Music Video After MTV

PDF Music Video After MTV Copyright Year 2017

Book author
  1. Mathias Bonde Korsgaard

Since the 1980s, music videos have been everywhere, and today almost all of the most-viewed clips on YouTube are music videos. However, in academia, music videos do not currently share this popularity. Music Video After MTV gives music video its due academic credit by exploring the changing landscapes surrounding post-millennial music video. Across seven chapters, the book addresses core issues relating to the study of music videos, including the history, analysis, and audiovisual aesthetics of music videos. Moreover, the book is the first of its kind to truly address the recent changes following the digitization of music video, including its changing cycles of production, distribution and reception, the influence of music videos on other media, and the rise of new types of online music video. Approaching music videos from a composite theoretical framework, Music Video After MTV brings music video research up to speed in several areas: it offers the first account of the research history of music videos, the first truly audiovisual approach to music video studies and it presents numerous inspiring case studies, ranging from classics by Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham to recent experimental and interactive videos that interrogate the very limits of music video.


This book is based on a PhD Dissertation I submitted at Aarhus University, Denmark, in 2013. Whilst writing my PhD dissertation, many people helped me shape my arguments and rethink what I thought I knew, and they therefore deserve credit for this book having come into being. The two people to have most frequently and fruitfully commented on and contributed to my work are Bodil Marie Stavning Thomsen and Carol Vernallis. Bodil Marie has not only critiqued the entirety of my work but has always been very kind to include me in many of her exiting research activities—something that has been truly inspiring. As one of the few people to have devoted her research to music videos, Carol has always been an academic inspiration, and I would like to thank her for engaging in productive discussions during my time at Stanford University (my thanks also go to Jarek Kapucinski and the people at CCRMA).

Many of my other colleagues at Aarhus University also provided valuable input during my research (or took my mind off things when I needed distraction)—among others, my former co-supervisor Charlotte Rørdam Larsen, Jakob Isak Nielsen and Bergdis Þhrastardóttir. Moreover, Steen Kaargaard Nielsen, Jody Berland and Arild Fetveit also deserve my gratitude for having provided significant and highly valuable points of criticism. I would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers that read parts of the book for Routledge—one for affirming the strengths of my project and the other for allowing me to redress some of its weaknesses. I am also happy to have worked with the people at Routledge in making this book happen, in particular Elizabeth Levine, Nicole Eno, Heidi Bishop and Annie Vaughan. My thanks also go to Sarah Jennings for copy editing the entire manuscript (kindly funded by AUFF). Last but not least, I would like to thank my family, without whom this book would not have been written. So thank you, Lulle (the kindest woman and my harshest critic), KT and Thøger!

Parts of the book have been published previously in different form. The analysis of OK Go’s “WTF?” combined with parts of chapter 5 has been published in a slightly different shape as the article “Creation and Erasure: Music Video as a Signaletic Form of Practice” in Journal of Aesthetics and Culture (2015, Co-Action Publishing) (reprinted with permission). The analysis of Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait” and of Björk’s Biophilia combined with parts of chapter 7 has been published as a chapter in The Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics (2012, Oxford University Press), entitled “Music Video Transformed” (reprinted with permission). Finally, the section on the history of music video found in chapter 1 has been reworked into a Danish version, published as “‘I Don’t Want My MTV’: Musikvideoens forhistorie” in the online film journal 16:9 (reprinted with permission).

Finally, let me just admit that the irony of my using music video stills throughout this book is not lost on me. I take great care to note how the meanings of music video rise from the interaction between its elements, between sound and image—so, with these stills, I contradict myself by sticking to the visual (moreover, a single still is rarely able to communicate the polyphony of images that I claim to be a central aspect of the visual side of music videos). Nonetheless, I have chosen to use stills because, at the very least, they allow the reader to see what the music videos in question look like, and they also add to the reading experience (besides, there is as yet no alternative solution). Needless to say, I urge any reader to seek out and enjoy the actual music videos.


Since you have picked up this book, chances are that you have at some point watched Psy’s infamous music video for “Gangnam Style.” So let’s get it over with, seeing as a book called Music Video after MTV must at some point mention “Gangnam Style.” If anything, this video reminds us of the continued importance and popularity of the music video across the contemporary global media landscape, being not only the first music video but the first video of any kind to have reached a billion views on YouTube (this figure has now increased to over two billion). It is still something of a mystery to me why this particular video became the global phenomenon that it did, as it is in some ways a fairly traditional or perhaps even old-fashioned music video. It carries many of the signs of a prototypical music video—a catchy song, a remarkable dance routine, the showcasing of the musical performer, striking rhythmic relations between music and image, and glitzy colors. “Gangnam Style” is certainly representative of the post-televisual music video in terms of the changing contexts of distribution and reception as compared to music videos on television, but in terms of the music video form, it is not remarkably different from its televisual predecessors. In fact, it is nothing out of the ordinary.

Given the popularity of “Gangnam Style,” it is no surprise that it has been widely and variedly imitated, parodied, and remixed. One such parodic remix by Mikolaj Gackowski has redesigned “Gangnam Style” as a so-called “music video without music.”1 In this video, as in other “music videos without music,” the music has been removed and replaced by what is meant to appear as diegetic sounds—or in other words, the sounds of what we see on-screen (as well as what we infer is taking place off-screen). Instead of hearing music, we hear what the music video would have sounded like if sound had been recorded on location. When something explodes on screen, we hear an explosion. When Psy dances, we hear the tapping of his shoes on the ground. But at no point do we hear the accompanying music.

The result is both hilarious and highly incoherent. This video tells us as much about what music video is and what it does as does the original “Gangnam Style”—and perhaps also as much about what music video has become. First of all, it asks the same simple question many online music videos ask today: what is a music video? And is a music video without music still a music video? It reminds us that, as music videos have become a highly integrated part of remix culture, the music video has become increasingly difficult to delineate formally, as it continuously changes shape alongside new formal experiments. Moreover, it tells us a lot about audiovisual relations, not only in music videos but in audiovisual mediation in general. It is clear that we experience the relation between music and image quite differently in this version than we do in the original. Obviously, the sound is markedly different from the original, but although the images are the same in this video as in the original, we experience them quite differently: we notice new details; we become aware of the role normally played by the music in tying the otherwise ridiculous, even nonsensical, images together; and we also become aware of the highly constructed nature of both sound and image and their interrelation in most kinds of audiovisual mediation—we know full well that this is not the actual soundtrack for the video, even though it pretends to be.

However, paradoxically, this also reminds us that the music that has been removed was in fact not the actual soundtrack either. The relation between sound and image in music videos is one in which the two constantly interact and give meaning to each other, but it is by no means a direct causal relation. The music has been visualized by adding images to it. This affects the way that we experience the music—the images give meaning to the music and make us listen differently to the music. Conversely, this also means that the music gives meaning to the images—the images themselves have been musicalized, shaped in concordance with musical parameters. And perhaps this is why they come off as ridiculous when we watch them with another soundtrack—the images were never meant to function in the way that moving images normally do in most other media forms. Instead, they function musically. Along these lines, music video can be considered a fundamental meeting ground for the moving image and the recorded musical sound as well as the exploration of the possible relations between the two.

This book is as much about “Gangnam Style”—or music video proper— as it is about the musicless version and the many similar new obscure types of music video that saw the light of day after music video moved online. Music Video after MTV engages specifically with post-millennial music video, but it does so without losing touch with the history of music video and the history of music video studies thus far.​
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