Monday, February 15, 2016

OK Go: Does the music matter anymore?

If you are like me, you can’t stop watching OK Go’s new music video. You know which one—the one with zero gravity, ehh…I mean bursts of microgravity from being on a plane flying in parabolas. What the name of the song again? Oh, you don’t remember, either?

This may just be me, but it isn't possible for me to watch this elaborate and amazing video and pay attention to the music. I spend the whole time marveling and just trying to figure out how they did it. In fact, the music hardly registers at all; I just get too distracted.

I was tempted to write a similar blog post about Ok Go’s 2014 video, “I Won’t Let You Down”
The blog’s tag line would have been something like“—Or Do They?”, meaning that even though the video was amazing, the music was unremarkable. Or perhaps the music was okay, but I couldn’t actually listen to it because there was too much going on in the video. To get back to “Upside Down & Inside Out” (which is the name of the new song and music video, by the way), I think the music is not bad, or at least has a lot of potential. The song has ups and downs, climaxes and calms, that match well with the plane’s parabolic periods. It is emotionally explosive, which is matched in the choreography. But the music production suffers from too much extraneous noise, unclear pitches, and superfluous echo that takes away from the emotion that it could show. Maybe that was the point of the production—but to me, the song sounds overproduced and lacks nuance.

Should OK Go just concentrate on making videos, then? Well, no, music does add something important to the genre, besides just the first word in the genre’s name; it wouldn’t be a music video without music. Why is the music important? Well, first, I think it is important to make clear that music videos are mainly a performance, more particularly a dance performance. Movement and music go together. The music gives the video structure in time, pacing, and often emotional impetus, often with some input from the words.

Having agreed that in general music is important, is this particular song replaceable? I would say that in the case of the last two OK Go music videos, another song with similar tempo and structure could be substituted just fine. In my opinion, the songs were not really emotional powerful on their own. But that is not always the case with music videos—I think the best music videos complement the song, bring out themes in the song, and even extend the song's meaning, while not distracting from it. You could say the same about ballet; what is ballet but an early form of music video? I think the closest OK Go got to this ideal was “A Million Ways”. The choreography is subtle, winningly awkward, and at least didn't get in the way of the message (mostly). Or maybe the song was just more interesting and stood out over the video, or I was actually able to pay attention to the music, unlike the next one (you know, treadmills…or whatever the song was called…) or their subsequent string of videos.

I don’t think this emphasis on video at expense of music is a problem exclusive to OK Go (though their videos are an extreme example). Actually, I encounter this problem with most music videos, for example most recently with Beyoncé’s highly-acclaimed "Formation". I’ve watched the video a few times, but in order to pay attention to the music, I have to ignore the video. This NPR’s article got it right—it’s a visual anthem, foremost. Musically, I’m not sure it’s her best work. Does that matter? Probably not; but I do wonder if emphasis on videos—especially visually overstimulating videos—drives down the quality of music.

Do any of you ignore or hide videos to focus on the music?