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“This is an art form – and we are losing it”: Is the music video dying? | pop and rock

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IIn increasingly turbulent times for the music industry, one aspect has remained steadfast: a passion for statistics. At the start of the decade – YouTube was a strong indicator of success after CD sales collapsed – one couldn't help but trumpet eye-popping numbers about music video viewership. In 2021, for example, K-pop boy band BTS's Butter video racked up a whopping 108 million views in 24 hours, breaking a record that seemed to be eclipsed on a weekly basis. Butter now sits at a not-too-shabby 950 million views, a number matched by Katy Perry's jungle-set Roar (3.9 billion), Mark Ronson's retro-fantasia Uptown Funk (5.1 billion) and Justin's Luis Fonsi Bieber-assisted 2017 hit Despacito is overshadowed. with 8.4 billion views.

The two dominant global forces in recent years have been K-pop and Latin music, and their big-budget music videos still rule the roost (Shakira and Colombian singer Karol G's TQG video was viewed more than a billion times last year ). But a seismic shift has occurred for Anglo-American pop in 2024: music video viewership has plummeted, Beyoncé and Drake have stopped releasing videos altogether, and pop's A-list is struggling to stay on a platform they previously dominated had to gain a foothold.

Since its release in November last year, the video for Houdini – the long-awaited lead single from Dua Lipa's third album – has been viewed 93 million times, making it just the 27th biggest video of her career. Ariana Grande's Yes and? Clip only has 51 million views after two months; She has eight hits with over a billion. Meanwhile, Ed Sheeran's 2023 video “Eyes Closed” remains stuck at 77 million views. Even Taylor Swift – who, essentially Is The music industry isn't immune either, with Anti-Hero, the Midnights' 2022 lead single, averaging 192 million views. Nobody's suggesting that any of these artists are flopping – Anti-Hero's Spotify streams total 1.4 billion, while each of the songs mentioned reached No. 2 or higher in the UK – but tough questions remain: Does the music video die? out of? And if so, what is it killing?

“In the age of scrolling, it's really difficult to ask people to stay on one page for the entire length of a track,” says Hannah TW, artist manager and former head of music videos at production company Somesuch. “It is no longer a normal television practice. People are used to much shorter clips and devouring things quickly.” These “much shorter clips” are proliferating due to the music industry's latest obsession, TikTok, where songs provide background music to user-generated clips or as #content from pop stars almost through gritted teeth be presented. Gone are the halcyon days of making a single, putting it on the radio, throwing it on MTV and sitting back to watch it fly. “We live in an age of media consumption where you have to compete with everything, everywhere, at the same time,” says creative director and music video director Bradley J Calder. “You’re not just dealing with other music videos, but also with Netflix, Spotify, TikTok and your own camera roll on your phone.”

There's now a domino effect: the decline in viewership has led to a decline in video budgets, which in turn can affect creativity. “The types of panties I see now are overwhelming,” says director and photographer Olivia Rose, who has worked with Anne-Marie and Jorja Smith. Five years ago, she says, £30,000 would have gotten you a decent video, but now directors are expected to use that money for “three visualizers” – the looped images or clips used as placeholders on YouTube – ” for three tracks plus.” TikTok content and some stills as well as the video.” While creativity can thrive on tighter budgets, quality can suffer when directors' skills are overwhelmed. “The music video has historically been and is an art form,” says Rose. “And we lose it.”

It's an art form capable of creating instant visual iconography (think Smells Like Teen Spirit or…Baby One More Time) and establishing artists as both visual and musical innovators (see Björk's stunningly edgy aesthetics or Missy Elliott's effervescence). , DayGlo surrealism) and generate such anticipation that video premieres become water-cooler moments. (One office where I worked stood still so everyone could watch the YouTube premiere of Lady Gaga's “Bad Romance,” an expensive visual feast of white latex, thriller-esque choreography, and bed-based combustion.) It was also an art form reinforced by 24-hour music channels. Many of them have long since disappeared or are disappearing – Kerrang! TV, Kiss TV and The Box will all be axed this year, Channel 4's owners announced in January – and YouTube algorithms appear to favor the company's Shortform platform and TikTok rival Shorts.

One man who has seen the rise and fall of music videos is Mike O'Keefe, vice president of creativity at Sony. “I've been making music videos professionally for 35 years and I still believe they are an important part of what an artist does,” he says, but also admits that the numbers have declined. He says TikTok is great for sharing songs, but he's less excited about its ability to create visual worlds. “Tracks on TikTok can be successful with user-generated content visualizations – they are not representative of the artist in that sense.”

Lil Nas X has released four videos that have been viewed more than 500 million times. But despite teasing his controversial new single “J Christ” – a broadside against the religious right in the US – for weeks on TikTok, the single fell flat and the video stalled at 18 million views. The online rapper will be familiar with another way to mark the existence of a video through memorable moments. O'Keefe confirms that these will now be included in the briefs sent out to directors in the hope that they will attract weary looks and convert casual scrollers into fans. As Hannah TW explains, “You think about these things when you go into these massive music video moments: How much will the music video make, to use a terrible term?”

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Sarah Boardman and Joceline Gabriel, who represent a variety of music video directors through their company Hands, point to both a general “oversaturation” of visual material and the fact that views are now divided between lyric videos and visualizers [simplified teasers for songs] “and the main video itself” as factors influencing today's music videos. They also address a potentially more worrying issue for the industry as a whole, which is the “rarity of seeing a new artist with real charisma and hearing a really good track that doesn't just follow a trend.” With thousands of new songs and videos uploaded every week, it's becoming increasingly important to stand out from the crowd.

“We're hungry for greatness right now,” agrees Calder, whose work on Canadian pop star Tate McRae's recent album campaign – including sleek and stylish performance-based visuals reminiscent of, and, according to Calder, “looks like” 2000s Britney whether they “belong.” on MTV, not TikTok” – bucked the trend of diminishing returns from video and propelled McRae beyond pop’s middle echelon. “I don’t think the music video is dead; We just want it to get better,” he continues. “We’re living in a pop desert right now where nothing feels too exciting.”

So what is the solution? How can the music video survive a fragmented ecosystem bombarded with tasty images? “It's about “to re-address the music video as the art form that it is,” says Rose. “So do less of it, with more quality.” Calder, meanwhile, says a new artist's creative bandwidth should be divided equally between music and visuals: “These days, every artist should be a visual artist.” Maybe it's as simple as that. To ignore play counts altogether and focus on more engaged viewers, O'Keefe suggests: “We obsess about views, but the actual numbers are misleading: it's about engagement.” Music videos are important to the artists and fans, but perhaps less important to the casual viewer.”

For the cautiously optimistic Boardman and Gabriel, it's all part of the cycle of an industry recalibrating itself after the explosion of a new medium. While we may never see such a ferocious deluge of record-breaking YouTube stats again, a great music video can live on well beyond the first 24 hours. “To be a Blue Plaque artist you will always need it [music videos]; The TikTok stuff won't stick in people's minds for 40 years, that's for sure. Maybe one day if they’re lucky!”