Since the decline of MTV, the once giant purveyor of music videos to the masses, people have occasionally thought that music videos were a dying art. Streaming services like Spotify and online outlets like the iTunes Store primarily offer only the audio track, and as a result, the efforts of artists were being focused more on just the musical aspect of a song rather than the entire audio-visual aesthetic of their projects. However, with recent videos being released by J. Cole, DJ Snake, and Childish Gambino, it looks like videos are slowly beginning to reflect the themes within the song or stories expressed by the music. One example of this renaissance of music videos is DJ Snake’s video for his song “Magenta Riddim”. The song is an instrumental dance track, with the middle-eastern flair that DJ Snake is known for, but the video shows a story of Indian firemen, corruption, danger, and betrayal in just under four minutes.
The video could have just been attractive women dancing and going to a music festival, like most EDM videos now, but he took a different route that ended up producing a better video overall.
In J. Cole’s song “Kevin’s Heart”, the topic is about a man dealing with the effects of his cheating and drug use on himself, but in the music video it becomes clear that the subject of the song is meant to be a parallel to comedic actor Kevin Hart, who stars in the video. Hart had recently admitted to cheating on his pregnant wife, making it clear that the themes of cheating and the inevitability of public backlash in this day and age of constant media attention on celebrities.
The video could have just been a cheap performance of the song, have a generic actress with Cole playing the main role, but the inclusion of an actual subject of ridicule who has recently dealt with the same issues the song talks about really raises the pointedness of the video and it’s themes, and how they affect people we know. Another example is the video for “This Is America” by Childish Gambino. It is clear from the simplistic (though meaningful) lyrics that you won’t get the whole story from just the song itself, and that the visuals that accompany the track are not just a separate promotional tool to sell the song, but is integral to the understanding of the message given in the song.
With themes of gun violence, racial injustice, and the efforts of the public and the media industry to avoid dealing with this violence and injustice, Donald Glover knew he couldn’t just put it in words, he had to show himself dancing happily in front of chaos. He had to show the sudden-ness of mass shootings and violence from police by using the juxtaposition of a black chorus with a dark and dirty beat, and with actually showing him randomly shooting said choir with a machine gun in an act reminiscent of the Charleston shootings in 2016. Overall, music videos are becoming more and more part of the musical experience than they have been in the last few years, and this generation of videos may overtake the classic “MTV-era” videos in terms of popularity soon enough.