February 21, 2002

Totally Recycled Lines

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What I have to say is in no way original, but it surfaces often enough, and is offensive enough, to elicit repetition. music videos of the 21st century suck.

Growing up, I was treated to provocative and, yes, entertaining clips in a medium finally settling and maturing after the tumultuously corny eighties. Soundgarden produced abstract, tantalizing videos (“Black Hole Sun”). Nine Inch Nails had the disturbing, censored “Closer,” brimming with pig heads and a gagged Trent Reznor. Themes now exhausted were fresh, as exemplified by the stripped down studio performance of Guns ‘N Roses in “Sweet Child ‘O Mine.”

These were staples of MTV, when the station had a notable degree of credibility, before TRL and endless repeats of Spring Break shows teaching girls to get naked and guys to emphatically yell “woo” and lick whipped cream from them as even Jerry Springer stands in awe.

That’s right, kids, MTV used to be the voice of youth, one to be cheered on, one exposing us to new music, news, and even acknowledging the political opinions of Gen-X with Rock the Vote. (Yes, Pauly Shore did factor into the total picture, but I assure you the cool stuff overshadowed this).

To the young teens and pre-teens now trying to find a musical identity, there are few options presented by MTV. The main source of videos is Total Request Live, approximately fifteen different clips per month, shuffled by the votes of a minority of loyal devotees that actually take the time to log on.

Otherwise, we are treated to repeats of “Cribs,” an opportunity to admire the solid gold ceilings and car collections of the stars; or yet another showing of the Video Music Awards from several years ago.

Once one stumbles fortuitously onto a rare slice of unbridled video showing, it becomes blindingly apparent that what once could conceivably be called an “art form” has deteriorated into a series of brightly colored commercials directed toward the youths enthusiastic enough to attach to artists. These need not be restricted to the boy bands and clonally similar female solo artists. Hypnotized crowds follow the alleged modern alternative/metal artists such as Staind and P.O.D.

Videos generally fall into one of several categories.

Most just feature a “heartfelt” performance of the artist. This will alternate between live performances and forlorn/enthusiastic (depending on the song) beltings thereof on an extravagant set. May include dancing. Essentially all videos fall into this category (from Jennifer Lopez to Creed). A variation may include a girl dripping with melancholy, wandering somewhere gray.

Next, there are the goofy pop-punk videos, once charming, now advertising belly rings and skateboard shoes (Blink 182). Couldn’t get enough of those goofy kids? Once done to death, the charm has drained.

I need not elaborate extensively on the decadent rap videos complete with hoochies and brilliant jewelry.

Include a peppering of budding young stars and starlets, all meeting Cosmopolitan and Vogue standards for figure and dress, and you have the most hypnotic ad campaign perhaps to date. Clothes and attitudes on beautiful people, those dancing and moshing to your favorite songs, selling as a secondary perk (the first of course being the mass movement of CD’s from stores into headphones).

Come on, artists, there are new avenues to explore! I believe that a resurrection of the cool music video is possible, without pretense and textbook glamour.

Archived article by Stacy Williams