Apr 1, 2008
The Video
I'd like to start with a proposition that you must accept in order to continue with this entry (I mean, you can continue if you don't accept it, but that makes it all relatively hypothetical).

Popular media, with a few exceptions, is becoming hilariously decentralized.

It's easier to see in some media more than others. The movie industry is built on familiar franchises and require massive budgets to make a profit - although the only two sure things in the movies are Will Smith and Pixar. The music industry profits greatly from the internet - the wealth is spread around to more bands, but there's a grand shortage of megastars who go platinum in one day. Television, for all its faults, is going through a golden age of drama and comedy is back on the rise - thanks in no small part to cable and DVD (Shit, in an era where fans can revive Jericho, Firefly, Futurama, Family Guy and maybe even Arrested Development fingers crossed, you know that a network of niches is doing its thing).

All three media, for better or for worse, have become relatively decentralized by technology, and the trickle-down effect will be hitting more and more facets of the industry soon enough (How many 90s alt-rock headliners do we have to keep our destination festivals afloat? We're going to run out someday).

The one medium that's dying a slow, tragic death from the leveling of the music industry, though, is the music video. Once, the medium flourished as MTV was the most effective tastemaker in the industry. Now, the network has been supplanted by the internet. Solid videos, while they might make a splash on Stereogum or the part of Pitchfork nobody looks at, are becoming rarer and rarer - probably just for financial reasons, as unless your video is truly viral (think OK Go or Snoop Dogg) it's unlikely to make much of a splash. Would you invest millions in that?

Another big cause for the death of the video is something people have been talking about for ages - that we don't listen to our music actively anymore. Music is cheap, so we hoard it and devalue it. And maybe we do value our favorite artists as much as ever - but putting Winamp on shuffle or sitting with our iPods on the train are a much more efficient way to experience music than sitting around watching videos - especially given that there's no good way to watch videos anymore. You can click around YouTube, but you'd think that someone would come up with a good way to create a last.fm-esque video network that just plays a constant stream consistent with your tastes (actually, wasn't last.fm supposed to do that? when CBS bought them?). The death of the video is as much a symptom of how we listen to our music as it is a result of the lower amount of money a label might be willing to throw around.

The video, as much as it is a medium I've always appreciated, is simply a by-product of the corporate excess that used to define mainstream music. Unless something really revolutionary happens with it in the next few years, it's likely headed toward history's dustbin.

The direction I was heading, though, was rap. As far as I'm concerned, the last great moment the medium will ever have is this one:

But what's most prescient about that video is that the only artist left who seems to dedicate as much effort to the videos as he does to the songs is Kanye West. I know, I've slathered all over Kanye a few times over, most likely because we are perfect for each other, but beyond that. He's worked with Spike Jonze, So Me, Hype Williams four times over, Michel Gondry, Bill Plympton - he's got all the really big ones covered. Sure, most of it is where he comes from, that he's got a more middle-class background - but look at what he has going for him. He's got cred among people who don't listen to hip hop, he's got an enormous budget for whatever he wants to do, and he's got impeccable taste. I can't come up with another rapper who's got all three of those - Snoop Dogg comes close, but Kanye remains the man.

If you don't want to bother going through his videos, easily locatable on YouTube, let's compare his influences to any other rapper.

Another RapperKanye West
The hoodJapan
Shooting peopleRiding a motorcycle over a canyon
Video girlsPin-up girls
LiquorPolaroid photographs
Being fantastically wealthyChild labor
Smoking a lot of weed and phoning in your entire performancePop-up video! (This one doesn't count as much because it's The Game and Kanye together)

My take? As the rap industry struggles out of adolescence, its expanding range of interests might catch up to its propensity for fantastic wealth. The last great video genre.

Now watch this retardedly good new Kanye video.

HOMECOMING from kwest on Vimeo.

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posted by ej at 7:06 PM
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Do I see an Achewood reference?
# posted by Blogger Roxanne : March 9, 2009 at 6:16 PM  

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