Remember when video killed the radio star? At 12:01 am on August 1st, 1981, MTV made history. They were the first 24-hour music channel and proudly announced a new era in music with the aptly titled ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ by little known pop band The Buggles featuring as the first song.
If that song were made in 2018 it would have been Spotify killing the video star instead, as the Swedish streaming service has dominated music for a number of years with its 191 million monthly active users helping maintain its hegemony. Streaming may have overtaken the music video in popularity, but streaming lacks the cultural impact that so many music videos have given us.
Music videos are still relevant, cast your mind back to Halloween just a few weeks ago. I’m not a gambling man but it’s a pretty safe bet that at least some of you reading this will have seen someone dressed as Michael Jackson from Thriller. At the time of writing Michael Jackson’s epic 14-minute short film and music video has over 550 million views on YouTube and countless more on TV but think for a second about what would’ve happened if none of that happened and the song was simply released on Spotify. The song, now known all over the world as an all time classic, may have been just another Michael Jackson song. Music creates stars, that much is for sure, but music videos make stars into legends.
The video can even be the big break for the artist, indie band OK Go found their success with ‘Here It Goes Again’, the video for which was shot on treadmills with the band jumping from treadmill to treadmill with inventive dance moves in between. Music videos are still relevant, maybe they don’t get as many views as they used to and yes maybe they are a little outdated in a world where you can stream playlists in a matter of milliseconds, but they create culture and memories in a way that streaming services simply can’t match. I’m not having a pop at Spotify here, it makes choosing albums for the day quick and easy, but it’s nothing compared to the experience of watching an iconic music video - you can probably tell I’m a vinyl collector from that sentence too.
My personal favourite is another classic, the Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ is possibly the greatest spoof of an American police show in history. The costumes, the aviators and the fake moustaches enhance the already impressive vocal performance from the group in a video that became a cultural icon.
The music video is not dead, its popularity may have decreased but its status in music culture is very much alive. They may no longer be necessary in a world of Spotify but music videos are still relevant, even if MTV have had to stoop to showing Keeping Up With The Kardashians in between music.