Cinema and Media Studies Music Video
by
William Straw, Mathias Bonde Korsgaard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0046

Introduction

Music video emerged as the object of academic writing shortly after the introduction in the United States of MTV (Music Television) in 1981. From the beginning, music video was claimed as the focus of academic study by different disciplines or subfields, leading to evident tensions and territorial disputes in early scholarship. For television scholars in the 1980s, music television networks (such as MTV) were seen to confirm the sense that television, with its fragmentary forms and repetitive structures, was the quintessentially postmodern medium. Scholars of popular music, less drawn to claims about music video’s postmodern character, were more concerned with the fate of music within a cultural form that bound it to moving images. This emphasis on image, some argued, threatened the autonomy of music and facilitated its commodification and co-optation. As academic writing on music video developed in the 1980s and 1990s, it followed a range of directions corresponding to different disciplines and specializations. Scholars of media economics and institutions studied the ways in which music video production had come to be integrated within the functioning of the music industries. At the same time, and amid widespread public outcry over the sexual and violent content of music video, numerous studies examined the treatment of women or racial minorities within music videos. Some of this work was interpretive or qualitative in character, drawing on the increasingly popular methodologies and political impulses of cultural studies, which spread across the humanities during this period. Other academic studies of music video content were quantitative, involving content analyses of selected samples of music videos or statistical measurements of the responses of viewers to particular kinds of content in controlled situations. As the novelty of music videos declined in the late 1990s and their distribution came to favor the Internet more than specialty television networks, the popularity of music video as a distinct object of study likewise seemed diminished. This decline in the influence or novelty of music video networks was hastened as well by the move of networks such as MTV toward “long-form” programming (such as reality programs or documentary series), which reduced the time devoted to video clips. Within scholarship on music video, the most notable trend since 2000 has been to situate music videos within broader contexts involving the audiovisual treatment of music and the changing nature of music video in the digital era. A range of works have placed music videos within a broader history of encounters between music and audiovisual entertainment media such as cinema or television. Among the most important of these studies have been those that study the audiovisual media systems outside the Western world, most notably in different regions of Asia. The studies of music video in the digital age have explored the many formal and institutional changes that have occurred following the transition of music video from television to online distribution, from MTV to YouTube.

Anthologies

Frith, et al. 1993 is the first-ever key collection on music. The differences in focus between this collection and future collections point to concrete shifts in the cultural status of music videos in the interval between 1993 and the late 2000s, and this reveals important changes in the methods and perspectives brought to bear on them. Frith, et al. 1993 was conceived in part as a response to arguments made in Berland 1986, Chang 1986, Polan 1986, and Fiske 1986 in the Journal of Communication Inquiry (all cited under Postmodernism), in which the postmodern character of the music video was a dominant theme. Berland’s emphasis on music had already set her apart from those who argued that the defining trait of music video was its exaggeration of certain characteristics of television in general. In their contributions to Frith, et al. 1993, Andrew Goodwin and Will Straw make their own arguments for the postmodern character of the music video but join the other contributors to Frith, et al. 1993 in locating videos within more concrete histories of technology, celebrity, narrative form, and musical genre. Still in print, Frith, et al. 1993 sums up the first decade of writing on music video while moving the field slightly away from television studies and toward the emerging field of popular music studies, of which coeditor Simon Frith was a founding figure. Coedited by two scholars of English, Beebe and Middleton 2007 shows the multiple directions in which the study of music video has traveled since the 1990s. First, music video is set within a longer history of attempts to join image to song, as in Amy Herzog’s article on “Soundies,” which were musical shorts of the post–World War Two period, and Norma Coates’s study of Elvis Presley’s appearances on television in the 1950s. Next, the growth of music-oriented cable television systems is set in the context of broader technological transformations in the television industry, such as the global satellite broadcasts of music concerts studied by Lisa Parks. Finally, the geographical scope of this book moves beyond that of the earlier anthology, with articles on the emergence and spread of music videos in Papua, New Guinea; Finland; and Canada. Keazor and Wübbena 2010 is among the first studies of music video to address the shifts in production and distribution brought about by digital technologies. The anthology devotes itself to probing the history of music video and pursuing new methodologies as well as speculating about the future of music video. Two other anthologies published in the late 2010s attest to the rekindled interest in music videos. Arnold, et al. 2017 looks both to extant traditions and new avenues with articles on as diverse topics as musical comedy videos, David Bowie, the work of Chris Cunningham, and music videos on greatest hits DVD collections. Burns and Hawkins 2019 is the most recent anthology and as such it indirectly summarizes some of the trends that have come to dominate the study of music video, including historical matters, the question of authorship, audiovisual aesthetics, issues of representation, and sex and gender as well as the intermedial nature of music videos.

  • Arnold, Gina, Daniel Cookney, Kirsty Fairclough, and Michael Goddard, eds. Music/Video: Histories, Aesthetics, Media. New York and London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

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    Anthology of articles that offers a panoramic and cross-disciplinary view of music video with an eye equally to the past and the 21st century. The book is divided into four main sections that incidentally correspond to some of the sections of this bibliographic overview: one on the (pre)history of music video, one on gender and sexual representation, one on the art of the music video, and a final section on the digital mutations of contemporary music video.

  • Beebe, Roger, and Jason Middleton, eds. Medium Cool: Music Video from Soundies to Cellphones. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

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    Anthology of articles by media scholars that follows the directions common in new scholarly writing on music video: outward, to consider music video in contexts other than those of the United States, and backward in time, looking at antecedents of music video in satellite broadcast television concerts and 1950s television variety programs.

  • Burns, Lori, and Stan Hawkins, eds. The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music Video Analysis. New York and London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.

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    A foundational handbook for the analysis of music video, this anthology gathers many of the most prominent voices in contemporary music video studies. Like some of the other anthologies referenced here, its different sections cover some of the main themes and topics in music video studies in general—including authorship, production, distribution, aesthetics, intermediality, gender, sexuality, race, etc.

  • Frith, Simon, Andrew Goodwin, and Lawrence Grossberg, eds. Sound and Vision: The Music Video Reader. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.

    E-mail Citation »

    Early anthology of writings on music video, dominated by scholars of popular music rather than those of television or film, and situating music video within a longer history of music’s relationship to audiovisual media. Key texts include Kobena Mercer’s analysis of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video (pp. 80–93) and Lawrence Grossberg’s essay on cinema, postmodernity, and youth culture (pp. 159–179).

  • Keazor, Henry, and Thorsten Wübbena, eds. Rewind, Play, Fast Forward: The Past, Present and Future of the Music Video. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript Verlag, 2010.

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    Anthology consisting of three parts: one titled “Rewind” on the history of music video, one titled “Play” on music video analysis, and a final section titled “Fast Forward” that looks to contemporary trends in music video. Apart from a chapter by Carol Vernallis, the anthology is noteworthy for offering insight into the work carried out by European scholars that have previously mostly written on music video in their native languages (mostly German and Italian scholars).

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