A music video is a short film integrating song and imagery. It is produced for promotional and artistic purposes (Machin 52). Music videos have evolved significantly over the years. Most of the traditional and modest scenes in the videos, which mainly involved bands and artists playing their own instruments, have been replaced by multimillion dollar high conceptual performances. The replacement is mainly as a result of the emergence and availability of cheap and free digital video equipment and platforms, such as YouTube. A song is always produced before the conception of a video (Machin 64). It is mainly because directors and video producers use the song as a guide in the production of images and film that sell the song to the intended audience (Gomez 53).
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In most cases, music videos are an interpretation of the lyrics in the song. However, some are produced without a set out concept and are merely a filmed version to the song’s live performance (Gomez 54). In spite of the logic behind the production of music videos, most people agree that they are mainly meant to help an artist or band promote a song or album (Vernallis 221). A number of factors are taken into consideration in the production of a video. Such elements are used to determine, for instance, how different moments are set up and ‘departed from’. Most importantly, they determine why some scenes are more significant than others.
In this paper, the author will provide a critical and an in-depth analysis of a contemporary music video. The aim is to discern the relationship between the song and how the lyrics are animated through the techniques of the film. The analysis largely draws from the tools used in the book “Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural Context”. The author selected the video for Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” song.
Analyzing the ‘Blank Space’ Video
The song “Blank Space” is an electropop composition by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. It is from her fifth studio album, “1989”, released in 2014. It is written by Swift, Max Martin, and Shellback. The song became a critical and commercial success, hitting a record four hundred million views on YouTube in its first week of release. The video accompanying the song was shot for over three days at Oheka Castle in Huntington, New York.
Taylor Swift’s video for the song “Blank Space” is based on a narrative. It is mainly because the film presents the storyline described in the lyrics of the song (Gomez 78). All the actions in the video describe what is said in the song itself. The film tells the story of a dating couple whose relationship goes up in flames when the man cheats on the lady. As a result, the lady seeks revenge. The arguments arising from this incidence are captured in the video and are also evident in the song. For example, the girl sings “I can make the tables turn, roses garden filled with thorns, keep you second guessing like Oh My God who is she?” (Blank Space). The anger and jealousy of the woman is also evident as she throws a potted plant at her cheating boyfriend. She shouts “I get drunk on jealousy” (Blank Space).
The story tells of how Taylor Swift takes revenge by setting her boyfriend’s clothes on fire and tearing down his pictures. She screams “so it’s going to be forever or it’s going to go down in flames” (Blank Space). She goes ahead to inflict more pain on him by damaging his car with a golf stick. Eventually, the man leaves her, becoming her ex-lover. However, as the video ends, a new man pulls up into the driveway, continuing the long list of ex-lovers depicted in the song. The girl sings “got a long list of ex-lovers they will tell you I’m insane, but I have a blank space baby and I will write your name” (Blank Space).
As stated earlier, the video to the song “Blank Space” is based on a narrative. As such, it presents the storyline described in the lyrics. For instance, the line “nice to meet you, where have you being, I can show incredible things” (Blank Space) is accompanied by video images of a man walking into the castle and Taylor Swift walking down the stairs to meet him. Taylor goes ahead to describe her guest in the song. She says “new money, suit and tie I can read you like a magazine” (Blank Space). The description is followed by an up-close shot of the man and his clothes.
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Word painting, which links images to words and music, is also evident in the video (Cooper 57). For instance, when Taylor says the word ‘scar’, there appears a picture of a man with nasty scars on his face. In most scenes, Taylor Swift’s lips also sync to the rhythm of the lyrics playing in the music video. As such, there is a strong connection between the lyrics and the visuals (Vernallis 128). The video illustrates the lyrics and showcases the story.
There is always a relationship between the music and the visuals of its video (Vernallis 161). In the electropop genre, the link can either be amplifying, illustrative, or contradicting (Machin 34). The strong relationship between the visuals and the music in “Blank Space” can be seen in the order and timing of the cuts. The cuts are produced according to the beats of the track. They are smooth and run evenly without being edgy or peculiar. The video also strikes a balance between instances where Taylor Swift acts as a crazy and vengeful girl and close up shots of her singing. Such a musical-visual connection not only establishes one as an artist, but also as an actor and a performer (Machin 55).
The “Blank Space” music video uses neutral color schemes as is the norm in most electropop videos (Vernallis 34). However, in some parts of the video, the color system is subdued to bring about a classical and country feel to the film. The costumes used in the music video play a major role in the alteration of the color scheme. In one instance, Taylor Swift wears a brightly colored pink dress and shades. The combination signifies happier times. When the relationship ends, she switches to darker colors, which signifies sadness (Blank Space). By applying this technique, the producers are able to use the color scheme to control the mood in the film. However, at times, the sarcasm in the music video suppresses the mood brought about by the combination of colors. The setting is striking and natural. The house and outdoors are neutral in color, which is within the neutral color scheme.
Most music videos show the artist or band that sang the song in the foreground (Vernallis 57). However, this is not always the norm. In some instances, especially in album promotional videos or song teasers, the artist is at times in the background (Cooper 57). It can be equated to playing a film with a soundtrack. It is especially seen in videos where the lyrics, music, and rhythm do not match the visuals in the video. In “Blank Space”, the artist is the foreground of the video. The reason is that her movements and actions match the lyrics and rhythm of the song.
Taylor Swift presents cheating, which is one of the major problems that lovers go through, in a fun and sarcastic way. The music video is a depiction of her love life as depicted in the mainstream media. Taylor Swift’s romantic streak has often been the center of attention. She is usually put on the spotlight for being in many relationships. In the video, she acts the part of a “boy-crazy” and jealous woman that is depicted in real life. For example, she sings “Got a long list of ex-lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane” (Blank Space). Her mockery of her image in the media outlets shows a world where the narrow and sexist caricatures attached to women are acted out for the amusement of the audience (Vernallis 120). As such, the video can be seen as directed towards all those who stereotype her as a ‘boy crazy’ woman.
It is clear that a music video contains various technical and aesthetic features. The elements are clearly seen through an in-depth assessment of the video itself. An analysis of “Blank Space” reveals that one has to clearly discern the relationship between the song and the animations depicted through the techniques used in the film. It is the only way through which the audience can fully appreciate a music video.
Blank Space. Ex. Prod. Max Martin. New York: Big Machine Records. 2014. DVD.
Cooper, Lee. “Lyrical Commentaries: Learning from Popular Music.” Music Educator Journal 77.8 (2001): 56-58. Print.
Gomez, Isabel. “Narrative on Music Video.” Contemporary Film Studies 4.1 (2008): 51-82. Print.
Machin, David. Analyzing Popular Music, Los Angeles: Sage, 2010. Print.
Vernallis, Carol. Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural Context, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. Print.