Beyoncé sees music. No, really. She said so. Speaking about Beyoncé, the self-titled masterpiece that became her very first visual album, she said: ‘It's more than just what I hear. When I'm connected to something, I immediately see a visual or a series of images that are tied to a feeling or an emotion, a memory from my childhood, thoughts about life, my dreams or my fantasies. And they're all connected to the music.’
She’s not wrong, of course. Of everyone in the business Queen Bey knows her shit. Music has long been much more than what we hear and the prevalence of video has really changed the game for everyone – artists and audiences alike. But the music landscape has changed so dramatically over the years that, sadly, the television channels that captured the hearts of a generation, our generation, don’t play anywhere near as significant a part of our lives anymore.
Doesn’t it feel strange to imagine a time when watching a music video would often be your first time hearing a song as well? The two experiences were once intertwined. Bound together by the now nostalgic novelty that was once a plethora of music channels to idly flick through after school. You know, back in the glorious noughties when watching TV on a physical television was a regular thing.
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In the words of Busted, those days are gone. While MTV still exists as a thing, it’s in a dramatically different capacity to the source of cool, edgy, brand new music content that it once was. And the same can be said for most music channels (R.I.P The Hits) because these days listening to a song and watching a music video are two very different – and separate experiences.
If we throw it way, way back to the 80s when Michael Jackson released the iconic video for Thriller, it debuted on MTV as an exclusive and was shown on the channel a few times a day. But the idea of debuting a music video on the telly box seems preposterous now. Especially when our first point of call to discover a new song or artist is the likes of Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music.
Let’s circle back around to Beyoncé. Do you remember the first time you listened to Crazy In Love? I do. It was the summer of 2003 and one of my older cousins had come to stay with us for a little while. It wasn’t until I was a bit older and relatively understanding of how the minds of teenage boys work that I clocked on to why we spent afternoons jumping between channels only to re-watch Beyoncé twerk in a miniskirt and take an impromptu shower at an enthusiastic fire hydrant.
Minus being at the mercy of my relentless cousin, I imagine everyone’s introduction to the song was pretty much the same – via television, watching the accompanying video on your music channel of choice.
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Obviously, since 2003 that little thing called the internet has really taken off, YouTube was created in 2005 and the world became reliant on having everything on demand. We had a bit of a dip in music video excitement in the mid-late 2000s because, well, they were everywhere and all pretty much the same. It's no coincidence that it's at about this time that we came to recognise MTV more for having introduced us to the likes of Jersey Shore and 16 And Pregnant as opposed to edgy new music content.
With music videos so readily accessed on the ol' interweb and the power of traditional television weakening, artists really had to up their game and almost create an event out of the release of their next big release. And how would you do that, you ask? You catch everyone by surprise. See: Beyoncé. Again.
The first time Beyoncé turned an album into an experience was not *Lemonade. *It was *Beyoncé. *No announcement, no promotion, just a strategic, exclusive drop on iTunes. The result of course was one of iTunes' fastest selling album to date and a jolt across the music world cementing the need for music videos to reposition themselves as just as crucial to the success of a record as the music itself.
Since then we've of course had Lemonade, which again was released as a surprise, exclusively and (probably) hasn't been seen anywhere near a TV screen save for the odd advert for album and vinyl purchases. The success of Pharrell's *Happy *was largely due to the hype around the 24 hour music video that accompanied it. Aside from the controversy surrounding Kanye's video for *Famous, *no doubt the song got a huge boost from it's limited viewing availability on Tidal.
It's not enough just to pop a song out these days. There has to be a conversation churning social media campaign, promotional teaser videos as well as high production visuals (bonus points if brought to life by a snazzy feature film director), which sadly leaves our once beloved MTV Hits, Viva, VH1 and so on in a strange new limbo. One that doesn't actually revolve around broadcasting new music, but rather thematic throwback shows that reminisce about the videos that defined our younger years and odd guilty pleasure reality TV shows that, once upon a time, wouldn't have had a look in. Let's see what they're left with when Netflix fills that gap too...
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.