OK GO: We Need to Talk About Music Videos and Their Relationship to Film

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Just over a week ago, OK GO premiered the video for their new single “The Writing’s on the Wall”. Appropriately, the Internet responded with the expected “oohs” and “ahhs”. But, of the dozen or so articles I checked out regarding the video, said articles were no longer than a couple hundred word blurbs that briefly mentioned that OK Go makes cool videos and this was another one of them. I would not call myself a music connoisseur by any means, but I do adore music and I adore music videos. I think we should talk about them with more respect. Let’s talk about their relationship to film, both formally and textually. Let’s talk about how film informed music video aesthetic and how, subsequently, music video informed film aesthetic. Let’s talk about how directors have jumped back and for between the medium and how that’s affected their overall style. Let’s talk about how music videos are just as interesting a short form cinematic medium as the short film, with a wealth of possibilities to experiment with narrative and style. So, I have this is statement: We Need to Talk About Music Videos and Their Relationship to Film.

Which brings us back to OK Go. The band is not merely the purveyor of “quaint” music videos, cutesy click bait you can share on Facebook. These guys are playing with its very nature. Much like music videos are the marriage of music and film, OK Go’s clever, cheeky, even daring videos are a marriage of past and present. Though they don’t overly flirt with “new technology”, their push lately to shoot their videos in one take is nonetheless telling. This lean towards one shots is combines with what might be derisively described as “quirky visuals” when, in fact, OK Go might be better thought of as Méliès-like magicians. Playing with perspective, playing with a Rube Goldberg contraption, playing with treadmills.

Georges Méliès, whose most famous feature is A Trip to the Moon, was magician first and filmmaker second. It just so happened that the latter medium helped the former hobby. Evident in A Trip to the Moon was the conjurer’s proclivity towards the fantastical, experimenting with super-imposition, quick cuts, and, arguably, a change in setting. It was deliberately theatrical, directly in opposition to Méliès’s contemporaries the Lumiere Brothers, whose “actualities” sought to capture reality.

Damian Kulash, Tim Norwind, Dan Konopka, and Andy Ross are, essentially, magicians, entrancing the audience with bombastic visuals. In the video that made the band a hit, “Here It Goes Again”, in one continuous take, the band dances on treadmills. Why is it that this short form video, one that lacked any kind of narrative, put these folks on the map to the extent that their videos basically eclipse their music? (When have you ever heard someone say “Have you heard the new OK Go track?” as opposed to “Have you seen the new OK Go video?”?) Inventive though they are, they’re not the most imaginative band or music video makers. They’re fun, and they gently push the medium, but not as drastically as someone like Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze.

It’s exactly because they are magicians. Such an easy little trick, the most simple made to look like the most complicated, dazzles an audience. The desire, though, is to get people talking about these videos like any other piece or product or text. “The Writing’s On the Wall” takes its musically thematic content to heart with regard to examining a couple that doesn’t work because they see things differently. And so the band plays with perspective. The band even experimented with 3D and shapes earlier in their video for “All is Not Lost”. (Yet, that video, sitting with just over 70,000 views doesn’t hold a candle to “Wall”, with 7 million views.) It’s clear, then, that even in their lesser known videos, that the brains behind this band are secret experimental filmmakers, maybe closer to Jodie Mack or Stan Brakage than narrative ones.

Music videos, not only the ones of OK Go have so much to offer in terms of discussion. From its ability to push boundaries formally and narratively to the influence it has on filmmakers, one thing is clear to me: We Need to Talk About Music Videos and Their Relationship to Film.

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