Music Videos

“There’s no continuity in [music] videos. You can jump around all over the place. In features, you can’t throw in a close-up of a musician stomping on a guitar – you have to film a scene.” - Tamra Davis


Analysis of music videos can be well-executed combining approaches such as new criticism and biographical criticism, whilst also paying attention to technical aspects through analysis of cinematic techniques, however, in 1992, Andrew Goodwin published his book Dancing in the Distraction Factory which, amongst other things, sought to explain the concepts and appeal of music videos through seven specific conventions 1.

No. 1: Intertextuality

Red Hot Chili Peppers' 2006 single Dani California referenced a character of their own 2003 hit, By The Way, but also a wide range of artists such as The Beatles, Nirvana and Elvis in Tony Kaye's accompanying video.

A lot of music videos consciously acknowledges and pays tribute to other works and artists, especially other musicians, but also very often other texts of popular culture through use of allusion , pastiche , parody and even plagiarism . The notion of borrowing from other texts is defined as intertextuality . Goodwin notes that when used properly, intertextuality can blur historical distinctions: notions of past, present, and future are lost in the potpourri of images, all of which are made to seem contemporary.

No. 2: Voyeurism & The Male Gaze

In the creative collective Canada's video for Tame Impala's hit single The Less I Know The Better (2015), a sexual encounter is portrayed through the vents of a dressing room.

Another quite common element of music videos is the notion of voyeurism . The audience witnesses, mostly female, characters engage in private and often sexual situations through mirrors, vents, cracks and surveillance cameras, thus producing the illusion of having witnessed something secretive and private that was seemingly not intended for an audience. The notion of voyeurism is frequently criticised for its sexualisation of the female body. The portrayal and depiction of women as sexual objects in film and television was questioned in Laura Mulvey 's The Male Gaze Theory which drew attention to a general tendency in film and television that suggested that men do the looking, and women are to be looked at.

No. 3: Close ups, star-image and iconography

In Michael Jackson's Billie Jean (1982) video produced by Steve Barron, a string of close-ups are used in order to showcase the performer as well as draw attention to the iconography which was already an essential part of the singer's image.

The third point on this list is a combination of several things usually exhibited through extensive use of close-ups . Close-ups of the artist sparks identification, but also serves the purpose of conveying feelings and emotions, as is common in the use of close-ups. Several artists also makes use of meaningful objects, known as iconography , in establishing their image and brand. Examples of artists who have made extensive use of iconography include Michael Jackson , Lady Gaga and Jay-Z .

No. 4: Music & Visuals

David Wilson's video for Arctic Monkeys' Do I Wanna Know? from 2013 utilises animated soundwaves to amplify and illustrate the relationship between the music and the visuals.

One might argue that music videos generally serve the purpose of visualising sound, however the way in which the audial and visual components interact with each other can be wildly different. Goodwin uses the terms amplify , disjuncture and illustrate to examine this relationship.

No. 5: Genre

Although Kendrick Lamar has often been praised for reinventing hip hop, the video for his 2015 single Alright, by Colin Tilley and The Little Homies, showcases a number of characteristics related to the hip hop genre such as dollar bills, fancy cars, grafitti, police, requisite entourage and women.

Depending on the genre of the music, different sets of genre characteristics are introduced. These characteristics may not be soley attributed to the genre of the music, but might also reflect the time in which the music video was produced. Therefore, a thorough analysis of the genre might also require elements of historical criticism.

No. 6: Lyrics & Visuals

In May 2009, David A. Scott recreated Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart (1983) and by changing the lyrics to match the visuals in a complete, literal sense, a highly satirical interpretation was produced.

The relationship between the lyrics and the visuals is also an interesting point of emphasis. The lyrics can be portrayed visually in the music video in straight-forward manner, however it may also feature more metaphorically or perhaps not at all. Once again, Andrew Goodwin uses the terms amplify, disjuncture and illustrate in order to examine and describe this relationship.

No. 7: Performance-, narrative- or concept-based video

Music videos are generally divided into whether they are performance-, narrative- or concept-based. Performative music videos, quite obviously, portrays the song being performed. The narrative music video uses the format to unfold a story of some sort, which may or may not be related to the song's lyrics. The concept-based music video, is often conveyed as an artistic vision, often seemingly without any connection to the themes of the song or its actual lyrics.