The Four D's
Lists of things are more catchy if they all start with the same letter, like the three R's of education, or the three R's of Selina Meyer's immigration policy in "Veep".
So I present to you a checklist of four things starting with D, which you can tick off any time you are watching a music video. Also two other things, that don't start with D (and I couldn't contrive any way to make them start with D).
Disconnection is all of the editing and shooting techniques which have the effect of partially disconnecting the viewer from the content being presented. Including, but not limited to:
- Drifting in and out of focus
- Characters drifting in and out of shot
- Poor lighting conditions
- Fast cutting
- Post-production visual degradation
- Slow motion
Daydreaming is where a character in the video is, or seems to be, daydreaming. To be fully effective, the viewer should have some idea of what the character is daydreaming about, which might be suggested by other action in the video, or, by the lyrics of the song.
(One thing that seems never to happen is that we are never directly presented with the content of a character's daydream. At most we can be presented with content that represents past memories of the character, and which that character is presumably reflecting upon.)
Content is daydreamable when it gives the viewer something to daydream about. This divides into two main categories:
- A character in the video is doing something exciting or awesome that the viewer can dream about doing.
- In a "fourth wall" moment, a character in the video can look at the viewer, suggesting an interaction that the viewer could daydream is real – such as a beautiful woman or a very good-looking guy staring lovingly into the camera.
Dance provides a form of visual musicality, and can be regarded as an extension of the music itself. Dance in modern music videos comes in two main categories:
- Large group party dance
- Smaller group choreographed dance
(It is possible that these two categories 'work' for slightly different reasons, where choreographed dance creates visual musicality, but group party dance is more about expressing the combined enthusiasm of the audience for the music.)
Other Things Not Starting with D
By performance, I mean the actual singing and playing of instruments. The importance of performance is most obvious in the "DJ"-style music video – the music is mostly pre-programmed or pre-recorded, so there isn't really any performance as such. But, the DJ feels the need to look like he or she is doing something important while the music is playing, for example listening intensely to the music through headphones, and twiddling knobs on the DJ console. That way, we can watch the DJ "perform" the song in the music video.
6. Cutting to the Beat
I have categorised dance as visual musicality.
One presentation technique quite specific to music videos is cutting to the beat. The beat is part of the music, so cutting to the beat adds a visual beat to the video, which gives us another type of visual musicality.
I've already identified fast cutting as a technique for achieving disconnection – so if there's fast cutting which is cutting to the beat, then we have a single technique giving us two things at once: visual musicality and disconnection.
All of these techniques are used in what I call "Daydreamish" music videos. Not every music video uses every technique. And not every music video aims for daydreamishness.
When a music video uses multiple techniques, they can be applied simultaneously. So the singer can sing, and the singing scene can be subject to disconnectional techniques like cutting, poor focus, poor lighting etc. Similarly with dancing. Or the singer can sing, and dance. And be subject to disconnectional shooting and editing. And do all that while being somewhere daydreamably awesome like a party on a luxury yacht that's cruising at speed across the harbour.
Group Party Dance is another scenario that often combines multiple techniques. For example, the performer is performing, and because the performer is so awesome, everyone really, really wants to dance (so the viewer can daydream about being someone as awesome as that performer). And, to round things off, all of the dancers are young and beautiful.