Video clips are not art. There is no art to video clips – and lame quotations of any period of the visual arts does not make them ironic or postmodern. There is nothing progressive about viewing video clips as cool, confrontational, subversive, envelope-pushing or cutting-edge. Nor are video clips some mysteriously heightened, intensified realm of media production. And neither does making note of the affect YouTube, MySpace, iTunes or any other me-me-me consumerist insularism bring video clips into current media analysis. That would be like saying you read a bitingly perceptive piece in Time. Or on a blog.
Post-90s, video clips had become the most normalized form of self-conscious media production – hence their synchronism with journalists, commentators, curators, academics. Video clips pre-90s encapsulated the collapsed affectedness of Pop music attempting to ‘imagine’ itself. From the 70s and through the 80s – arcing up to and past the golden dawn of MTV – video clips ‘put on’ imagery, fusing it into sparkling and unweilding audiovisual chimera. The result was always embarrassing, inappropriate, unsuited. In other words, perfect in its audiovisual discordance. It was never hip, never slick, never fashionable. The beauty of that epoch’s video clips lies in their failure to forward any visual discourse short of drawing attention to itself. In this regard, they were and remain perfect pills created by media obsessed in directing all energy back towards itself.
Pop music is endlessly derided by the literati of all persuasions because of Pop’s supposed imbalance in being too much fake imagery and not enough ‘real/true/natural’ music. As if Bob Dylan is at all any more profound than Debbie Gibson. (He isn’t.) For pop music will always retain a phenomenological aura in its sonic composure. Through innate novelty, distorted presentation and ungainly presentation, the sono-musical detailing of any pop song – irrespective of your taste – will vibrate with a distinct dimensional voice. Like all sound, like all music, its identity is encoded at the level of where sound becomes ‘unlinguistic’: where it speaks in tongues and shimmers like an acousmatic mirage. Time renders all Pop historical, and therein it calls back to our present with even greater clarity and clearer semiotic sheen than in its contemporaneous apparition. This is the core magic of Pop music: its molecular grain enables it to transcend its coverage and in the process be greater than itself.
The 70s and 80s video clips sadly misperceived this power of Pop. They were born by the imperative to weld market-driven image to a sound that already had greater force than mere ocular dressing. As such, video clips – true to the complete historical compendia of visual discourse and its attendant analyses – parasitically thrived on the energy of their songs. Quivering, shaking, exploding and spurting in time to the orgiastic pulsations of their songs’ rhythms and tones, the early video clip functioned like reverse-karaoke: miming itself to suggest that its presence of image is responsible for the transference of its sound. (It isn’t.)
In an era where bling still glints with gaudy sting, where nature and folk idioms are caricatured with the grossest projections of humanist desperation, where fin-de-siecle phantasmagoria pathetically directs digital simulations in the name of inventiveness, the video clip now is perfectly simpatico with all televisual enterprise and franchise. Fluorescent is accordingly out of date, pathetic, deluded, artless. Fluorescent is Plastic Betrand against the Fairlight video synthesizer. The Human League atop wobbly Perspex platforms on Top of the Pops. The Sweet filmed on 16mm through star filters. Gary Glitter shot on video in the kitchen. It is make-up with sweat. Thighs with muscle. Chromo-keyed space. Supersonic sound. It is the Frankensteinian impossibility of aligning sound and image, spectacularized as a solipsistic performance, writhing in the Glam tradition. Some might conject it’s a video clip. It isn’t.