The History of the Music Video

Music is, has been and, more likely than not, always will be a huge part of human culture. While music has changed and evolved over the years, with certain pieces standing the test of time, it is hard to find a current top hit without there being a music video to accompany it.

How did we get to this point, where it is almost necessary to have a music video to go along with the songs of our favorite artists?

The year was 1892. George Thomas, the chief electrician at Brooklyn’s Amphion Theater, had helped with the production of a play called “The Old Homestead.” In the play, the song “Where Is My Wondering Boy Tonight” is accompanied with a picture of a man in a saloon. Thomas hatched an idea to combine multiple pictures with a song to show the story as it unfolds in the music. This is the earliest recorded instance where a song has been preformed with a set of pictures for the sole purpose of promoting the song itself.

As the years went on, there were many significant breakthroughs that moved along the trend of images being used with music. In 1926, “Talkies” films were introduced that were accompanied by sound for the first time. Then, the 1940s brought soundies–or musical films–into the forefront of media.

By the mid 60s, popular bands had begun to recognize the potential film had in influencing music. The Beatles starred in two films, “Help!” and “A Hard Day’s Night,” both of which are considered among many to be the most influential films to have on an effect on music videos as of today, especially “Help!” with its rhythmic cuts, unusual camera angles and contrasting filming styles. Bands like Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones similarly produced promotional films ahead of their time.

While there were television stations that had played music videos before, MTV changed the game when it was launched in 1981, famously airing “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. Starting off strong with a one-hit-wonder song, along with its 24-hour constant music on television, this helped bring MTV to fame and music videos into the media.

“My favorite music video would have to be ‘Stay’ by SafteySuit,” said sophomore John Farella. “It really tells a unique story, and it has a twist end that really works. It also helped the band get noticed. Without it, I don’t know if they would be as big as they are now.”

Many music videos follow the early trends of telling a story and having a narrative with characters that we can connect to, even if it is only for a few minutes. Some artists have evolved that into linking a whole album together to tell one coherent story.

Daft Punk’s album “Discover” was made into a full-length movie, “Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.” The music videos for the top singles, featuring four blue aliens in an anime format, along with the rest of the album, got the same treatment and came together to make the movie.

Music videos don’t necessarily need to tell a neat story, however. Some are meant to make us feel a certain way or help us understand an emotion that we can’t seem to place.

“The music video ‘Hive’ by Earl Sweatshirt really gets to me. The complex lyrics along with the video give a nightmarish late night vibe throughout a scary suburban underworld,” said Junior John Conover. “Watch the video and you’ll understand what I mean.”

Regardless of intent or narrative, music videos have become an inseparable part of musical hits today, combining audio and visual mediums to form one cohesive experience for the audience.