Ever since MTV premiered in 1981, the art of the music video has come a long way. Boundaries have been pushed, homage has been paid to the masters, and many self-parodies have been produced. It’s no secret. Clichés are out there. But at some point, even the most played out bits can win a special place in our hearts. Without further ado, here are a few classic love-to-hate music video clichés.
Before the trend of fan-made “literal videos” set out to remedy any music video that didn’t match its lyrics, there were a few brave souls attempting the opposite: the painstaking task of matching every lyric with an appropriate shot. While this cliché can often be found in country songs, R. Kelly’s epic Trapped in the Closet saga probably accounts for the rest. With masterful precision, Kelly and his director have literally paired lyrics with corresponding actions (and their consequences). Often, we see this technique in parodies, such as Weird Al Yankovic or Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night,” but when it’s done in sincerity, it produces some results we love to hate.
Music videos raise an important philosophical dilemma: would we rather watch the video or listen to the song—and which narrative is more important? When Michael Jackson released his nearly 14 minute music video for “Thriller” in 1982, he established a trend of the cinematic and narrative music video. In a brief disclaimer at the beginning of “Thriller,” Jackson also called his video a “film.” Although the King of Pop would use a similar long format for many of his other videos, including “Bad” (18 mins) and “Smooth Criminal” (9 mins), other artists have done it too—again and again and again.
Britney Spears’ 2000 hit “Oops I Did It Again” is one notable, albeit shorter, example of this cliché we love to hate. The video—complete with an extended intro and an interlude—tells the story of a lovesick astronaut who lands on Mars, only to encounter a red leather-clad Brittney assuring him she’s “not that innocent.” The video also nods to another cinematic masterpiece, Titanic. About 3:00 in, the astronaut offers Brittney a gift, to which she responds, “but I thought the old lady dropped it into the ocean in the end!”
From unbuttoned collared shirts blowing in the wind to jilted lovers throwing out (surprisingly similar) shirts and other items out the window in slow motion, 90s R&B videos have their own brand of memorable clichés. Take a trip down memory lane and rewatch some of your favorite slow jams. Or just check out this vine.
Lyric videos were once niche for fan-made slideshows usually featuring anime clips and Evanescence lyrics. Now, they have finally been adopted by the mainstream. As both a cheaper and aesthetically cleaner counterpart to the classic music video, the lyric video gives musicians new opportunities for creativity and collaboration—and plenty of clichés.
Again, Brittney Spears makes the list for her song “Perfume,” which features the “worst lyric video ever,” according to Jezebel. This video has it all: a collage of somewhat unsettling first person cell phone footage (à la Paranormal Activity) and the kind of nighttime cityscape you might find as a preset desktop background on a Dell computer. Oh, and the lyrics of course, which are often sprinkled over an equally sprinkly animated background. As Brittney sings about wanting to “mark [her] territory,” we’re reminded that lyrics don’t always merit a lyric video.
All we need is love to get us through these music videos clichés we love to hate. But we love them anyway.
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