The Rebirth of Music Television
Remember when music channels played actual music? People born in this millennium have a perception that channels like MTV only focused on the last 2 letters in their name and the meaning of the BET acronym is to be strictly taken at face value. The shift in the prioritization of Reality TV shows over music videos happened quickly for these 2 companies, along with VH1. In 1981, MTV was the first major cable channel to devote a 24/7 schedule for broadcasting music. The importance of this can't be understated; it was extremely helpful for the growth and globalization of all genres of music, especially hip-hop and modern RnB. As a result, more and more channels devoted to music with original video programming spawned over the next couple decades. MTV with Yo! MTV Raps and TRL, BET with 106 and Park and Rap City were highly popular before the pivot to Reality TV.
These countdown shows and original video content were home to some of the most unpredictable moments from musicians. On the spot freestyles, sit-down interviews, live drop-ins at music events and live concert broadcasts are some of the ways fans were getting updates and fresh material from their favorite musicians. But, the most compelling insight into the creative aspect of music is, at least it was, the music video. The unveiling of a new music video was just as important as an album drop at one time. Hype and anticipation would build like crazy surrounding a 30-second preview for a hit single. Seeing "WORLD PREMIERE" flash across a screen truly felt like an event every single time. Making a jarring first impression like Eminem with "My Name Is" or a sultry introduction like Destiny's Child with "Say My Name" was a great way to visually grab the attention of the masses.
"Mainstream" hip-hop music videos a couple decades ago exuded New Money; an epic demonstration of show-and-tell for 3 some odd minutes. Cars, women, clothes, jewels, "rangs and thangs,"...everything expensive. If there's one thing to (unfairly) generalize the genre in this era, it would be the "Big Pimpin'" music video. Ballin' out to the max on a large ass yacht at a pinnacle of your career and boldly letting everyone know about it had to be captured on film. In the case of "Big Pimpin'," it was a triumphant celebration of monetary success for people that made it out of poverty and street life. Music videos are meant to be an alternative form of expression that can literally bring a song to life. Hype Williams (Runaway), Director X (God's Plan), and, F. Gary Gray (Ms. Jackson)to name a few, are Directors that were responsible for turning an abstract picture in audio form into a tangible short viewing experience for the public. The importance was at an all time high.
I don't know if it was just a product of us getting older, but the enthusiasm for music videos got the rug pulled out from underneath it by the mid to late 2000s. There may have been consensus fatigue after seeing the same type of music video dripped in luxury for a decade straight. For me personally, the exits of Big Tigger, Carson Daly, and AJ & Free left me disinterested in their respective shows and ultimately their respective networks. Executives must have noticed the viewership was decreasing for content focused on music videos, so a change had to be made. More eyes were shifting towards reality TV shows and these same execs noticed. How else could you explain the Jersey Shores, Love and Hip Hops, and College Hills of the world frequently popping up on these "music" channels?
The attention towards music videos on became an afterthought on national TV but weren't completely dead because of the internet. Youtube has become one of the greatest creations of the technology era. It's able to preserve and store history with a video catalog that's easily accessible with a click of a mouse. Instead of having to wait until a random hour after midnight to catch the last 30 seconds of a video, you can stream the entire video on-demand after typing it in on Youtube. Since the start of the decade, there has been a Renaissance in the visual aspect of music. The biggest artists have tapped into the creative side of this medium to work on making the most captivating video possible. Some have elected to expand on the "archaic" format of a 4 minute video in favor of a 10 minute extended cut or a short film that approaches the 20, if not 30 minute mark.
"Runaway" by Kanye West is an example of a breathtaking visual that breaks the mold of traditional hip-hop standards that opens up an entirely new world of possibility. The content of Ye's rhymes were re-imagined into the premise of a short film. While the lyrical core of the track is only about 4 minutes in length, the 5 minute instrumental/experimental closer and including a sampler of tracks from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy helped Kanye and Hype Williams create a 34 minute epic that'll surely be remembered in hip-hop forever. A lengthy feature like this would not have been possible or at the very least would have been discouraged on cable music channels in the early 2000s because most videos were between 3-5 minutes. With a "Runaway," issues with executives from music labels and corporate advertisers would most likely arise to create conflict and complications. With online streaming sites such as Vimeo, a brief advertisement may play at the beginning but for the most part, a full video could be enjoyed by anyone at anytime without any of the aforementioned conflicts.
Increased creativity for newer music videos don't always focus on a short film or full-length feature format. With the advancements made with technology, CGI and other cinematic special effects can light up the small screen without the most complex of premises. For example, Playboi Carti's 2017 smash hit "Magnolia," is about a young street kid walking around NYC, and the music video for the most part is about that. But what enhances the artistic value of the song and its concept are the trippy visuals in the video. Through the powers of editing, they morph and contort the sense of reality to take the viewer on an animated journey that bolsters product and demands the viewers whole attention. As we approach the third decade of the millennium, more and more artists and their creative teams are putting more stock and emphasis into the production of music videos. It's not like the major goal is to reach Number 1 on a rebooted video countdown show that should have stayed booted. Rather, it's now another way for artists to reach out to their fans to keep them engaged.
After an extended hiatus from the public's consciousness, the promiscuous video for "Nikes" by Frank Ocean hit the net like a tidal wave. If it were just him walking around the video in a pair of Air Max's, fans would have been disappointed. "You left us for all this time and come back with this bullshit?" would have echoed for weeks. Instead, a visually captivating video, which could be viewed as a new tactic in the art of the album rollout, further piqued the interest of thirsty fans that led to a heightened anticipation for the direction of the new project, Blond(e). As it has been the case for their recording artists and production team, T.D.E. has pushed the envelope for the standard of what a music video should be. They've expanded boundaries to a wall-less room of possibilities from a visual standpoint. Every video from DAMN. "JoHn Muir" from BlankFace. "King's Dead" from the Black Panther Soundtrack. The execution of their pre-production storyboards with the cinematography have been damn near flawless for the past 5+ years.
Aplusfilmz (JoHn Muir, HiiiPower, Free Lunch) and Dave Free/The Little Homies (Alright, All the Stars, King's Dead)deserve so much credit for their outside the box vision and approach when it comes to music videos. The thoughts portrayed on screen are never completely linear but the thoughts are never incomplete. Conceptually intriguing art that will leave the viewer thinking about what they just saw, long after the video had stopped. The next generation of auteurs will benefit the most from this Rebirth of Music Television. If an example of a benchmark is "All the Stars," for the standard to be that high, it can only push the most motivated aspiring Director to shoot for astronomical heights.
The best of the best could also bring their sensibilities over to different avenues of film such as big screen motion pictures or the latest series pitch to HBO. Inflation may devalue the market, but the increase in music videos, especially the uniquely created ones, are bringing back a part of an art form that was heralded once upon a time. There's been a slight mutation, but music videos have been back for a while and will have a home with the internet community that values it for the foreseeable future.
"Let you guys prophesy, we gon' see the future first."