they reveal more of the artists than any multi-million dollar production ever could. A prime example of the absolute genius of a simple, iconic and original music video is that of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues – one of the first videos ever made, and in spite of all the technological advancements that are apparently now used ‘to our advantage’ to further viewing pleasure, still by far one of the best.

Another great aspect to the live action music video is that it offers people who haven't had the chance to witness a particular band or performer play live, the opportunity to witness how great a performance they can really put on. Not only that, but it allows for every exciting and exhilarating moment of a two hour set, or even a twelve month long tour, to be bottled and contained down into a four minute clip – thus making the whole thing look more awesome than it even did for those who were there in person (aside from the live experience itself of course). And for this reason, I was arguing the point just yesterday that what I would love to see from Patrick Wolf’s next music video release is a live action creation. As one of the best, most charismatic and talented live performers I have ever had the pleasure of watching, people who would never make the effort to actually go and see him live are missing out on the wonder that is Patrick Wolf as a live spectacle. Perhaps a live action video is what he really needs in order for people to finally open their eyes to his unbelievable talents.

Now, I am not saying it wouldn’t be incredibly dull if every music video merely documented live performance, however I am definitely fighting the corner for more low-budget ventures; portrayals of these musicians as human beings, going about their business and subsequently coming across in a much more accessible and endearing light, as opposed to the far removed concepts of the Lady Gaga music video realm. Then again, it could be that pretentious, costly music videos are actually so popular due to their ability to substitute for and disguise a lack of talent that would otherwise be exposed if their subjects were laid bare on a simple film with nothing but their charisma (or lack of) to sell them to the public. In which case, we’ll leave the Hollywood-esque productions to those who need it (or are passed the point of caring), and in the meantime enjoy the simplistic beauty and connection we can achieve with those musicians who do not need to hide behind million dollar budgets in order to convince us that they are talented.

Here is a brilliant example of stripped-down music video genius put into action, before money and success overrode their simple yet winning formula. The aforementioned Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses:

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