Saturday, 29 July 2017

We All Just Got Played By Charli XCX's New Music Video

It’s a Friday night and due to illness, I find myself rather bitterly swaddled in my duvet scrolling through Twitter. Tonight the infinite reel of bitesize updates is dominated by images of famous faces against a millennial pink backdrop. Curiosity commands me, I am only human after all, and I decide to investigate.

The commotion is in response to Charli XCX’s new single Boys, an incredibly infectious track that I find myself repeatedly playing on YouTube. But, my interest isn’t garnered by the music as much as it is the video. True to the title, it features boys, a lot of them. An amalgamation of familiar and fresh faces cavort on the screen in scenes plucked straight from an Instagram dream. Pink inflatable flamingos are featured, as are stacks of fluffy pancakes drenched in maple syrup (courtesy of Joe Jonas in a monogrammed bathrobe). Floral wallpaper straight from your grandma’s bedroom flashes throughout and dogs, dogs and more dogs run riot whilst being cuddled by shirtless boys. It is a true explosion of every superficial thing that matters, which explains why it is so popular online.

After watching the clip for the eighth time, I realise that this is the first music video I have intently watched for a while. The last time I dedicated so much time to a new release was when Kendrick Lamar dropped the visuals for HUMBLE., which gave a platform to un-airbrushed women exposing their stretch marks with pride. That video was also heightened by social media who applauded the unfiltered perspective on women's bodies and the, ironically, perfectly composed video. The hype online delivered the track directly to the mass market, with those who only knew Kendrick for his collaboration with Taylor Swift, becoming firm fans.

Earlier this month, Dua Lipa effortlessly promoted her new single New Rules by producing a music video that resonated with her core fanbase of young women and girls. The artfully choreographed video is relatable to any female for it plays on the idea of female friendships and the prominent and relevant issue of feminism. Which is ultimately what catapulted it to the top of the trending tabs on all social media platforms. Well played.

With the rise of Spotify and Apple Music, where instant streaming lies at our fingertips, we are able to listen to any track repeatedly without the need for a visual aid. This is a contrast to 10-years-ago, when MTV would skip tracks on the chart countdown if it didn’t yet have a video to accompany it. Which in turn means that music videos of today are neglected, by both artists and fans. Take Ed Sheeran as an example, one of the music industry’s biggest stars, he didn’t release the official video for Castle On The Hill for over two weeks after the track was released to mark his ‘comeback’ after a hiatus. Had this been 2007, he would have never dreamed of pulling the same stunt, because if he had his comeback would likely have been his retirement.

Social media is a powerful tool for artists and those that can exploit it are guaranteed to see their sales skyrocket. Take Sia as an example, had the music video for Chandelier not been so captivating to watch, would the well-deserving track have been so successful? Released in 2014, it now has nearly 2 billion views. The video was social media gold dust, which translated to actual gold for the Australian singer who continuously produced more enthralling videos for every new release. After all, how can you forget Shia LaBeouf wearing a leotard in Elastic Heart? The controversial video was more notorious than the actual song itself.

But, before Sia dominated the music video scene, Gangnam Style dominated, well, everything. The 2012 hit may have given us a quick laugh, but it had PSY laughing all the way to the bank. It was the first video to reach 1 billion view on YouTube (it now has nearly 3 billion) and alarmingly it topped the charts in more than 30 countries whilst being acknowledged by Barack Obama. Without social media, it is unlikely that the catchy hit would have ever left the confines of South Korea. Now, 5 years later, we still wince when we hear the tune, but find ourselves compulsively performing the, now iconic, dance moves. It is this success that inspired the music industry to adapt the way it delivers music videos. Desperate to play in the viral ball pit, it was time to change.

Music videos matter. They allow the artist to visually express their art, quite literally for Gotye with his 2011 hit Somebody That I Used To Know. They influence popular culture, for an example, just reference any Spice Girl’s hit. They inspire fashion, from Kanye West’s shutter shades to Britney Spear’s iconic fluffy pink pigtails. They elevate a basic song into something groundbreaking, just watch LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem which was, and still is, the soundtrack to every millennials club night.

With more people listening to music via instant streaming than ever before, the music video is endangered. We are all guilty of having put them in peril, from those that make them to those who watch (or don’t, as the case may be). The music industry is depending on social media to revive the video, exploiting all of the things that us millennials care most about. We are being baited into becoming hysterical online by every new video release, be it Rihanna exposing her nipples in Wild Thoughts or Lady Gaga theatrically killing herself at the end of John Wayne. The game has changed, but we are still the pawns in the elaborate chess board that is the entertainment industry.

But, do we really need to be spoon fed art? A generation with everything at our fingertips, we have free access to anything and everything (and sometimes too much). So, how can we have listened to Despacito one-hundred times, and yet be clueless as to what happens in the accompanying music video? There really are no excuses. We are ruining musical expression and it is time to act.

Go and watch all the music videos for your favourite tracks, especially the obscure independent songs that you have stumbled upon on Spotify. Go and immerse yourself within the visuals and learn a new perspective on each track. Be enlightened by a music video before it goes viral and let that connect you to the track in your own individual way, without the influence of Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. I dare you.

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