We’ve already watched the music video evolve. Modern music videos now tend to focus on the celebrity performer rather than the content of the song, and plot-driven videos like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” seemed extinct until Lady GaGa introduced the controversial “Telephone” in 2010.
Now it seems that another type of video is entering the music scene —the lyric video.
Instead of featuring intimate shots of the performer or choreography good enough to borrow for day-to-day life, the lyric video primarily focuses on the lyrics of a particular song, playing them on-screen in time with the music. Though colorful graphics temporarily hold attention, lyric videos tend to give off a somewhat lazy vibe —it often feels that a company was too preoccupied to invest time and money in an actual video shoot.
Certainly it’s helpful to have the lyrics of a song flashing on the screen, but these lyric videos seem to lack a certain amount of artistry. In some cases, such as in David Guetta and Usher’s “Without You,” the artists never appears in the video, forcing the viewer to watch a series of interesting but tiresome graphics that get old well before the three-minute video is over. (Thankfully, Guetta and Usher released a second version of “Without You” that is more traditional and entertaining.)
To be fair, lyric videos do have their place. Reminiscent of the “sing-along videos” of our elementary days, lyric videos can be helpful when we just want to turn up the television set and shout lyrics that we haven’t quite learned yet. But these videos do seem to cater to a younger audience. Disney Channel stars like Selena Gomez and the cast of Lemonade Mouth for “Love You Like A Love Song” and “Somebody,” respectively, tend to be more likely to make use of the lyric video; the fun but effortless form of entertainment often makes good commercial time.
But then more mature artists like The Wanted and Maroon 5 trade successful videos for a simpler, lyrical format. The Wanted’s “Glad You Came” demonstrated that the boy band knew how to combine a great song with an equally great music video, but then their recent release, “Chasing the Sun” features a dull lyric video that, even with flashing lights, remains low-energy. Maroon 5’s “Payphone” follows this same ideology. Though “Payphone” makes good use of the detailed drawings and thought bubbles of a comic book, the video’s repetitive shots makes the viewer long for a more thought-provoking video like “Never Gonna Leave This Bed.”
This is not to say that lyrics don’t have a place in music cinema, but artists should have a balance between the spoken and the visual. For example, Rihanna’s single “You Da One” makes sure that fans see her latest provocative performance even as she flashes a few phrases on screen. The same holds true for 2010’s “Rude Boy.” Most of the video features a dancing Rihanna with colorful and non sequitur backgrounds, but a couple of key words flash on the screen for emphasis. The lyrics don’t make up the content of the video.
Hopefully, the lyric video will just remain a placeholder for an artist who hasn’t had time to work on a traditional music video. Sometimes, it’s a stellar film that makes an average song successful.