Natasha Pincus’ music video for Gotye’s “Someone I Used to Know” was posted unceremoniously last July, mentioned on music video blogs for its creative look and then dismissed into the internet ether. But there was something compelling about the song and video. The vocal talents of the improbably-named Gotye combined with the stop-motion-meets-live-action format of the video (done much in the same way that Peter Gabriel’s “Sledge Hammer” did twenty-five years earlier) well enough for the reputation of the song to slowly build, to the point where it was satirized on “Saturday Night Live.”
This would sounds like evidence that it hit the big time, but in fact that SNL episode was viewed by about 3 million people, a small fraction of the 160 million that had watched the video online at the time of the airing. The song, also performed by Gotye as the musical guest, ended up giving It the final boost it needed, pushing it to the top of the Billboard “Hot 100” (making the singer the first Belgian-born vocalist to do so since The Singing Nun), logging an additional ten million views and finally making everyone in the world irritated about how the hell he spells his name. Or pronounces it, for that matter.
Of course, by this point, everyone surly enough to be reading pop culture sites is no doubt sick of the song. Or at least they’ll say they are, which, considering the nature of how easy it is to contour your listening experiences in this age, says more about their habits than anything to do with the song or its exposure. The song itself is fine – vaguely dark, vaguely catchy and basically tolerable to everyone [Not everyone - Ed], just like the just-post-Police Sting comparisons imply. And the video is a perfectly fine adaptation of the song, in many ways better than “Sledge Hammer,” if only because it doesn’t try to shove sixty ideas into three and a half minutes.
Without the music video, however, Gotye wouldn’t be having his song downloaded by millions of suburbanites. He wouldn’t be on “Saturday Night Live.” He wouldn’t be bitching about how “Glee” screwed up his music. And we’d all be spared whiny messages like this from people incapable of figuring out how to use Spotify:
For the past few years, music videos have enjoyed a resurgence, and they certainly could promote a song or artist, but the ability to put together a compelling a music video, coupled with the reluctance of people to spend three minutes of their valuable time meant that only major artists could really use music videos as a launching point. The music video was very much a “bonus feature” to the song itself, mostly made to play in clubs on screens in the background rather than for a captive audience at home. Sure, they were visually nifty, but unless you were already a known quantity or your video was more comedic in nature, the video itself was almost an afterthought.
With the success of Gotye, however, a video demonstrated that it can, in fact, make a band as it once did in the MTV heydey.
Thee Satisfaction – QueenS
A couple weeks ago, Sub Pop released the first album by Seattle-based R&B duo THEESatisfaction, awE NaturalE. (Can we please stop capitalizing random letters? “The Satisfaction” would be a perfectly fine band name. You don’t need to spice it up. It just makes you look pretentious, irritates the crap out of copy editors and gives me a headache.) It was covered by a few music blogs favorably, but was relatively unknown outside of the Pitchfork-reading community.
Last week, the record company released a video for the song “QueenS” (nnngh) off of the album. The video was immediately picked up by the likes of Gawker, The Fader, Paper and an assortment of other non-music sites, and the video has since racked up over 80,000 views – not bad at all for a relatively unknown band working in a retro-‘70s genre whose audience isn’t all that big to begin with. (I have heard the genre described by the hideous moniker “PBR&B.” While I do not wish death on the person who came up with it, I will wish it on those that use it.)
What’s especially surprising is that there’s nothing gimmicky or special about the video at all. It captures the mood of the song perfectly by just feeling like a slice of life of a party that’s way too groovy for you to ever get invited to, but that’s it. There’s no camera trickery, no plot, no hyper-stylized editing – there’s nothing clever about it at all, other than “this is what the song feels like, as a film.”
It remains to be seen if the views of the music video can bring THEESatisfaction (nnnnngh) album sales, but the rest of the album is solid as well, and “QueenS” serves as a great sampler.
Of course, the power of the music video can also produce the occasional Lisa Gail Allred.
Lisa Gail Allred – 3 Second Rule
The inexplicable attempt to create a “new Rebecca Black” aren’t new – people have always had a morbid fascination with “terrible” art – Rebecca Black just gave a name and face to the “terrible home-made music video,” setting the bar for all others to be compared against. There’s become a whole subgenre of “worst music videos ever,” where people that should not be singing somehow manage to edit together a montage of their whining about being a crappy housewife, being pretty, or loving Rick Santorum.
The ubiquity of these videos has long since reached the point that they’re fully disposable. The “fame” associated with them runs its course in a matter of days, unless they’re remarkably noteworthy, which is rare. The original performers just ride it out, either obliviously or in on the joke that they’ve become. By next week, their musical notoriety will be no more than trivia for their co-workers.
Lisa Gail Allred, however, didn’t wait – as soon as her “3 Second Rule” was picked up by blogs a brilliant example of what not to do, it was taken offline. Allred, a one-time Miss USA runner-up, is clearly aware of the video being mocked and would have none of it. The video was apparently made via Dallas-based videographers Proedit Productions, to promote Allred’s (very real) music, and while she hasn’t had any interviews since the video went viral, she did write in her blog on Monday:
It saddens me so just like it does you how others of this world treat other people and it opened my eyes to what this world did to our precious Jesus and in spite of it all what he did for each one of us all of you who live on this earth today.
Allred isn’t “the next Rebecca Black,” as off-key and odd as a video “3 Second Rule” is. If anything, Allred borders on being an outsider musician – the bizarre background vocals behind “I’m only asking for three seconds” could have easily come from a Residents album. It was clearly meant for a small audience of already-loyal fans, but with the ease of someone stumbling onto a video and embracing it “ironically,” it shows how the availability of music videos now not only have the power to make a performer, but to destroy one as well.