Lyrics Video – G.Rishkus

I’ve been thinking about the phenomenon of artists’ books, and trying to remember what does it remind me of, it struck me: lyrics on the music album inlay! These come in various shapes and sizes, depending on the artistic ambition of the musician (or his label). But there’s another media, which had come of age only in the YouTube era, when generating images became ludriciously cheap: the lyrics video. And I would like to talk about it a little bit.

So, as the album art, they come in different styles, starting from a photo of the musician and a simple karaoke-like text, all the way to typography masterpieces and massive amounts of CGI trickery. The lyrics video’s function  (as a form of music video) in the music industry is simple – to get the chorus stick in your head and never let go. But the process is quite complicated.

From the start of recorded music, the live performance worked as a way to authenticate that the recording is indeed produced by the musicians to whom it is attributed. This function was especially important for popular music, as it is more performer-oriented. The suits, the moptop haircuts, the witty interviews were as essential to the Beatles’ success, as their music. And their ability to reproduce their three-part vocal harmonies on-stage affirmed their credibility. As Simon Frith, a leading popular music critic and a scholar of mediatized performance, argues, after the arrival of MTV, the music video occupies the place formerly held by the sound recording as the primary musical text and has usurped live performance’s authenticating function. (Frith, 1988) And, he continues, – “The function of live performance under this new arrangement is to authenticate the video by showing that the same images and events that occur in the video can be reproduced onstage, thus making the video the standard for what is “real” in this performative realm. “For an increasing number of rock fans the meaning of ‘live’ performance, the look of music ‘in reality’…comes from its ubiquitous simulation. This is an example of what we might call the Baudrillard effect: a concert feels real only to the extent that it matches its TV reproduction.” As another scholar, Philip Auslander says of the glam-rock shows, – “these spectacular concerts paved the way for music video by associating specific, highly cinematic images with particular songs.”

So, hence the hypnotizing flicker effect used on the chorus in the lyrics video to “Supremacy” by the glammiest band of the modern times, Muse. Everything about them is over-the-top, so the lyrics video is complete with CGI schemes of satellite connections and cryptic codes (the vocalist’s obsession with conspiracy theories and cryptography is well-publicized).

Hence the use of agressive red background on the chorus in the otherwise calm palette of Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You!” lyrics video, also notable for the sloganeering, ready-for-the-T-shirt typography. Every frame would make a perfect T-shirt.

In no way is this post to be considered a proper study of the media in question, but I do hope to provoke interest in the matter at hand.

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