Muse-ic or the Highest Vid?

Ever since YouTube arrived on the web scene in 2005, the value beyond the insta-viral kinetics of new music and breakout discoveries of unknown bands and singers, has been rediscovering the archive of film, television and music video history. While it may seem off-topic to debut this post with a silent film, the remix-influence of magician-turned-cinema pioneer Georges Mélies in music history becomes a palpable connection to music and special effects history. (And the French word for “magician”, “prestidigitateur” rhymes with “press the digital curve”)… Prior to YouTube, viewing “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” or any of his works would have meant a trip to the archives or a special exhibition at MoMA.

“Tonight, Tonight,” a 1996 video by the Smashing Pumpkins, from their album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, takes obvious screen-cues from Mélies yet works the remix angle with its own brand of inventiveness. During its afterlife on YouTube, it has garnered over 850,000 views. The video, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (who went on to co-write and direct “Little Miss Sunshine”) won six MTV music video awards, including Best Video of the Year. Without YouTube, it would have needed countdown VJ action to remain in play.

Despite the success of this and other albums, by 2000, the band entered history with a break-up caused in part by flagging record sales. Would that story have changed if YouTube had been there to continue their visual legacy? Enter 2005, the year of YouTube’s debut and the return of Smashing Pumpkins…

And then something happened. MTV no longer showed much in the way of music videos. And a wacky low-budget video choreographed on treadmills like “Here it Goes Again” could go viral, making a name for OK Go, a band that had been otherwise ignored by its label, EMI, until they became internet stars. To hear lead singer Damian Kulash tell it, without the Net Neutrality anything goes aspect of YouTube, Ok Go may well have become Ok, No. (The band has since migrated officially to Vimeo, but that’s another story…)

OK Go – Here It Goes Again from OK Go on Vimeo.

Last Fall, Arcade Fire introduced Google Chrome interactivity with their video, “We Used to Wait,” which taps Google maps to personalize the narrative. Add your home address and check it out, if you haven’t already taken the trip down the aerial view of your own neighborhood set to the lyrics.

Oh yes, the music industry has changed. And just a few names are part of that legacy: Lady Gaga (in 2010 Tech Cruch reported her combined video views topped 1 billion), Justin Bieber (no comment), Rebecca Black (Friday DIY-style). Say no more.

So why do I go to YouTube, even now that it’s loaded with ads? For the archive of muse-ic.

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