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The Evolution of Music Videos Continues

When music videos stopped dominating MTV’s (and other channels’) airwaves, some older viewers bemoaned the change, and the end of the music video was declared—but time has proven that the medium has risen from the ashes. We’ve commented before that the internet can be thanked for reviving the video star and keeping music videos relevant. Today, because they are far more likely to be viewed, passed on, and talked about online than anywhere else, music videos have managed to maintain their relevance in entertainment and youth culture. In our interview with Millennial musician Jerid Nowell, he commented on the importance of music videos for artists today, saying, “I think music videos help a lot, especially for me. We’ve released the single [and] people are hungry for a story around it…We’re doing a music video along with a bunch of other online videos to give fans what they’re asking for.”

Music videos have lived on and become a vital part of showing an artist’s point of view and engaging the Millennial audience. But they have also evolved even further. Just as streaming and online viewing has diversified television content (and led to what NYMag calls, “The Rise of the Bespoke TV Series,”) the internet has also allowed for the boundaries of music videos to be pushed, and the visualization of music has become perhaps more important than ever to young viewers. We’ve seen the rise of the music film, the beginning of video trailers, and more. A music video is no longer confined to fit specific industry standards or be packaged to be acceptable for mainstream, primetime viewing—and the Millennial audience’s expectations of the visualization of music are changing. In late December Beyoncé surprised fans, and the industry, with an entire new album on iTunes featuring 14 songs and 17 accompanying music videos, introducing a new “visual album” format. Bey’s innovation has raised the bar for other artists as well—there were even rumors that Mariah Carey would follow in her footsteps. The evolution of the music video and diversification of the medium is continuing, and not only changing what Millennials expect from artists, but also how they can be engaged. Here are three recent examples of the new era of music entertainment: 

1. JAY Z and Beyoncé’s Tour Trailer

Beyoncé is at it again. She took a major risk with her surprise visual album dropped late last year, requiring fans to buy the album in its entirety to experience the series of vignettes. This time around, her and husband JAY Z raised the bar with a dual tour announcement, which in and of itself has created hype and excitement with the duo’s shared spectrum of fans. Beyoncé is no stranger to high production value, with an HBO documentary, Life Is But a Dream,  as well as a variety of acting gigs in Hollywood under her belt, so it should be no surprise that America’s hip hop and R&B power couple would create a visual component to their On The Run tour. But what was released this week is a full-blown movie-style tour trailer, complete with a  plotline, celebrity cameos, and special effects. The high-budget trailer follows their Bonnie and Clyde-inspired romance into an underground of guns, money, and strippers, with celeb appearances by Sean Penn, Jake Gyllenhaal, Don Cheadle, Blake Lively, and Emmy Rossum (just to name a few). The 3:45 minute trailer has blown up in a big way, and has been viewed over 5 million times in just three days. Promoting their tour with a highly produced movie trailer raises its level of importance and gives onlookers a taste of their music collaboration. If fans weren’t moved to purchase tickets before, watching the tour trailer may intrigue them enough to find out just what surprises will come next from the couple whose endeavors are often the first of their kind in the music visualization space.

2. Pepsi’s Visual Music Album

To create a campaign that plays into and helps build the excitement around the World Cup, Pepsi has created their own label to release an album that, “provide both musical and visual snapshots that speak to the spirit of football [soccer] culture.” Internationally popular music artists like Rita Ora, Kelly Rowland, Satigold, and Timbaland were tapped as vocalists on the project, and each of the eleven songs in the album is accompanied by a “short film” (note, they’re not calling them music videos) that tells a story inspired by the music’s lyrics. The brand pulled in both well-known directors like Spike Lee as well as young, relatively unknown talent to create the films. The debut track, “Heroes” by Janelle Monae, is a take on a David Bowie classic with a 4-minute video created by interactive media production company The Young Astronauts, which features an uplifting story of bullied kids being inspired to transform into comic book heroes. The singles are premiering on, and the complete album will be released internationally in June. This isn’t the first time that the brand has played in the music space, and in 2012 they created an original song for the European soccer campaign that became an international hit. The fact that their second soccer music effort includes a visualized album rather than just a single speaks to the evolution of the format in just the last two years. The Beats of the Beautiful Game project continues the trend of visual albums that turn songs into visual narratives, and also shows how brands can get involved in the evolution of music entertainment and provide exclusive content to fans. 

3. M.I.A.’s “DoubleBubbleTrouble”

M.I.A. is known for breaking the rules, consistently weaving politically-charged cultural debates into her high energy music. She is an artist often attributed with creating new trends, whether in music, fashion, or elsewhere, so it’s a fitting match for her to combine the dream-like rebellious side of Millennial teens and the latest hot tech topic of 3D printing in her most recent music video for “DoubleBubbleTrouble.” GIFs, a Millennial language of the internet, have begun infiltrating the music industry, especially with a crop of young artists on Tumblr who use them as a form of inspiration and creative output. M.I.A. directed and created this video using a horde of GIF sequences with tripped out effects that look like they could give some viewers a seizure. Millennials are used to seeing the visual effects of GIFs and screen-within-a-screen displays online, and could appreciate their use in a new medium. Meanwhile, the messy, real life footage of kids in high school hallways, dancing in gyms, and twerking and toking up in their rooms that M.I.A has chosen for the vid stands out from a sea of carefully curated video sequences we see from so many other artists. While the video offers intense visual stimulation, the underlying message is one of the dangers of new tech like 3D printing when put in the wrong hands, and the storyline shows 3D printed guns in neon colors and animal prints flooding the streets in the hands of teens. The dystopian narrative beneath the visuals says more than meets the eye and sparks a conversation about the future, while also showing a new way to incorporate the aesthetics of digital culture, like GIFs, into music entertainment.