The last year has seen the release of significant musical projects on Netflix. A television platform by nature, this convergence of media could signal the start of something great, a resurgence in the popularity of the music video and a renewed interest in music as an intertextual form. It is a cause I champion, music having such influence on the artistic landscape. There are, however, barriers to such a renaissance.
There is a constant tension between art’s commodified self and its essential self. The impulse to produce something sensually satisfying, with a meaning or message to impart, that belongs to a lineage, is invariably improved with the presence of money – though artists scorn such admissions. This entrenchment is partly due to money’s provision: it bestows upon the artist freedom, relinquishes concern from rent payment, food bills, stress over drug acquisition, etc. It allows, too, a full realisation of the artistic vision. Even Robert Ryman needed cash for a tin of dulux and trip to B&Q, as well as a day free from work.
The issue for the music video, independent of the song it accompanies, is its perceived insignificance to the product that, as its function, it promotes. The music video has, after all, evolved from promotional tool to art form. One needs only to look at the Beatle’s ‘Help’, or Elvis’ ‘Blue Hawaii’ to consider the music video as supplement to the commodity, namely the artist, album, or song.
Any industry participant with a hangover from the nineties has at one time stated that the internet has ruined everything; one needs only to look at profit margins to come to the same realisation. Yet, with a little optimism and investigation, one can find grounds to disregard the axiom. The internet has moulded the industry into a new shape; artists that, twenty years ago, would have struggled to produce an album and, therefore, excel, now thrive in ‘single culture’; writing wallpaper hits, and being written for, are no longer spat-on by critics with such voracity, if at all. Ariana Grande and Dua Lipa are key exponents of such a career.
The trouble with this is that, since money exists in the music industry as diffuse — directed, like a river, to different poles based on the returns they offer — life in one area means death for another. The hand giveth and the hand taketh away, and unfortunately, the hand takes away from the music video. While the literary establishment has gawked at unstoppable declines in profit and connected itself to the intravenous drip of a committed, paying readership, the music industry has had to cut off arms and apply tourniquets to various limbs. The reason that films such as ‘Help’ have long been dead is that the fanbase for specific bands and questionable acting no longer exists so widely. Money has been redirected to merchandise and live-shows, where prices can be hiked to supplement poor single sales. In all this, the music video is redundant, and lost.
The names attached to Netflix’s recent music ventures are big; Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, and Beyonce draw money in their wake. Faith in them allows their projects birth, and guaranteed returns their publication. That Netflix may publish music content by lesser-known directors could be whimsical; however, I believe an appetite for the form could result in their resurgence. The late publication of stadium shows, and the presence of music videos on Youtube, such as ASAP Rocky’s ‘Babushka Boi’ or Tyler the Creator’s ‘IGOR’ compound this. Whether Netflix moves to produce short videos in half-hour long blocks, as MTV once did, or longer-form ‘Anima’ style pieces is still a point for consideration. The fact remains that music videos are something capable of slotting into the binge-watch niche, and need only to be championed by its main exponent to gain popularity and thrive once more. Perhaps the late publications are paroxysms for a dying form, otherwise, they’re igniting a grand explosion.