Music Video

6 MTV and the Music Video Aesthetic

For the inaugural program on MTV in August 1981, the video for the Buggles song Video Killed the Radio Star, directed by Russell Mulcahy two years earlier, was chosen, since the number of available short music films was modest at the time. The existence of a station specializing in music videos, and commercially successful at it, provided such impetus for the production of the genre that the video director Rudi Dolezal observed in retrospect that during the 1980s a suitable video was automatically produced for every stupid band.[5]

In the wake of the explosion in the production of music videos, design features began to crystallize that have often been subsumed under the term music video esthetic. Its characteristics include, among other things, the use of high frequency cuts, compositing and collage techniques, visual effects and graphic elements, and their precise synchronization with the musical beat. The music video became an experimental field at the intersection between technology and art, inspiring numerous filmmakers and visual artists. Moreover, the technical possibilities made it easier to expand the pop cultural strategies of citation, sampling, and appropriation that had been developed in the context of mass media.

Over the course of its history/ies, the music video developed into a highly referential medium that appropriated more and more esthetic forerunners. Very early on, familiar elements from the musical, advertising, the feature film, the visual arts, and avant-garde film were employed in order to offer the viewer, despite the possible density in a video lasting only the brief duration of the piece of music, an arc of visual tension that was as easy to follow as possible. One example of such use and combination of stylistic means of diverse origin is Bill Konersman’s video for Sign ‘o’ the Times (1987), in which typographic elements and abstract and narrative cinematic forms are interwoven.