Music Television Killed the Video Star

by Stephanie Duncan

“Video killed the radio star,” The Buggles crooned as MTV premiered in the early 80s. It’s almost hard to believe that at one point, MTV was considered somewhat of a cultural barometer in terms of music. Nowadays, MTV and other music channels alike are awash with reality television. It was a slow but sure takeover starting with shows like Road Rules and “The Real World”. In the beginning, music videos were more often than not crude commercials using things such as promotional clips. As the medium gained ground, people began taking stock in what they produced. Far be it from me to drag “Thriller” into this, but Michael Jackson fully revolutionized the way people look at music videos. Perhaps it was his use of theatrics, or a real feature film director. People never looked at the medium the same way again.

They evolved beyond commercials, to an art form of sorts. Film directors such as Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze started directing music videos. Watching MTV or the original Canadian music station, Much Music, seems to be like a step backwards in the evolution of an art form. Not only is over half the programming reality television but the videos that do get the most airplay are, by and large, big shiny commercials. There used to be, at the very least, a modest arena for the independent film makers and musicians. It’s amazing if they now get an hour a week, tops. One might say, the era of music videos is over. Yet no one will deny that they can and have stood as a powerful creative outlet.

Sounds bleak, doesn’t it? With all things good, there lies a glimmer of hope. The glimmer of hope is that of the 500 Indie. Going strong into its second year, acting as a showcase of Denver filmmaking talent. Its modest release states that it aims to bring the Denver filmmaking community together and hopes to tour. In a way, I can see something like this gestating in one place but exploding all out. Music videos shouldn’t have to be about whose booty is biggest, who has more bling but it feels like they do. MTV and all of its spin-off channels shouldn’t be the only way to view these things. It’s too narrow, too claustrophobic, too censored and dumbed down for public consumption.

Who needs record companies! With technology becoming more powerful and cheaper by the very second, people can make and produce videos (and music) in their own basements on the cheap. The internet is also a tool whose power needs not be denied. It serves as a way to get videos out there for little to no money and to a broad audience. With a combination of the Internet and competitions like the 500 Indie, music videos are coming back into themselves as a respected means of art.

Music videos have evolved beyond “Music Video Television” and will continue to do so.

Go see 500 Indie.

March 2006