Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thriller and Telephone

Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' was the seventh single from the album of the same name, and the video made history. For the first time, an artist crossed the boundary and decided to mix film-making and music together to create this - an almost fourteen minute long short film.

The first thing to notice is that the music itself doesn't actually start until over four minutes into the video, which reflects the professional idea of the video being a film - it wasn't just about the music, but the story that went with it. It follow Michael Jackson on a date with his girlfriend, where he first of all turns into a werewolf, then later a zombie to scare her. There are breaks in the music throughout the video that develop the narrative to what was at the time and still in a mini-film.

I think the 1980's invention of MTV massively influenced the success of this video and the song itself, as artists finally had a platform in which to express themselves visually too. Because of this platform, music videos became more popular and it became more important for artists to go that extra mile to make them unforgettable. Not only was this video a huge hit at the time, but even now it was voted the most influential pop music video of all time, as it paved the way for a lot of musicians to appeal to their audiences not just musically but with their videos too. I feel like it represents the era of the 1980's not just because of the dodgy haircuts, but because of the need to make a video, because of the explosion of MTV and because of the audience's need for something more than just the song, which is arguable still the case today.

Lady Gaga, whether people like it or not, is one of the biggest and most talked about pop stars in the 21st century - it's a fact. Whether it's debate over her gender, what concoction she'll turn up in at the next awards ceremony or anticipation for her latest videos, she has come from the backstage area of songwriting, and developed into her own superstar. Not her first video but certainly one of the most talked about, is 'Telephone'. This collaboration with "Honey B", Beyonce showcased her (questionable) acting talent and the narrative of the video continues on from where her last single, 'Paparazzi', left off. Having killed her boyfriend, Gaga is sent to jail, from which she is bailed out by Beyonce. The pair then go on a Thelma and Louise style mission to kill some more, then perform a perfectly choreographed dance routine in a diner full of dead bodies (as you do). Much like 'Thriller', the music very much merges in with the dialogue and narrative, instead of the other way around. Before the video was released there was a countdown to it being played (interestingly enough on MTV) and Gaga released stills from the video on her website as a teaser for her fans. The relentless and shameless product placement in the video was reminiscent of Bret Easton Ellis - either 'American Psycho' or 'Less Than Zero' - you don't have to read two pages without finding reference to a popular brand name or designer label. The fact that the video includes so many objects like Coca Cola, Polaroid and Virgin Mobile means that even if in thirty years time these brands don't exist (unlikely), they will be remembered, much like the video, in my opinion. At nine and a half minutes long, I think you'd be hard pushed to find another artist who could conjure up this kind of bizarre but brilliant concept for a video. James Montogomery from MTV said, "With 'Telephone', Gaga has entered the rarest of pop stratospheres, up there with the Madonnas and the Michael Jacksons" and I think he's right. When the video came out there was a lot of talk about how similar it was with the 'Thriller' video, with the idea of a mini film and a narrative to go along with the lyrics of the song.

What I found interesting though, was that Michael Jackson broke through the barriers of music and video to create the infamous 'Thriller' video, and won awards at the time for it, whereas Gaga did the same for this decade - tried something new - and a lot of controversy formed because of it, and she was slated by many for many different reasons. It is interesting to look at the two decades and see why change was accepted in the 1980's, but arguably not today.

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