A History Of Music Videos

by | May 11, 2016


Beyonce’s surprise visual album, Lemonade, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 2016. In the eight days after its release, Bey’s 46-minute modern-age masterpiece of marketing notched 485,000 digital album sales. The album received 653,000 equivalent album units once streaming was factored in. Consider the price tag ($17.99) plus the exclusivity factor (it’s only streaming on TIDAL) and what you have is a full-fledged motion picture miracle. Surely her album will go down in the history of music videos.

The beginning of the history of music videos.

MTV knew they were on to something 35-years ago, when they aired The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”. The first music video, in the history of music videos. Still, no one could have predicted how influential the industry would become. Not to mention, that it would drive sales, create reputations, and raise the expectations for great artists everywhere.


Just three years after The Buggles’ groundbreaking visual. The man who would go on to die as one of the most influential rock stars of our time flipped the idea of what a music video is supposed to be on its head. Thanks to a 111-minute musical drama called, Purple Rain. Prince and The Revolution deployed a $7.2 million budget for the film and earned $68.4 million at the box office. The accompanying album moved over 20 million copies and stood as one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time.

Prince was essential to the history of music videos

…and another revolution.

Along the way, a holy host of others dominated Total Request Live, VH1, BET, and even The Box before a little online video-sharing platform called YouTube primed the ecosystem for another evolution in 2005. A power-pop band from Chicago would be the next to harness the power of visual storytelling fully when they helped YouTube flex its delivery capabilities with the video for “Here It Goes Again.”

The three-minute video, released in 2006, was a one-take epic, meticulously choreographed for taping while the band was on treadmills. It is nearing 100 million lifetime views. The clip earned OK Go the 2007 Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video, a tribute from The Simpsons, and a reputation for being format innovators (which they backed up with a 2014 video for “Upside Down & Inside Out”).

OK Go - Here It Goes Again (Official Music Video)
the simpsons ok go here it goes again

Memory is much shorter nowadays.

The Beatles’ first impression on The Ed Sullivan Show sadly means less to modern marketers than other kinds of ideas. In just one day the well-orchestrated release and tactical execution of Lemonade earned Beyonce millions upon millions of impressions on Twitter and gave a large injection of life to the lemon emoji. In the last two years alone, many fantastic visuals have yielded exciting outcomes.

Kendrick Lamar - Alright (Official Music Video)

Kendrick Lamar’s powerful cinematic opus for “Alright” gave the mainstream a poetic glimpse of the Compton rapper’s take on being black in America. Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” supported a No. 1 album, Anti. Drake’s sample-borrowing video for Hotline Bling spawned countless memes and a T-Mobile Super Bowl spot that the mobile carrier debuted before the big game.

Over time, Kendrick, Rihanna, and even Drake will eventually fade out of the general public’s awareness. We’ll be moving on to the next big thing in meme-able, shareable content this time next year. Still, there’s something we’ll never be able to take away from the music videos mentioned above, and there’s a common thread in all of these clips we’ve deployed in trying to understand the evolution of the music videos. And it’s something we should all consider when thinking about creating video content for our industries.

Even a short memory is still memorable.

Great music videos — not unlike any other memorable motion pictures, music and otherwise — require planning. Yes, new tech is everywhere, giving even the most novice shooters the tools to make a great video (just watch this iPhone ad praising the slicing of onions), but even the sharpest of blades couldn’t save a complete klutz from Bruce Lee with a butter knife.


While the iPhone shooter is getting praised for their documentation of an everyday kitchen chore, underlying beneath the pomp and hoopla is a fact. There was a  team of humans directing that commercial, making important creative decisions and sticking to the spot’s message. Simply pointing a superior piece of technology at something doesn’t mean the superior content is going to come out of the other end. Memorable music videos are the product of foresight, storyboarding, and an exploration of the things the filmmakers hope to achieve.

They tell cohesive stories — be it a brand’s or a band’s — from the opening frame to the final fade-out. The best ones find the perfect marriage between the director’s past experiences and experimenting with the brand’s concept. In today’s media buying landscape, a video’s purpose must be planned in advance. You conceive the development in the context of the delivery platform. Our goal is to make rich content that people want to share. What’s your approach to being memorable on video? How have you evolved with the times?

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