Music in Film
Music is added to film to enhance our emotional reactions.
If the real function of music is to act on the emotions of daydreams, then we would expect music to be most consistently used in scenes that are somehow daydream-related.
There are various types of "daydream-ish" content in film that music acts on most strongly:
- Situations that one might daydream about, involving power, excitement, or beauty.
- Situations in which a character in the movie appears to be daydreaming, or if not specifically daydreaming, engaged in "task un-related thought", ie thinking about something outside of their immediate situation. And in those situations, usually something has recently happened which provides the something that the character is thinking about.
- Editing effects are applied to the film which present scenes in a "fragmented" or "fuzzy" manner – these effects can create the feeling that we are somehow disconnected from whatever it is we are watching.
- Some scenes are flashbacks, presented in such a manner that we know they represent the current thoughts of a character in the movie. (Flashbacks may include editing effects as in the previous item, to emphasize their role as memories of the character remembering them.)
Film versus Music Video
With cinematic film, usually one starts with a scene, and then adds the music.
Music videos are the other way round: you start with the music, and then add video content that somehow enhances the music.
If "daydream-ish" scenes in films are the scenes that most strongly require a "normal" musical soundtrack (ie music of the type that most people normally listen to, and free of any "non-musical" sounds like the screeching violins added to a horror scene), then we should not be surprised to find music videos consisting almost entirely of such daydreamish content.
A Broad Classification of Content Types in Music Video
Not all content in music videos is daydream-related, even in those videos that are substantially daydream-ish.
A very basic classification of music video content, based on how the content interacts with the brain's reponse to music, is as follows:
- Performance: we see the performer or performers performing the music.
- Visual Musicality: Visual effects and content that have their own "musicality". The primary examples are dancing and cutting to the beat.
- Daydream-ish Content: Content that is one of:
- Daydream-able Content: something the person watching the video can daydream about
- Daydream-ish Situations: situations where a character (or characters) in the music video is probably daydreaming, or would have reason to daydream, or where most people would tend to daydream
- Fragmented or Fuzzy Editing Effects: These can include: slow-motions, out-of-focus, subject in-focus but background out-of-focus or pooly lit, jump cuts, repeated and relatively frequence changes in point-of-view.
- Everything Else: A video may contain a story-line, or propaganda for some moral or political point of view, or be created in some "interesting" manner. A music video with sufficiently "interesting" content might be watchable even if it wasn't accompanied by the music that it is a video for – such videos are actually less interesting if we are studying how music acts on our emotional responses to video, because they are less dependent on the specific music that accompanies them.
Although I have attempted to divide music video content into four categories, specific content can belong to multiple categories: so we can be watching the performer sing and dance at the same time, or slow-motion editing can be applied to dance scenes.
Connection versus Dis-Connection
When you create a film, you want your audience to be connected to the action and story-line. And you can use music to enhance the audience's emotion reactions to certain parts of your film.
But if the basic effect of music is to partially disconnect the listener from anything in the real world separate from the music itself, then you have only two choices of content that properly "match" the musical state of mind:
- Musical content which the viewer connects to because it forms part of the music: either the musical performance itself, or dance.
- Other content presented in a manner which allows the viewer to remain only partially connected to that content.
So there is a basic conflict here between the requirements of a music video, which provides visual content that best matches the music, and that of normal story-telling film where the story demands the full attention of the viewer.
The bottom line is that if you go to make a music video, thinking it's just like making a movie that happens to be the length of a song and with a soundtrack consisting of that one song, you're probably going to do it wrong.
Can a Music Video "Tell a Story"?
My analysis might seem to imply that a music video should never attempt to tell a story.
But I think this is drawing too strong a conclusion. It would be more accurate to say that a music video can tell a story, but only if it can be told with a series of scenes that are fragmentary, fuzzy, perhaps interspersed with musical performance and dance, and where much of the action consists of characters in the video engaged in task-unrelated thought.
Also, in a music video it can be effective to have the viewer directly included in the story, for example, the very attractive singer sings "I love you" while looking straight at you. Such "fourth-wall" scenarios are generally discouraged in normal movies.
Caveat: Examples and Musical Taste
I will now analyse some specific examples of music videos which I think have a large portion of "daydreamish" content in them.
However, there is one big problem with giving musical examples in relation to the strong emotional effects of music: different people like different music.
If I give examples of different types of scene from a music video that I like, you might watch it, and think "I don't particularly feel anything about the video content", but that would be because you don't like that particular musical item so much.
So in following my examples, you might have to read the examples, watch the videos, and then find examples of music videos for music that you do like, and find examples of the same types of content in those music videos.
Nicky Jam y Enrique Iglesias: El Perdón
The overall style of this video is fragmentary. There are snatches of places in a city with houses and hillside footpaths: places in the city, people going somewhere, people sitting somewhere, people seen from a distance doing things.
There is no coherent picture of where people are and what relationship exists between the different locations shown in the video.
Nicky and Enrique sing about their love interest, a beautiful woman – sometimes they seem to see her briefly or not very well, perhaps from a distance, perhaps somehow indirectly reflected in a window, perhaps only in their thoughts.
Starting about 2:27 there is a rather odd scene where women in bikinis ride bicycles in a circle around Nicky sings. Such a scene might seem rather gimmicky, but it seems to work in that it is presented in a fragmented manner, in a poorly lit setting, consistent with the general tone of the video.
The video progresses from daylight scenes to nighttime darkness – so the device of using poor lighting to limit the viewer's sense of presence in the scene is added to the general fragmentation and dislocation that runs throughout the whole video.
There are certainly scenes where the singers and other characters in the video are engaged in task-unrelated thought – in some cases those thoughts are being expressed in the lyrics of the song.
There is relatively little if any use of slow-motion in this video – it's hard to tell if some of the shots are slow motion, or if the action itself is just slow.
Jhené Aiko - Comfort Inn Ending (Freestyle)
(Contains with some explicit language and sexual content – so be warned.)
This video makes heavy use of slow-motion, which is a very common technique to provide a feeling of partial disconnection from the action in a video.
There is a strong interplay between the action and the lyrics in this video. For example, at 2:10 the lyrics correspond to the likely thoughts of the main character – in the present she is about to set all her ex's possessions on fire, but the lyrics are about things that happened in the past which seemed good at the time, but, given what she knows now, not so good.
In that scene, and in others, the video uses the device of not showing the main character's face – this is another way to leave the viewer partially disconnected from the action. (In a normal movie, the faces of the main characters in scenes would be visible a much higher percentage of the time.)
From 3:26 onwards, the action in the video is the past memories of the main character – and the lyrics are the thoughts that she is having about those past memories. (The 'faceless' style is continued here – we see her face just enough to know that this was a happy time, we don't see his face at all. It would be unusual to have a romantic scene in a normal movie where you weren't seeing one or both character's faces most of the time.)
"Fourth Wall" (Daydreamable Content)
If you're a fan of Jhené Aiko, then there are a few good daydreamable "fourth wall" moments in this video (which also makes heavy use of fragmentary/fuzzy shooting and editing techniques, and which also comes with an "explicit" warning):
M. Pokora - Juste Une Photo De Toi
This video comes with the standard techniques of fragmentation and fuzziness, and there are plenty of scenes where the main character is engaged in task-unrelated thought.
A couple of items are worthy of mention - the dancing, and the motorbike/car scenes.
The choreographed dance scenes in this music video are very powerful, and they provide a good example of what I consider to be the musicality of dance.
However, the motorbike driving scenes, the first of which starts at about 1:05, do seem to break the tone of the video a little.
Scenes involving motor vehicles can be very daydreamish. Riding as a passenger in a vehicle is a situation where there is nothing much else to do, if the ride is a relatively safe and straightforward. This can even apply when you are the driver, if you are driving your car along a relatively undemanding stretch of road. Also, once speed goes above a certain level, you are effectively disconnected from your immediate environment.
Motor vehicle action can also be daydreamable if it is intense or exciting enough – for example footage of competive motor racing.
However the motorbike driving in M Pokora's video doesn't quite fall into either category: the rider is not pushing the limits of what is possible in a motorbike, but at the same time he is riding fast enough that we are not expecting him to be engaged in task-unrelated thought. And because he's wearing a helmet, we can't judge anything from his facial expression – this might be a situation where safety rules conflict with the need to provide useful clues to the viewer about a character's thought processes.
Perhaps the best explanation of these segments is that there is a sudden contrast, for example at 1:09 and 1:14, when it jumps back to pure music (ie no non-musical sounds), and "memory" scenes (with visual degradation). The suddenness of those jumps, to pure music and pure daydreamishness, may temporarily heighten the effect.
(A similar example of deliberate contrast seems to happen in Richie Home Quan's Type of Way, where from 0:06 there is a scene, shot in a "reality cops" style, where a young (black) person (presumably a suspect) is confronted by policeman with guns, with one of the policemen telling him repeatedly to "Sit, Sit Down!". This rather stark scene is not accompanied by any music. At 0:09 there is a sudden jump to music and full daydreamish-style video of Richie entering into the stage of a performance to a large crowd.)