Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jackson and Beyonce

For my blog post this week I have chosen a music video from the 1980s which for me represents, and to an extent defines, the era. Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video was released on the 2nd December 1983 to U.S. audiences, premiering on the revolutionary MTV and becoming an immediate and huge hit. The nearly fourteen minute long music video directed by John Landis was made especially for the ‘new era’, MTV Generation and was an instant success, leading to more than 800,000 copies of the record being sold each week after its release. In turn the ‘Thriller’ album itself – Jackson’s sixth studio album – went on to become (and remains to this day) the best-selling album of all time.
The now infamous video begins showing Michael on a date at the movies. However, when the movie (a zombie thriller) becomes too scary for his date, they leave the cinema only to begin their own zombie filled journey home – a journey which sees the now well recognised ‘Thriller’ dance unfold. In 2009 (twenty six years after its release) Jackson’s video was selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress – the first ever music video to be selected. Not only does this reflect the popularity of the video, but also shows what Jackson is most remembered for and celebrated by in the year of his death.
It’s popularity and success – both at the time of release and in the present day – is what makes Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video significant and representative of the era in which it was made. Its launch in 1983 gained MTV massive audiences, helping to create a new American youth generation, as well as bringing about fundamental changes to the world of music videos – including the so called ‘desegregation’ of MTV. Along with Michael Jackson’s other work, ‘Thriller’ enabled him to break down racial barriers through its MTV appearance. During the early years of MTV, very few black artists were given air time, with Jackson as well as many others struggling to get their videos shown. The head of Jackson’s record label, Walter Yetnikoff, claimed that there was a kind of ‘prohibition of African-American music’.
Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video therefore played an important role in the making of the MTV Generation, as well as helping to ‘desegregate’ the music industry. His huge contribution to, and impact on, the music industry is recognised by millions today who know him as ‘The King of Pop’.

The second music video which I have chosen, and which I think represents the current era is Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’. From her third studio album – ‘I Am Sasha Fierce’ – released in October 2008, Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ single sold more than 6.1 million digital copies worldwide within the first year of release, with its music video becoming as famous as, or if not more so than, the song itself. The video, directed by Jake Nava and choreographed by Frank Gatson and Jaquel Knight, the ‘Single Ladies’ music video premiered on MTV in October 2008 along with the release of the single and has since won several awards, including ‘Video of the Year’ at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
Unlike Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video which tells a story in itself, Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ video is simplistic, for instance featuring no alternative camera shots and no change in scene, as well as no changes to costume, hair and make-up. The video therefore becomes all about the choreography and how it emphasises the song’s lyrics and message.
Since its release, the video has been imitated and parodied by hundreds around the world – including other artists such as Justin Timberlake’s SNL parody and the Jonas Brothers YouTube imitation – and seems to have spawned the first ‘major dance craze’ of the internet age.
Again, I find the popularity and success of Beyonce’s video are what make it significant and representative of the era. She sings a song about the strength and independence of ‘single ladies’ and how women should embrace this rather than wait and rely on men for their happiness. This along with the powerful choreography performed in the video suggest that there is still a movement for women to become more independent and powerful in 21st century society, with artists such as Beyonce leading the way for a change in attitudes towards women, and perhaps especially African-American women.

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