Music video styles, conventions & techniques analysis (2023)

Music videos have a variety of styles, conventions and techniques; they are all used for different purposes but ultimately are used to make the music video more intriguing and in the end promote the song. Firstly, we will take a look into the styles implemented in certain music videos, certain styles will depend on the music genre, so a pop video would be different compared to a rap or rock video and vice-versa.

We can now take a look at a music video pulled from the rock genre–

Here we see the video for Guns N’ Roses – Paradise City, the video includes the style that is most typical of rock and indie videos, in concert or as live footage. In this case, the whole music video is set at a concert the band performed at, but a lot of music videos in this genre use this style, maybe not to the extent of the example shown, but still it is used a fair amount. Music video producers put this style in their videos to give the connection between the fans of the band that couldn’t be at the actual concert and the band itself, also it makes the band seem a lot more popular as usually there is a huge fan base shown in the audience. Furthermore, the production costs of an in concert music video is significantly cheaper than videos that use other styles.

Illustrative is a style videos in every genre use, illustrative is when the lyrics have a strong connection with the visuals in the music video. Producers will use this to add a visual story to an audio story, its almost like creating a film after a book has been released. You can only picture the lyrics to what your perception is of the words, but if a producer releases a music video for that same track, you can pin-point exactly what the writer of the song had in his/her’s mind when writing it.

Here we see the video for Eminem – Guilty Conscience ft. Dr Dre, this video is a great example for the illustrative style, the video follows exactly what the lyrics are saying. Producers use this style to amplify the meaning of the lyrics and create a visual experience for the viewer along with the song, its almost as if the lyrics are a commentary for the music video. While this style is effective, it seems to becoming less popular, as more creative ideas are implemented into modern video, notice that this video was released in 1999 when illustrative was a key style in the music video industry.

Interpretive, again, is a style used in all types of genres, interpretive is used to add deeper meaning to a songs lyrics. It helps the viewer understand the content of the song, something that may have seemed pointless and meaningless originally, can all make sense when you watch the music video for the same song when the interpretive style is used. On the other hand, there is another meaning to this style, a producer may leave the video open to interpretation which allows the audience to perceive the video in any way they want.A producer would use this style to get the audience thinking, the music video almost becomes an enigma as the aim is ti get the viewer to think, whether it be their own take on the video or a message purposely portrayed by the producer.

Here we see the video for Childish Gambino – 3005, the video leaves the meaning of the song open to interpretation, which is the whole point of the style. The lyrics and the video turn into anything you want them to mean, for example, in this instance, the teddy bear Gambino is holding could mean different things to different people; love, relationships, family or anything the viewer wants it to.

Parody is a style this is quite rare, artists that are quirky and controversial usually come out with the videos that implement this style. Parody is a style that imitates another piece of work, whether it be a film or another music video. It can almost be linked to something that the style is basically sculpted around, that being sarcasm. It is incredibly hard to get everyone to understand your concept of sarcasm, while being witty and funny at the same time. Producers would use this style to add an element of humor to the music video, also it shows creativity and intelligence on the part of the producer if done successfully, as it is very difficult to parody something while getting the majority of the audience to understand what the parody is making fun of, which is where the link to sarcasm comes in.

Here we see the video for Eminem – Without Me, in this video Eminem and Dr Dre are poking fun at several things, the most obvious parody is the mocking of comic books, especially Batman and Robin, but there are many more scenarios in which Eminem is poking fun, news channel CNN is mocked near the end of the video. Eminem is the most typical artist to implement parody into his videos, there were several examples from the artist, as i stated previously, quirky characters are more likely to have the parody style in their videos. However, this could also be seen as the next style we will be looking at which is pastiche/homage. Eminem was a huge comic book fan in his younger years, so this could be seen to some people as paying tribute to certain comics that Eminem grew up loving.

Pastiche/homage again are rare styles used in music videos, you don’t see this style implemented. Pastiche/homage is when a music video references another media text, almost like a tribute (this is also known as intertextuality). This gives the certain video a specific theme, which can either make a break it. Obviously if the media text referenced is unclear then the music video will seem unclear as well, but if it is executed correctly, it can come across very clever. Pastiche/homage is not genre specific.

Here we see the video for Blur – The Universal. This is a classic example of pastiche/homage, in this case, Blur are referencing the film ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ If the viewer hasn’t seen the film, obviously they are not going to fully understand the music video, if you look at the comments on websites you can see people saying how strange the video is, but this is simply because they do not understand the reference, this is problem with the pastiche/homage style. ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is a very famous film made in the 1970’s, the older people watching this video may are more likely to understand, but nowadays the internet is dominated by the younger generation, so on mediums like YouTube, it doesn’t do the video many favours. The references to the pure white outfits in the music video are a straight copy from the film, along with the type of shots like the slow zoom in.

Surrealist is one of the most creative and intriguing styles, if done well, it can be used to make a very exciting and strange music video. The definition of surrealist is pretty much in the title, it is a style that uses surreal, dreamlike elements and techniques to make up a very creative, imaginative video. Surrealist has no limits and gives the producer a chance to break the boundaries a little. It is a style that doesn’t really have a specific genre it is used in the most, but it is very popular in the electronic genre.

Here we see the music video for Tyler, The Creator – IFHY, this video uses several elements of surreal style. Originally we see the artist sitting in a dollhouse with a plastic face, even though his body is in human form, we then see someone controlling him and the other character from outside of the dollhouse. This is surreal as of course, it couldn’t really happen in the real world, but also because the video gives you a dreamlike feeling, you are instantly thrown into a different world inside of the video itself, that to me defines surreal.

Narrative is a style used to tell a story throughout the music video, this can entice the viewer and almost makes the video like a micro-short film. Starting with an equilibrium, meaning everything is stable and balanced, ultimately everything is as normal, then a conflict occurs breaking that equilibrium, the conflict is then resolved or is ended somehow and a new equilibrium occurs, so everything is stable but the lives of the characters have altered in some way. Narritive can either be linear or non-linear, a linear narrative means that the video would be shown for example, in chronological order, a non-linear narrative means there could be flashbacks within the story, breaking the linear narrative. Film producers often make music videos and narrative is the style they usually go for. It is a style more often used in mainstream songs, in the pop, hip-hop and light rock genres. Narrative is used by producers to intrigue the audience, if the viewer can get hooked into the story-line within the music video, then they are more likely to pay attention to the lyrics that accompany the story, turning the lyrics almost into a commentary for the video.

Here we see the video for Eminem – Stan, in this video we a story develop focusing on a crazed obsessed fan. Just like a film, the video starts off on an equilibrium, then conflict occurs, the conflict ends and finally a new equilibrium materializes. This takes the audience through a range of emotions and the aim of the producer is to make the audience feel attached to the characters in the video, in this case, we are supposed to feel hurt when Stan, the main character dies and when we see his younger brother visit his grave at the end. This video is an example of a non-linear narrative as there are many flashbacks and clips in non-chronological order, therefore breaking the linear structure, for example, Eminem is reading the letter sent from Stan throughout the video, as is Stan writing it, this is impossible to do at the same time so its an obvious example of non-linear structuring. The video also uses the convention of lyrical interpretation/illusion which we will talk about in more detail later, it uses this convention as the lyrics in the song are often matched by the visuals. For example, when Stan is talking about how Eminem refused to talk to him outside of his concert, the video shows Eminem coming out of a concert and not talking to Stan and his little brother, this is a taster of what lyrical interpretation/illusion consists of.

Animation is a style used to give the producer no limits or boundaries, similar to the surrealist style. Animation is often visually appealing to the audience and is the main attraction of the style, it is more often than not very colourful and creative. This style doesn’t really have a specific genre it is used most in, but there are many examples of it in the hip-hop, rock and pop genres. We will see in the example below that the producer went for a very colourful video, however, this is not always the case as animation can be used in many different ways. Another way animation is used is to create a surreal image, for example a character or an object, as i stated before animation doesn’t really have any boundaries, so if a producer wants to create a mythical creature, then this style gives them the opportunity to do that.

Here we see the video for Kanye West – Heartless, this video is animation all the way through. It uses animation to get across a surreal like atmosphere and change settings quickly. Whereas this video may have taken a while to produce, it cuts down on production costs, as there are no actors or crew to pay for, although there may be models that the animation is based around to be payed as Kanye West himself is portrayed along with several female characters. This video also has elements of surreal implemented, the world created by the animation looks very imaginary and dreamlike, animation and surrealist work well together as each one compliments the other and we will often see animated videos fall into the category of surrealist.

We can now take a look at the conventions in music videos, there are several different conventions implemented in videos, certain conventions are linked to certain genres as we now can analyse many videos and match the conventions to the genre.

Lyrical interpretation or illustration is when the lyrics correspond with the music video, it is used in most music videos as it is the simplest concept to produce a music video around. Producers will often use this convention as it doesn’t take too much effort to create the idea, but no one will really think that the producer has been lazy. Whereas some of the producers may well be being lazy for using this convention, others use it simply because the lyrics need an image to match, whether it be because they are confusing so the visuals can make the viewer understand, or just because the video could benefit from something the lyrics say as they might be very creative as it is. This convention can be used in any genre of music.

Here we see the video for D12 – Purple Hills, this is a great example of the illustration convention. There are many examples of lyrical interpretation throughout the video, for example, when the chorus comes on at first singing “Nothing compares to these blue and yellow, purple hills” the images on screen are of Eminem driving through blue, yellow and purple hills. Also, later on in the song it says “Climbed the highest mountains” and, of course, we see the groupclimbing a mountain/hill. Even though the video was based around the lyrics, it is till very colourful and creative, proving that the illustration convention is not boring or the easy way out for the producer.

Amplification is when the video enhances the meaning to the lyrics while still relating to them, ultimately it adds layers to a song and usually shows a deeper meaning the the lyrics. This is probably one of the most clever conventions as it can make an audience understand the meaning behind a song. It isn’t related to a specific genre as any type of music has the convention in their videos, but usually we see it used in the more emotional songs, probably to bring out the deeper meaning in the video. Producers will often use this convention to show off their intelligence as it can be very intriguing to see how they have made the video amplify the lyrics, but also, the convention can be used to clear up any confusion in the lyrics, if the audience doesn’t quite understand what the lyrics mean, the video will help them piece it together if amplification is used.

Here we see the video for Coldplay – The Scientist, this video uses a variety of conventions and amplification is one of them. It adds an extra layer onto the lyrics while still relating to them, in the video we see a car-crash being played in reverse, the very last line on the verses is “I’m going back to the start” and the video all makes sense when that last line is said, as the video shows the artist going back to before the crash when everything was normal. The technique of lip syncing which will be explained more later is also used in this video, we see the band member singing the lyrics as if the video was played normally, from start to finish, but of course this video is being played backwards. This means the band member would have had to learn to sing the lyrics in reverse so the audio matched up to the visuals on screen. This was an extremely difficult task to achieve and just goes to show how clever conventions within music videos can be. The video also performs a twist on thenarrativestyle, it has a non-linear story-line but at the same time it is linear, as it is very simple and linear if you think of the video backwards, which is how it is supposed to be seen. Even though if you watch the video from start to finish you may think it is not in chronological order, in fact it is if you perceive the video in the way the producer intended. So this is video is one of the most clever examples to show as there are many skills shown off within it.

Disjuncture is the opposite to amplification, it is when the lyrics have absolutely no relation the video. This gives the producer a great chance to do whatever he/she wants with the video, they can be as creative and imaginative as possible and basically can start with a blank canvas with nothing to base the video around. It is probably the most popular type of video after the illustration convention as it easy to produce an idea. This convention can be used in any type of genre as it doesn’t have a concept, it could be anything, which is the most intriguing thing about the disjuncture convention.

Here we see the video for Earl Sweatshirt – Whoa, this video is completely random and has absolutely nothing to do the lyrics. We see women in pink ballerina costumes and the artists messing around in a trailer park, while the lyrics are on about something completely different. It just gives the producer an excuse to do whatever they want with video and have some fun, which is exactly what we are seeing in this video.

Allusion is a convention that references a place, person or event, similar to the pastiche/homage styles. However, unlike the pastiche/homage styles, this can be an imaginary event or a real life one. Also unlike pastiche/homage it can be a very lighthearted reference that can be subtle, but it is used mostly to broaden the viewers understanding of the song.

Here we see the video for Jay-Z & Kanye West – Night In Paris, this video has a short clip of Will Ferrell fro his comedy in 2007 ‘Blades of Glory’ it isn’t a pastiche or homage as it isn’t based around the whole video, but just enough that the viewer knows the artist is paying respect or referencing the other performer. As stated before the pastiche/homage style can slot into this convention, as the music video above is almost giving a shout out to Will Ferrell and his work.

Techniques are used in a variety of ways to improve music videos, there are multiple techniques producers have at their disposal, one of them is cutting to the beat.

Cutting to the beat is pretty self explanatory, it is when the shots in the music video are cut to match the beat. This technique is done in the editing process. For example

Here we see the video for Justin Timberlake – Rock Your Body, there is the technique of cutting to the beat every so often in the song every time time a section of the lyrics come up, but the most evident is around the 2:41 mark. The way the video cuts to the beat gives the video almost more of a connection with the song, also making it more pacey. The video would seem a little slow for the song if there wasn’t moments of cutting to the beat, this is more than likely why the producer decided to implement this technique.

Lip syncing is when an artist or actor in the music video is pretending to sing along with the lyrics, but really isn’t saying anything, or more than likely they are genuinely singing the lyrics, but the recorded piece of audio is done separately in the studio. This makes it look like the artist/actor is singing the song but with great sound quality, something that would be hard to get if it was recorded while filming.

Here we see the video for Nickleback – Rockstar, this is blatantly obvious that the people in the video are lip syncing the lyrics as it isn’t actually the band in the video. The actors are more than likely singing the lyrics, but of course the final recording is of Nickleback performing the song in a recording studio. The people in this video are more than likely fans of the band and is similar to the time the group Feeder allowed their fans to make up a music video for their song “Just a Day.” The music video shows several fans of the group acting and miming the lyrics of the song, the best of the bunch were put into the official video. This meant that video had many people talking about it and even inspired other bands like Barenaked Ladies and Jetplane Landing to create a music video similar to Feeders in the songs “Wind It Up” and “Brave Gravity.”

There is also another twist producers can add to this technique, we often see certain sections of music videos in slow motion or sped up, therefore the producers over-crank the frames, this basically means the video is shot in a high frame rate. Or you could speed up the song while shooting the video and perform it at that speed, then at final production you cut it down to the normal speed.

Chroma-key is a technique used to replace an image with a new image, music videos usually use chroma-key to change the background to make it look like they are in a certain location or to have effects going on in the background. This cuts location travelling down and has the same affect as it would if the video was shot in the chroma-key’d location.

Here we see the video for Eminem – We Made You, there are several points in the music video where Eminem is in front of a Guitar Hero like background, now, of course, he isn’t actually standing in front of that in image in real life, instead the producers/editors have used chroma-key to place the artist in front of the setting. This video also has the style of parody implemented within it, in fact, it is what the video is based around. We see several parodies of Kim Kardashian, Guitar Hero, Star Trek and TV show “Rock of Love.”

Camera movements and camera angles are crucial in keeping the audience entertained while watching a music video, of the camera was in the same place and at the same angle throughout the whole of the video, the entertainment value just isn’t really there.

Here we see the music video for J.Cole – Who Dat, this video is the prime example of why camera movement is so important and how it can make or break a video. This video was filmed in one whole continuous shot and you never get the sense of repetitiveness or boredom, if a highly popular music video can be done in one shot and still get a lot of positive recognition, then this proves how vital camera movement really is. The impact this has on the viewer is that they are fascinated to see if the one shot will continue throughout the whole video, even if someone didn’t like the artist or the song, they would still be intrigued by the video as it is very intelligently done and they can respect the crew for taking a risk and making it work.

Here we see the video for Labrinth – Earthquake ft. Tinie Tempah, throughout this video there is a variety of camera angles, a lot of low angle and high angle shots. The low angle shots show the importance and presence of the two main artists, the high angle shots gives you a view of the environment around the artists. Without camera angles, the majority of videos, especially in the pop genre, as they are usually fast paced with a lot of shots, would get repetitive and boring, similar to the impact of camera movements. This video would have also used chroma-key to produce the backgrounds, the chroma-key technique used in this video makes it feel very futuristic, which is probably what the producer was going for.

All these styles, conventions and techniques help improve music videos, without them, the videos would have so much less affect on the viewer. The point of a music video is to promote the artist/song and to ultimately make them money, this would be virtually impossible in the modern music videos, the industry has grown simply because of how creative the styles, conventions and techniques have become.


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