Music Video

7 The First Crisis Periods and Zeniths: The Perfection of Form

The 1990s are generally regarded as the first crisis period for the music video but also one of its zeniths. On the one hand, the beginning of the decade saw the first economic downturn for the record industry and a certain glut of product, which meant that the previously common widespread generosity in the financing of music videos became much more focused. That led, on the other hand, to music videos with budgets as high as between 2.5 million dollars and 7 million dollars (e.g., Mark Romanek’s video for Michael Jackson’s Scream in 1995). In the end, the video developed a high-art form as it increasingly began to be used successfully as an experimental platform for technical innovations that then made their way into the cinema. Examples include digital techniques such as the frozen moment that was integrated into the narrative of The Matrix in 1999, which had been employed in Michel Gondry’s video for Like a Rolling Stone (1995) and taken up again in the videos for Bally Sagoo’s Dil Cheez (1996) and Underwater Love by Smoke City (1997).

Beginning in the 1990s, video directors made increasing references to the conventionalized formats of the mass media and their stylistic means. For example, in his video for Revolution 909 by Daft Punk, Roman Coppola borrowed narrative forms from documentary films and cooking shows. Other filmmakers, such as Spike Jonze, took their lead from the esthetic features of film trailers or the opening credits of television series from the 1970s, with their rapid, seemingly heterogeneous series of images that are nonetheless held together by the music, to which Jonze paid a lovingly ironic homage with his 1994 video for Sabotage by the Beastie Boys.

This kind of tension-filled construction of high visual density combined with heterogeneous visual subject matter found its equivalent in terms of musical and textural structure in such new musical styles as hip-hop, with its citation and collage techniques. This technique permitted enormously complex interweaving of music, images, and text in videos. The video Dave Meyers directed in 2002 for Missy Elliott’s Work It! uses its samples and quotations as building blocks to evoke ever new visual associations, which then begin to take on their own lives and ultimately feed back into the levels of music and text that had originally provoked them. This meshing and interaction of the specific video parameters that intersect and dovetail in the music video can open up with extreme concision sometimes extremely ambitious discourses on experiences of personal or supra-individual loss (September 11, 2001) and issues of race. This marked a zenith of density and complexity that would be followed by a contrary division and diversity of distribution formats.