Almost as if by accident, what is widely regarded as the first ever music video appeared on BBC 1 all the way back in 1975.
Filmed for Top of the Pops under significant financial and timing constraints, the six-minute masterpiece that is Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was born. Yes, Queen were not the first artist to partner their track with a visual, but the fact of the matter is that Freddie Mercury and co. unwittingly propelled the innovative concept into the mainstream.
Six years later, MTV was launched (ironically, with The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’) and with it came a whole new era in musical television. Over 30 years on from that cultural landmark, music videos are being released more frequently than ever. But with more and more people turning to streaming services for their music and fewer and fewer tuning into TV chart shows, are these visuals still necessary?
Spoiler alert: they most definitely are.
The music video has always been able to add an extra level of meaning to a song: to extend a lyrical theme or illuminate a certain element not immediately obvious with the audio alone. In these cases, that video is an invaluable artistic tool. Take Logic’s ‘1-800-273-8255’ for example. This is an incredibly powerful track, with lyrics exploring the heavy and painfully real topic of suicide. What takes Logic’s already-potent message to an even deeper level though is, of course, his video – highlighting one boy’s struggle with his sexuality. The video allows for the universality of the track’s lyrics to remain, but in tackling this issue actively illuminates a very specific turmoil, working to aid those facing similar circumstances.
If you remove such musical merit, a great video can undoubtedly salvage its overall product.
However, some may argue that a video like Logic’s is only successful due to the already-present quality of the track. Yet, if you remove such musical merit, a great video can undoubtedly salvage its overall product. This is where good ol’ Taylor Swift comes in. I have never personally shunned Swift for the controversy surrounding her character – ‘Shake it Off’ is, and always will be, an absolute banger – yet recent single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ is admittedly pretty dire, barely warranting a second listen. But then she dropped the video, and it was kind of epic. From giving her reputation its own deserved headstone to crafting on-the-nose arguments between her former selves, the mundanity of her comeback was immediately forgotten in the visual. The single scored Taylor her first ever UK number one, mere days after the vid hit YouTube. Go figure.
What these examples ultimately prove is that for as long as there is music, there should be music videos. Whether you’re watching Foals send ‘Mountain at My Gates’ into virtual reality, experiencing the majesty of Beyoncé’s Lemonade or just replaying Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’ over and over again - there’s no denying that these visual accompaniments remain to be more relevant than ever.