It may be hard to notice amid all the cleavage and bling, the high-ticket swag and champagne-soaked after-parties. But at Thursday’s MTV Video Music Awards, a few moments actually will be spent honoring the year’s most compelling music videos.
Music videos — remember them? Those tiny movies set to music that once dominated the programming at MTV and VH1? A quarter-century after their birth, it’s hard to remember that videos once seemed to herald the end of audio-only music consumption.
Sure, artists still release videos to accompany their hits. But do they still matter at a time when MTV is best known for its reality shows and so many of us consume music via iPod while multitasking?
Veteran music video director Dave Meyers — whose “Stupid Girls” video for Pink will be vying for the “best pop video” award at this year’s VMAs — believes still they do.
“I don’t think the form of music videos will ever get lost,” says Meyers. “It’ll have its revival. I think it’s already happening with YouTube and all these new forms of being able to view and share videos. But MTV certainly is making it harder and harder to catch videos.”
Which makes the task of creating a hot one all the more difficult.
For Meyers, who has directed Jennifer Lopez, Aerosmith, Janet Jackson, Jay-Z and Mariah Carey, there are several cardinal rules for getting it right:
—Rule No. 1: Know your brand.
“You’re basically creating advertising,” says Meyers. “You’re a brander.” After listening to the song “maybe 20 or even 1000 times,” his process begins by discussing ideas with the artist. After that, Meyers says, “you sift through all that and develop something that’s the most successful vision for the brand.”
It’s vital to keep in mind what fans expect. “You can’t put Jay-Z out there doing funny stuff,” says Meyers. “He’s the king. All these people sell a lifestyle in different ways. Pink sells the ultimate lifestyle to teens who want to be pretty in a different way and not necessarily subscribe to her ’stupid girl’ syndrome.”
—Rule No. 2: Figure out what your artist can do.
“To be an expert actor, it takes more than just being a pop star,” Meyers says. “You don’t want to write something where they’re crying or doing something that’s emotionally really, really tough. That’s sometimes why, when you see a really sad song, you get an artist who sings and they’ll ask a friend who’s an actor to convey that emotion.”
Meyers says celebrity actors are surprisingly willing to appear in videos. “A lot of young actors who are becoming stars grew up on the form of music videos. When those artists they love turn around and are in awe of them, it’s like a double treat,” he says. “But agents in Hollywood don’t focus any time on it. So it really only comes about if it’s the artist running into the actor, or me running into them and asking, or just knowing who’s fans of what.”
—Rule No. 3: Fans want to see their divas, but the band? Not so much.
“You can’t have a Madonna video without Madonna in it,” says Meyers, “but a Dave Matthews video without the Dave Matthews Band is foreseeable. Their music narrates human emotions. Recently we had Julia Roberts in their video, but we had no performance shots and barely had the band in there. It worked because Julia Roberts was channeling what the Dave Matthews fans love about that music. It’s really not about Dave jamming on his guitar. It’s the emotional place their music takes you.”
—Rule No. 4: Backup dancers add glamour, but at a price.
“The more dancers you have, the more Busby Berkeley you get. I love that. We had 18 dancers in the ’Lose Control’ video (for Missy Elliot). But budgets for big dance videos, and videos in general, have decreased. So it’s harder and harder to get that many dancers lined up,” he says. “They’re all unionized now. Even the crews are unionized.”
—Rule No. 5: Don’t get star-struck, but trust stars with real vision.
“Remaining not too star-struck allows you to bring originality to it. Otherwise you can end up with a conventional video. A lot of stars at the top are looking for someone who won’t cater to them that way,” says Meyers.
But if a singer has brilliant ideas, it’s important to hear them out. “OutKast is that. No matter what and whoever they work with, it’s like they have such a very eclectic and specific genius vision on the world. There’s not enough videos that can capture what’s in the minds of those guys,” he says. “In a case like that, trusting the artist is an explicitly important thing.”
Will Meyers’ formula change if people start watching videos more frequently on hand-held devices?
“I don’t think that culture’s fully taken over,” says Meyers. But if it does, “all you’ll want is a close-up of your artist singing or rapping in wardrobe.” Fortunately, Meyers doesn’t see that day arriving anytime soon.
“If that catches on as a marketable way to make income,” he says, “the hardware people will probably respond to how tiny the screens are. They’ll make phones that are all screen or fold out into a larger screen.”
Which will leave Meyers plenty of room for all those pricey backup dancers.