Saturday, July 04, 2009

In Praise of 1980s "Concept Music Videos" and Literal Music Videos

I've long been a fan of Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler, and Jim Steinmen (who wrote the best songs for both those singers).

I also remember the peak of music videos, the early 1980s. Back then, singers didn't have much influence in music videos, rather, the director was king. This was because singers didn't understand this new format, while directors did.

And one of the leading music video auteurs was director Russell Mulcahy, who established many of the format's early cliches: smoke effects, widescreen black bars, objects breaking in slow-motion.

Mulcahy did "concept videos," as opposed to "performance videos." Concept videos emphasized an abstract, metaphorical interpretation of the music, in which the singer, and the lyrics' literal meaning, was downplayed or even ignored. Performance videos focused on the singer (e.g., Michael Jackson's Thriller.

As singers came to understand the format, they took charge -- taking charge of "their own music" as they saw it. I think that spelled the death of music videos as an art form. Allowing singers to control "their" music videos is like allowing film stars to control "their" films. A film is collaborative. The actors and music composer play a role, but the director should take the lead.

Mulcahy directed many of Kim Carnes's videos, and Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart. Brilliantly abstract, metaphorical concept videos.

I've just discovered satirical "literal music videos," which redo the lyrics to match the images. This naturally works better (is funnier) with concept videos, rather than performance videos.

And naturally, there's a "literal music video" for Mulcahy's Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Yes, I think it's hilarious. It's been years since I've seen the original video, or even listened to the song. But seeing its "literal" parody, aside from inspiring laughs, also makes me appreciate Tyler, Mulcahy, and Steinmen that much more -- and wish it was the 1980s all over again.