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"I want my MTV," bellowed an 80s commercial for the then-brand-new network. And in many ways this still rings true. Once a channel that was the playground for legendary artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson to showcase their latest videos, it is now home to train-wreck reality television. What happened to all the good music videos? And why isn't MTV playing them?
Truthfully MTV is not to blame for this cultural drought. In the 80s, 90s and early 00s, MTV was simply the medium for artists to play their work. It is the modern artist who is guilty for the decline of the music video. Why? Because no one makes quality music videos any more.
Well, "no one" might be a rather sweeping statement. Taylor Swift has some theatrical arcs to her videos, and no one does modern symbolism better than Lady Gaga. However, these anomalies are found in a sea of booty shaking, hair flips and trite story lines.
Michael Jackson's music video for "Thriller" plays more like an independent mini-movie, complete with dialogue, zombies, killer dance breaks and genuine terror. Madonna's "Like A Prayer" clip is perhaps the most controversial video of all time, with burning crosses, a black Jesus (who Madonna kisses) and intelligently placed sexuality.
However, great music videos did not just exist in the 80s. The teen pop boom of the 00s brought a rebirth to the music video. With Britney Spears's "...Baby One More Time" music video, her image as a Lolita Catholic schoolgirl became one of the most iconic looks in music history. Factory boy bands like *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys even delivered quality videos with precision dancing and engaging plots.
Now, directors think inserting a bikini-clad model on the hood of a Maserati makes for a good music video.
There definitely seems to be a rise and decline of the music video. We saw a slight rise in 2008-2012 with Swift and Gaga. However, with Gaga on musical hiatus and Swift’s recent clubby and clichéd clip for “I Knew You Were Trouble,” it appears we may be on the decline again.
There is hope, if artists decide to get their act together. Just because Madonna claimed religion, Jackson claimed the macabre and Gaga claimed the kitchen sink does not mean there are not great ideas for music videos left. I wrote about “the machine” in one of my previous columns in regards to pop music; allowing producers and statistics to dictate music ends with uninspiring tunes. Likewise, resting on soft-core porn and dusty nightclubs will continue to breed lackluster clips.
Once artists start looking outside the box, into their lyrics and away from industry trends, we may start to see the music video on the rise again.