Music Video Analysis #3 Macklemore – Downtown

The video for Macklemore’s Downtown was filmed in Spokane, Washington, involving hundreds of extras and the closing of roads. Rolling Stone Magazine has described it as “charmingly ridiculous”, which sums up the video, and the reaction, pretty well. The song and video both have much more in common to the LMFAO song than Beautiful World, in both age (the video was released in 2015) and tone.

 

The video initially follows Macklemore on his epic journey to buy a moped from a dealership straight out of the 1980s, before switching to a line of Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 11.30.06women who are all eating some form of confectionary. Suddenly, motorbike riders appear, and the focus shifts to the apparent brewing fight between the bikers (one of whom has a fake moose head stuck to his bike) and Macklemore on his moped, and abruptly switching focus again to the group dance-walking through the streets of Spokane. As they walk, most people they pass join their procession. A chariot then appears, made in the style of the American Eagle and pulled by motorbikes. There is a brief face-off between Macklemore and the bikers and the rider of the chariot before the dance-walking procession, now joined by motorbikes and mopeds, proceeds down the main street, watched by crowds and the people in the buildings on both sides.

 

As is probably glaringly obvious from the previous paragraph, Downtown is probably the silliest of the three videos that I analysed. The entire video is lighthearted, much like the LMFAO video reviewed previously; the only conflict is implied, and hard to instigate, and nobody apparently fights anybody else. The song itself is about a moped riding male competing against a female, who claims that she “runs the streets”, and (I think) their relationship with each other.

 

The world depicted in the video is, much like Sexy and I Know It, a happy place. The video shows Macklemore literally breaking down a wall of the moped dealership with no apparent negative effects or broken bones, so it is very clear that this world does not operate on the same physical or Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 11.30.51moral rules that ours does. The same style of ‘fighting’ is used, where the two sides only posture at each other with no actual fighting happening, and both sides are in the same procession at the end, so we can assume they came to some kind of agreement. The world shown, overall, is exactly what Rolling Stone said it was: charmingly ridiculous.

 

The colours used in the video, to begin with, are a key factor in the upbeat nature of the video. Bright colours are everywhere, from the moped right at the start to the costumes in the final procession, adding to the positive feeling. The actors movements are flamboyant and exaggerated, which both shows that they aren’t entirely being serious and that they are enjoying themselves, a feeling that infects the audience after a short while. The environment itself feels positive; although they take trips down back alleys and into drainage ditches, high key lighting and a lack of visual threats keep the mood from feeling down or threatening. The conflict between the characters, as noted, is non-threatening and has a certain playful feel similar to that of several LMFAO videos, where it’s clear that nobody is actually going to get hurt. This is all to add to the upbeat tone of the video.

 

The video is fairly good when it comes to ethics. As far as representation goes, all the ethnicities and religions that are reasonable for Spokane are accounted for, mostly in the final crowd scene. Nobody is really shown in a negative light in this video, which prevents racism, sexism etc. from happening. Something Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 11.31.58notable is the rider of the chariot, who wears feminine clothing and hair but also a moustache, suggesting heavily that they are probably transsexual. This could be considered a very stereotypical presentation of a transsexual, with the flamboyant clothing and expression, but basically everyone acts like that in this video, and it fits the role that the character plays.

Music Video Analysis #2: Devo – Beautiful World

 

The American band Devo produced the video at some time in 1981. I Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 09.23.10cannot find much evidence of media commentary relating to the video; unlike Sexy and I Know It, the content of Beautiful World is not really a departure from the music videos normally shown in 1981, and Devo was far from a mainstream band. The extent of the controversy was some censoring that took place on the ABC music show Countdown: a scene in which a woman is engulfed in animated fire was considered too violent, and cut from the version broadcast.

 

The song itself, much like many other Devo songs, is a political statement, and the message is not immediately clear to the viewer/listener. The video Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 09.47.16was made to reinforce the intended message of the song, because it is not entirely obvious that the singer is being sarcastic if given just the audio. The implication of the video is that the singer is lying to the character watching the television he appears on; Mothersbaugh is shot in black and white and directly faces the camera, Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 09.45.33his actions aggressive and vocal delivery strong and deliberate, to create a threatening image reminiscent of Big Brother from 1984 (pictured). The repeated insistence that “it’s a beautiful world” initially fits with the video used; the imagery of beautiful women and flowers fits well, but by the end of the video has given way to footage of World War One, African famines, car crashes and race riots to create dissonance and show clearly that the singer is not telling the truth.

The world depicted in the video is a dark place. As mentioned before, it becomes clear by the end of the song that the positive events and happy imagery used at the start are merely a cover. A character stands in front of the screen that the videos are played on, which is given a prominent place on a wall and controlled by an elaborate control panel, which further suggests a 1984-style propaganda device, a la the Telescreen. Additionally, Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 09.59.32it is implied from the way Mothersbaugh stands that he can see the viewer. The character is absolutely shocked once the race riot footage appears, which suggests that he is entirely ignorant of anything outside of what the screen tells him, further supported by his childlike demeanor through the video.

 

The majority of the video takes place while looking through the observing character’s eyes, watching the screen with the propaganda on. The establishing shots of the video do show the room that he stands in, though, which gives information to build the world with. The lighting itself is mostly low key, with spotlights on both the screen and the character watching it. This both shows that he is ignorant to everything outside of what the screen shows and shows the audience what to focus on in the scene. The set itself is futuristic, or more accurately was considered futuristic in 1981, with an elaborate control surface used in the beginning Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 10.06.30to turn the TV on, and then tweaked throughout the video. The watching character wears an odd jumpsuit looking thing, another part of the ‘future’ setting. This goes further again to suggest that the character lives in a world controlled by the TV; this would be technically possible in the time shown on screen, but not in the early 80s. There is too much iconography in the video to name all of it, but the main iconography is, as mentioned before, the ‘1984’ Telescreen used, to imply the sort of world that 1984 takes place in.

 

The video is full of ethical issues, because the point of the video is to show bad things happening in the world. The sexism of a man implied to be throwing his wife around (literally), the racism of a race riot and the KKK and an actual group of Nazis are all shown on screen, to point out that these things are bad. The video cannot be accused of being racist or sexist on these images, as the videos are explicitly shown to be examples of the wrong thing to do: they are literally there to show racism and sexism are Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 10.17.46wrong. Due to the video’s message, it is unclear whether the mildly sexist parts towards the middle, with the dancing girls, are sexist, as these begin appearing at around the same time as the war footage and bridges exploding and so forth. It is entirely possible that these are mildly sexist because that was the attitude of the filmmakers at the time the clips were made (the late 1950s to the 1960s, from the look of it).

 

Semiotics

Semiotics can be divided into three main groups, depending on what they semiotics are used for and what they show/ These groups are:

Icon:

An Icon is an image used to represent an object that physically resembles the object in question. The image must resemble it closely; in the case of a weapon, for example, a handgun image cannot be used for a shotgun. That would be a symbol, as the image does not closely resemble the object you will get. Examples include more or less any item from Minecraft and coins from the Mario series of games. In the Minecraft example, the images shown in the inventory system and in the environment closely resemble the item you will actually get by picking them up. The Mario example is also an example of an icon, because picking up a coin in game will give you a coin in game.

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Index:

An Index is a sensory input, such as visual or auditory data, that signals the arrival of something. These are generally used for threats, as all animals are naturally responsive to some indexical triggers. Lower animals have innate, inbuilt indexical triggers, while higher animals have both innate and learned indexical triggers. Examples are red lights while on the road, and the sound a van makes while it is reversing. The red lights are illuminated when the vehicle begins reversing, and the noise begins playing, so pedestrians associate the lights and sound with a reversing vehicle and know that they are in danger. Another example would be the sounds made by hostile entities in Minecraft; the noises are only made when the entity is in striking distance, so hearing them means that the player is in danger.

 

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Symbol:

A symbol is an image used to represent a resource or item that does not resemble the resulting resource or item. These often evolve over time, such as the use of arrows for indication of direction and the ‘love heart’ shape, which is often used for love in real life and for health in computer games. A symbol does not look like what it represents; if it does, it is an icon, not a symbol. Examples are everywhere, such as arrows on road signs or data on a game’s HUD. The arrows do not look like where they actually point to, allowing them to be used in generic situations. Most icons are generic, which is one reason why they are used: they can be applied in many situations to mean the same thing, in the reasonable faith that the viewer/player will know what the icons mean quickly. Examples are arrows, or the play/pause/record symbols used on media players and devices. As these symbols are standards throughout the industry, they are easily recognisable to most people. The icons from the HUD, such as the example from Fallout below, are often more like what they represent, but are still visually different; for example, the icon shown is for a weapons upgrade, not a Kalashnikov rifle. Symbols are learned; the symbols we use must be taught to us, usually as children, before we can make sense of them.

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Music Video Analysis #1: LMFAO -Sexy and I Know It

The music video for “Sexy and I Know It”, by LMFAO, was originally flagged for sexual content on YouTube. I wonder why. This was the reaction of many who watched the video when it was released in September 2011, primarily due to the part where the lead singer, supported and joined by friends, strips to his speedo and begins dancing, the bulge in his pants flopping around correspondingly. But despite the, frankly, disturbing part mentioned above, there is actually a proper story in this video.

 

The song that the video is made for is about what it looks like it’s about: somebody knowing that they’re sexy. This is reflected in the story for the video. The video itself is set and filmed at Venice Beach in California, a Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 11.21.23place famous for its bodybuilders and image-obsessed people, often both. It depicts the lead singer of LMFAO, accompanied by several friends and a robot, stealing the girlfriend of everyone on the beach via dancing, followed by a dance/’wiggle’ off to determine the victor. The video gives a message that a perfect body image is not required to be sexy; the singer and friends range from scrawny to slightly overweight, but they easily manage to steal girlfriends by dancing and ’being themselves’. The story is fairly simple, although there is action and conflict towards the end, in the form of the aforementioned ‘wiggle off’. The video as a whole is fairly upbeat and enthusiastic; no real aggression or violence is used during the narrative, and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves towards the end.

 

The world depicted in the video is a happy one. The surroundings of Venice Beach are already welcoming, due to the iconography and lore of the place. The feeling of a holiday in the sun is well and truly present, part of the Venice Beach image. Added to that, the lighting throughout start of the video is high key, natural sunlight, which brings forward the aforementioned ‘holiday’ mood. Towards the end of the video, although the lighting is relatively low key, soft lighting and warm colours are used to make the club feel welcoming and a fun place to be: it feels intimate Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 11.29.05rather than claustrophobic, despite the crowds and low ceilings. The fighting shown is almost entirely without malice; dirty looks are the most ill feeling really demonstrated here. All the ‘fighting’, additionally, actually looks quite fun to take part in, provided you like stripping to your underwear and shaking your crotch at the opposing team, while shouting “Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, yeah!”

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The ethical aspect, however, is less positive. The makers of this video have taken care to include minorities, so racism is not this video’s problem. It could be argued that they are ageist, since there’s nobody there over about thirty, but it could be argued that anybody of an older age should probably have grown out of this sort of thing, or is just too old to do so. There is, as previously stated, no violence, so that isn’t an issue. The attitude towards women is what could be considered problematic. The women in the video are, of course, almost all half naked, but this takes place on Venice Beach, so scantily clad women are to be expected. However, they also all, without exception, follow the leads as soon as they remove their shorts, leaving whatever current relationship they are in immediately upon seeing his schlong bouncing around. The implications of this are uncomfortable at best, and downright misogynistic at worst. The final scene, where the robot leads women off to a dark room before turning to the camera in a reference to the end of Thriller (more iconography for you) is particularly uncomfortable in its implications.Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 11.45.29

Scene Comparison – American Horror Story

I will be comparing two clips featuring Jessica Lange from American Horror Story. These clips are from Season Two Episode One and Season Three Episode One.

 

Actors:

Both scenes feature the same actress, Jessica Lange, in some sort of lead role. This re-using of actors is part

of the premise of American Horror Story; the same actors are retained, but the stories are changed from season to season. In the second season, she plays the lead nun of the asylum. Her first act of the

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season is to shave a female inmate’s head as a punishment, followed by verbally berating a subordinate. The scene is designed in a way to give a negative first impression of this character. That her subordinates react with fear whenever they cross her, and her comments to the journalist, such as “Mental illness is a fashionable word for ‘sin’”, are intended to create a negative view of this nun in the viewer’s eyes. The journalist in the scene is used as a foil for Lange’s character: she dresses comparatively brightly and licentiously, compared to the severe clothing of the nuns and the female inmate, Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 21.43.11wearing her hair in a more relaxed style than either, and wearing makeup on her face. The small “L” on her lapel, in gold, indicates that she is materially comparatively rich (Especially for a woman in the 1950s in America), and that she is spending time and money on material goods, a sharp contrast to Lange’s crucifix (a purely religious article) and life of devotion. This builds a contrast between these two characters in the viewer’s mind.

 

In comparison, the character Lange plays in the third season is a witch, historically and morally the antithesis of a nun. She is also absent for about half of the scene, with the younger leads taking over. The first obvious role is the girl walking towards the camera after a few seconds, played (I believe) by Emma Roberts. She begins by turning off a television Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 21.49.03that other people are watching, immediately setting up a negative first impression. The dialogue, where she rhetorically questions why they’re watching it at all, indicates to the audience that she cares little for their opinions, reinforced by her general demeanor. This is in comparison to the foil character from the previous season, which is generally normal in demeanor and attitude; we are meant to have a slightly negative first impression of this one, which we weren’t in season two. This character is intended as less of a foil to Lange.

 

The character Lange plays appears around halfway through the scene, and again is intended to give a negative first impression. This begins by how she walks in uninvited and unannounced, and immediately begins criticizing the (up to now) lead character for her actions, in the process proving she cares little for human life with how she brushes off the news of a bus crash. The response of “Who are you?” indicates that the girls have no idea who this is. Her general attitude is similar to the nun from Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 21.49.27the previous season: both are heavily sardonic, although this character appears to be taking pleasure in being unpleasant (Noting the smile she gives while smashing a teenager into a wall, and when she discusses the deaths of nine boys), while the nun seemed to be doing it out of convenience. The scene is designed to endear her to the audience with her attitude, which I can only describe as ‘sassy’, but also to make clear that she is not on the side of good. Compare this to the nun from the previous season, which comes across as merely doing her job, unpleasant, but not actively malicious.

 

Props:

The props used in each scene help with the establishment of character, as well as the time period of the work. In the first clip, the best shot of the props is this overhead view. The room is relatively sparse: this further establishes the severe character of the nun as somebody who has committed to a life of servitude to God. The props that are used are mostly to further establish her character. The cross shaped candle holders Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 21.43.07arranged on the wall, the various religious trappings in the back corner and the crucifix she wears are all used to further push the religious feelings the room gives, in order to further push the religious vibes of the character who inhabits it. There is an old style rotary dial telephone on the desk; these were common in the 1950s, and this one is used to show the general time period that this is set. Finally, the letter opener situated centrally on her desk is used to hint at the ferocity of the nun. The implications of keeping knife shaped objects in easy reach are obvious, and are intended to enhance the violent reactions of this character.

 

In comparison, there are many props in the season three episode, although many more of them are for the establishment of the location rather than the characters; things like the plates on the table hint more at the time of day and the affluence of the house than they do at the characters. This image shows one of the main props in the scene: the television. This is an old cathode ray tube device, which places this story Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 21.48.56at some point around the mid to late 1990s. Compare to the previous clip, which took place in the 1950s, or thereabouts. In the image above, in the previous section, the rest of the room is visible to the camera. The number of props, along with the comparative extravagance in their design, shows that the characters that live here are a far cry from the nuns and mental patients of the previous season.

 

Costume:
In the first clip, the costumes are used to show the differences in character between the two leads. The sheer style of the nun’s habit, contrasted with the extravagance of the other lead, visually surmises their characters in seconds. This is useful in scenes like the one pictured, as they can be compared visually and easily, coming to the correct conclusion in the viewer’s mind. The crucifix worn by Lange’s character also furthers the religious iconography associated with her character (more on which Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 21.46.50later). In comparison, the clothing worn in season three is far less sheer. Although it is still all black, the shorter skirt and more shapely appearance are designed less to invoke severity, as they are to invoke mystery and intrigue.

 

The clothing of the other girls in the scene also hints at their characters. Two wear typically girlish clothing, with a pink dress on one and an over vest type thing on another. These are the most innocent-seeming and youngest members of the group, respectively, so the clothing may be indicating at their innocence. Another wears a university shirt, possibly as a foil to the clothing of Lange’s character, which commands her to change her clothes at the end of the scene. Finally, the first girl seen is immediately indicated to be non-cooperative and rebellious; she wears a Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 21.49.51shirt that reads “BITE ME”, a term used to dismiss others in a less than polite manner. This is a long way from the semi formal clothing, prisoner uniform and outright religious clothing of the previous season.

 

Set:

The sets used for each scene are used to show the differences in both character and time between the clips. The sets used for the nun’s room are very plain and austere; they are used to show (again) that she is living a life of devotion and rejection of material goods. Compare to the house of the third season. The house has luxurious furnishings all over the place, hinting at affluent owners, along with the size of the place. While the nun’s room was cramped and dark, a single shaft of light falling onto the plain wooden chairs set before the desk, the kitchen in the second clip is easily four times the size and well lit. The walls are decorated richly, again to show the wealth of the house’s owners, and in contrast to the nun the room is filled with material goods.

 

Audio Components:

There are examples of both diegetic and non-diegetic sound in both clips. In both, the non-diegetic sound is at the start of the clip, and in both it serves the same function: it builds tension. Each is suited to the time period, so a more orchestral piece is used in the 1950s story while the late 1990s story uses a synthesized electronic soundtrack. There are obviously the voice recordings, required for any clip with dialogue. The diegetic sound used in the first clip also includes the sound of the razor, which is louder than normal to put the audience on edge. Both scenes are similar in this respect, possibly due to having the same producers.

 

Camera Work:

The camera work on both clips is also similar. The camera is often dynamic, shaking around slightly as if someone were holding it rather than using a tripod, which creates a feeling of unease in the audience. Close ups are used liberally in both clips, to bring attention to faces. Jump cuts between close ups are also common, which adds to the unsettling atmosphere. The first clip also includes a high shot, visible above in the “Props” section. This odd perspective allows the audience to view both the room and the characters from on high, which helps to show the props and costumes and so forth; it also may add to the religious theme, as it is reminiscent of the view that God would have of the situation.

 

Iconography:

As stated above, religious iconography is used liberally in the first clip. The most obvious is the crosses and crucifixes all around the room, which is literally the logo of several branches of Christianity, and is heavily associated with religion. The shaft of light falling onto the chairs is also iconographic; Christian architecture has long employed tactics like this in churches to draw attention to altars and baptismal fonts and so forth. All of this reinforces again that Lange’s character is deeply religious. By comparison, relatively little iconography is used in the second clip. The word “Hogwarts” is derisively used to refer to the school, a clear use of the Harry Potter franchise as an example of a similar situation. Far less iconography is used in this scene in comparison to the first scene.