Miércoles 13 de Septiembre de 2006, Ip nº 170

Outshining MTV: How Video Killed the Video Star
Por Kelefa Sanneh

MTV outgrew music videos long ago. The network has stayed successful by showing reality dramas, celebrity specials and dating competitions. And so every year, MTV’s Video Music Awards seem slightly out of place. The network spends a night lavishly (and perhaps guiltily) paying tribute to music videos; it’s the 1980’s all over again. Then, reruns notwithstanding, it’s back to business as usual for another 364 days.

But while viewers used to complain about the dearth of music videos on MTV, that complaint itself now seems old-fashioned. Anyone who cares about music videos can find them elsewhere, sometimes courtesy of MTV itself. (The network unveiled a video-heavy site, mtv.com/overdrive, last year.) Tonight’s awards ceremony, to be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall, is the first since the introduction of the video iPod last year. And it’s the first since the rise of YouTube.com, the most efficient video-sharing site yet. If MTV no longer plays music videos all day long, who cares?

So what do music fans do when they have cheap cameras and an easy way to share their work with other fans? They sing cover versions of their favorite songs, or show off their lip-synching skill, or do silly little dances. On YouTube this means that artists sometimes end up competing with their own fans.

In one extreme recent case, the hip-hop club track “Chicken Noodle Soup,” by the Harlem duo Webstar and Young B, became a do-it-yourself sensation. Fans learned the accompanying dance even before the duo had a major-label record deal. And by the time Universal Republic rushed out an official music video, it almost seemed like an afterthought, because there were already hundreds of homemade “Chicken Noodle Soup” videos online. For some reason a wide variety of listeners felt compelled to show the world how well (or how poorly) they wiggled in time to that same siren-driven beat.

The spur-of-the-moment music video is a relatively new phenomenon. And some of this year’s most memorable major-label music videos found ways to pay tribute to lip-synchers and bedroom choreographers. In the video for Kelly Clarkson’s “Walk Away” (RCA/Sony BMG), images of Ms. Clarkson are interspersed with images of more-or-less regular people, all of them lip-synching their hearts out. For “Cheated Hearts” (Interscope), the Yeah Yeah Yeahs invited fans to impersonate band members and lip-synch the song. In the final version it can be hard to tell the real Yeah Yeah Yeahs from the fake ones.

No band has exploited online video more effectively than OK Go, from Chicago. The video for “Here It Goes Again” (Capitol) consists of a single, low-resolution shot of the band members performing an intricately choreographed routine on a set of treadmills. Part of the appeal is that these guys don’t look anything like professional dancers. The band wasn’t nominated for any awards. (“Here It Goes Again” was released too late to be considered.) But in a tribute to the power of online video, the members of OK Go are scheduled to reprise their treadmill routine during tonight’s show. Around New York there are tongue-in-cheek OK Go posters that say “For Your Consideration: Best Treadmill Video.”

Compared to these viral videos, tonight’s nominees for video of the year seem to come from a different planet. The five nominated videos are Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man” (RCA/Sony BMG), Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” (Epic/Sony BMG), Madonna’s “Hung Up” (Warner Brothers), the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California” (Warner Brothers) and Panic! at the Disco’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” (Fueled By Ramen). All five are glamorous productions built around performances.

In all five, the wardrobes — Ms. Aguilera’s speakeasy get-up, Shakira’s shiny red skirt, Madonna’s leotard, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ rock ’n’ roll makeovers, Panic! at the Disco’s circus-inspired suits — are more memorable than the plot or the direction. And with the exception of “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” all of these videos were commissioned by well-established acts with big budgets at their disposal.

Not too big, though. In the late 1990’s major-label acts routinely made seven-figure music videos, gambling that they would be able to make the money back through CD sales. But in an era of declining album sales, that logic seems less sensible than ever. These days, when major labels spend that kind of money, they’re not just doing it to provide MTV with free programming. They’re doing it because they want more stuff to sell.

That means more and more CD’s are bundled with DVD’s, or reissued with DVD supplements, or followed by stand-alone DVD companions. From the Arctic Monkeys (who recently released “Scummy Man,” described as “a short film inspired by the song ‘When the Sun Goes Down’ ”) to Chris Brown (whose fans are invited to buy “Chris Brown’s Journey,” a DVD cash-in), extended music videos are finding a home in record stores.

Truly ambitious (and well-financed) stars can make movies instead of videos. OutKast’s “Idlewild,” which was originally conceived as an HBO special, arrived in theaters last week. (No doubt some of the same theatergoers took in T. I.’s “ATL” this spring.) A week and a half ago Lifetime broadcast “The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale,” starring that singer. And in theaters next Friday, country fans can watch “Broken Bridges,” a feature starring Toby Keith.

And then there’s “High School Musical,” which must be the year’s most successful music video, even though you won’t hear about it at the Video Music Awards. It’s a Disney Channel movie that was a huge hit on cable and on DVD. It spawned a soundtrack CD of the same name that remains the year’s best-selling album, and also the year’s best example of how lucrative it can be to combine music and video.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to call a full-length Disney movie a music video. And certainly many more people saw Madonna’s “Hung Up” than saw all the “Chicken Noodle Soup” videos put together. But then it’s getting harder to tell exactly what a music video is or isn’t. A few of them fit on MTV, but more of them find homes on other screens, bigger ones, perhaps, or smaller ones.

There are still plenty of glamorous four-minute performance videos, and viewers will see glimpses of them tonight. But some viewers might also notice that this year’s music awards are old-fashioned in a different way. The ceremony will celebrate an old — though not quite obsolete — idea of what music videos can be. Once upon a time MTV outgrew the music video. But now it seems that the music video has outgrown MTV.

  31/08/2006. The New York Times.