August 1 of this year marked the 35th birthday of the juggernaut network students know as MTV. On November 16, 2008, MTV’s trademark show, “Total Request Live” (TRL) had its finale. Having been the biggest show that consistently gave music fans their music video fix, following TRL’s final episode came the death of the music video.
The music video itself is a piece of pop culture history that has been forgotten by many of today’s artists. Music videos are not as common during the era of iTunes, streaming and social media. The music industry has come a long way since ‘The Buggles’ debuted their hit single in 1981, “Video killed a Radio Star.” That music video was the first music video ever and served as MTV’s first piece of programming in their history.
“I think music videos were really important to me when I was younger when they sort of had more of a stake in the music business,” WKNH Music Director, Patrick O’Donnell said. “YouTube, for a second, brought them back but they’re still kind of not there.”
With whole albums being available instantly on iTunes at the consumer’s fingertips, it has been difficult for music fans to find the same thirst for music videos. But Beyonce herself, or “Queen B” as many know her, has recently quenched that thirst with her sixth studio album ‘Lemonade,’ which she dropped back on April 23 of this year. According to Billboard.com, Lemonade is Beyonce’s sixth straight studio album to surpass $1 million in sales and is the third best-selling album of 2016 closely behind Drake’s album, ‘VIEWS’ and Adele’s album, ‘25.’
But Lemonade was not a normal album; Lemonade was a visual album, providing a music film of sorts that adapts to each song by adding another dimension of entertainment.
O’Donnell said, “With visual albums like ‘Lemonade’, which was obviously the biggest thing in the world that everyone watched, and it’s so crazy that this sort of full length thing (videos) is coming back in a way.”
Keene State College junior Mackenzie Sisson said, “Lemonade was the album that had everyone asking, “Who is Becky with good hair?” Sisson continued, “When she dropped her album out of nowhere a few years ago, no one knew about it. But everybody knew Lemonade was coming out, but I don’t think anybody knew it was a visual album.”
Not only did Beyoncé attract attention for Lemonade’s artistic innovation, but the messages within the album left a controversy. Some of the album’s songs implied that her husband, Jay-Z, may have been cheating on her, while other songs had powerful and racial undertones.
KSC junior, Liana D’Attilio said her opinion was split on the album.
“I’ve only actually seen the video for one of the songs called ‘Hold Up,’” D’Attilio said. “That’s the one where she’s smashing the cars. I thought she demonstrated a lot of girl power, but then again it kind of makes girls look bad. It kind of makes us look like we’re crazy. It kind of says ‘Boys ticked us off, so we’re going to just smash in their car windows.’ I don’t think that’s the greatest representation of women, but I also did think it was pretty badass to stand up for herself.”
Another one of Beyonce’s songs on the album titled, “Formation” attracted attention because of the music videos controversial commentary on race relations in the United States today.
Sisson said, “Formation drew a lot of attention, especially with what’s going on in our culture. She stood up for what she thought was right and she incorporated a lot of important people and victim’s families, which I thought was awesome, especially to get them more support that they needed.”
KSC sophomore Jessica Hardy said the fact that the album was visual gave Beyonce a more intimate forum to get her message across.
“I think on a technical and advertising level, the way she used the visual album was amazing,” Hardy said. “I don’t usually sit and watch music videos because I don’t really have time for that, but the fact that it was basically a movie with her album, it told a story, it got her point across in each song, and I just thought it was really good.”
With such a monstrous album with a historical style, who would try to follow that? It turned out that Grammy award winning R&B artist Frank Ocean decided to follow in Beyonce’s footsteps. On August 20 of this year, Ocean dropped his highly anticipated sophomore album ‘Blonde’ following his legendary premiere album, ‘Channel Orange.’
What differentiates ‘Blonde’ from ‘Channel Orange’ is that, like ‘Lemonade,’ ‘Blonde’ is a visual album.
“I love Frank Ocean; Frank Ocean is unbelievable,” WKNH Radio General Manager and KSC student, Brendan Callery said. On the topic of ‘Blonde,’ Callery said it causes a small problem between him and his friends.
“I got into an argument with my friends over a group message because they said ‘oh this Frank album is awful,’” Callery said. “I said okay, listen to it like three more times. They’ve changed their minds, so I think the more I listen to it the more I’ll really get into it.”
Callery added that as a music fan, he has listened to both ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Blonde’ over and over and was very pleased with both pieces. On August 28, Rolling Stone said ‘Blonde’ shot to number one on the charts and sold 276,000 copies in it’s first week.
WKNH event coordinator and KSC student Nick Busby provided his own views on ‘Blonde’ and ‘Lemonade,’ saying he preferred Ocean’s album over Beyonce’s.
“The way it went down with ‘Lemonade’ was, she just kind of dropped it, and I never gave it the time of day because I had a lot going on at the time,” Busby said. “But there were rumors about it for years that Frank Ocean was dropping a new album, so I said ‘alright, I’m going to get interested in this just to see what it’s like.’ So I listened to his previous album and thought it was pretty interesting. When he finally dropped it, I thought it was really interesting and I certainly liked Frank’s album more than I liked Beyoncé’s album.”
Could these two albums be the key to resurrecting music videos back into modern day pop culture? O’Donnell said there’s a chance.
“I think it’s specifically interesting because they both are sort of these cultural touchstones,” O’Donnell said. “If a more minor artist did it, it would’ve just been like ‘oh okay they did this weird art project’ but since it’s Beyoncé and Frank Ocean, who are such monuments in the music industry right now, I think it’s really interesting that they both did it and that they both had sort of this large cultural impact.”
O’Donnell added that, “Because the two biggest examples, which are ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Blonde,’ are so good, the quality is there. I think that it may become a trend because they were both so successful, but if it does become a trend, there’s no way it continues on that pace of it being very good. I think both of those were extremely good and it can only get watered down from there.”
If visual albums are to become a future trend in the music industry, Who is next to follow Beyonce’ and Ocean? Busby and Callery named some of their favorite artists that they would like to see branch into the realm of visual albums.
Busby said former lead singer of ‘The Fleet Foxes,’ indie rock artist Father John Misty would be an intriguing person to see put out a visual album because of his zany nature and gifted singing voice. Both Busy and Callery agreed that ‘The Wonder Years’ and other Indie Rock bands would be great producers of a visual album as they are considered “bands who tell stories.”
From the hip hop genre, Callery said he could see rap group “Odd Future” and “Tyler the Creator”, “Coming out with a weird visual album.”
When asked which artist would have the most successful visual album though, Busby and Callery both said rap artist Chance the Rapper would “crush.”
When asked why, Callery said, “Because it would be goofy. Chance would take it to a place where it would be very well done and made sense, but it would be very goofy and very uplifting which i would love.”
Let the Equinox know who you would like to see a visual album from via social media accounts or KSC e-mail.
Nick Tocco can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org