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Music video

A music video or song video is a short film integrating a song and imagery, produced for promotional or artistic purposes.[1] Modern music videos are primarily made and used as a marketing device intended to promote the sale of music recordings. Although the origins of music videos date back much further, they came into prominence in the 1980s, when MTV based their format around the medium. Prior to the 1980s, these works were described by various terms including "illustrated song", "filmed insert", "promotional (promo) film", "promotional clip", "promotional video", "song video", "song clip" or "film clip".

Music videos use a wide range of styles of contemporary video making techniques, including animation, live action filming, documentaries, and non-narrative approaches such as abstract film. Some music videos blend different styles, such as animation, music, and live action. Many music videos interpret images and scenes from the song's lyrics, while others take a more thematic approach. Other music videos may be without a set concept, being merely a filmed version of the song's live performance.[2]


  • History and development 1
    • 1926–1959: Talkies, soundies, and shorts 1.1
    • 1950s: Early music clips 1.2
    • 1960–1973: Promotional clips and others 1.3
    • 1974–1980 – Beginnings of music television 1.4
    • 1981–1991: Music videos go mainstream 1.5
    • 1992–2004: Rise of the directors 1.6
    • 2005–present: The Internet becomes video-friendly 1.7
      • Official Lo-fi Internet music clips 1.7.1
    • Lyric videos 1.8
  • Censorship 2
    • 1980s 2.1
    • 1990s 2.2
    • 2000s 2.3
    • 2010s 2.4
  • Unofficial music videos 3
  • Music video stations 4
  • Music video shows 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

History and development

In 1894, The Little Lost Child".[3] Using a magic lantern, Thomas projected a series of still images on a screen simultaneous to live performances. This would become a popular form of entertainment known as the illustrated song, the first step toward music video.[3]

1926–1959: Talkies, soundies, and shorts

In 1926, with the arrival of "talkies" many musical short films were produced. Vitaphone shorts (produced by Warner Bros.) featured many bands, vocalists and dancers. Animation artist Max Fleischer introduced a series of sing-along short cartoons called Screen Songs, which invited audiences to sing along to popular songs by "following the bouncing ball", which is similar to a modern karaoke machine. Early 1930s cartoons featured popular musicians performing their hit songs on-camera in live-action segments during the cartoons. The early animated films by Walt Disney, such as the Silly Symphonies shorts and especially Fantasia, which featured several interpretations of classical pieces, were built around music. The Warner Brothers cartoons, even today billed as Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, were initially fashioned around specific songs from upcoming Warner Brothers musical films. Live action musical shorts, featuring such popular performers as Cab Calloway, were also distributed to theaters.

Blues singer Bessie Smith appeared in a two-reel short film called St. Louis Blues (1929) featuring a dramatized performance of the hit song. Numerous other musicians appeared in short musical subjects during this period.

Soundies, produced and released from 1940-1947, were musical films that often included short dance sequences, similar to later music videos.

In the mid-1940s, musician Louis Jordan made short films for his songs, some of which were spliced together into a feature film Lookout Sister. These films were, according to music historian Donald Clarke, the "ancestors" of music video.[4]

Musicals of the 1950s led to short-form music videos

Musical films were another important precursor to music video, and several well-known music videos have imitated the style of classic Hollywood musicals from the 1930s to the 1950s. One of the best-known examples is Madonna's 1985 video for "Material Girl" (directed by Mary Lambert)[5] which was closely modelled on Jack Cole's staging of "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" from the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Several of Michael Jackson's videos show the unmistakable influence of the dance sequences in classic Hollywood musicals, including the landmark "Thriller" and the Martin Scorsese-directed "Bad" which was influenced by the stylised dance "fights" in the film version of West Side Story.[6] According to the Internet Accuracy Project, disk jockey-singer J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson was the first to coin the phrase "music video", in 1959.[7]

1950s: Early music clips

Elvis Presley in 1957, recording in Jailhouse Rock.

In his autobiography, Tony Bennett claims to have created "...the first music video" when he was filmed walking along the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London in 1956, with the resulting clip being set to his recording of the song "Stranger in Paradise".[8] The clip was sent to UK and US television stations and aired on shows including Dick Clark's American Bandstand.[9]

In 1957, the second music video of the story is set in United States, starring Elvis Presley item Jailhouse Rock, the famous theme prison rock, disseminated images in black and white of the time (although the original was engraved color).

The oldest example of a promotional music video with similarities to more abstract, modern videos seems to be "Dáme si do bytu" ("Let's get to the apartment") created in 1958 and directed by Ladislav Rychman.[10][11]

1960–1973: Promotional clips and others

In the late 1950s[12] the Scopitone, a visual jukebox, was invented in France and short films were produced by many French artists, such as Serge Gainsbourg, Françoise Hardy, Jacques Brel, and Jacques Dutronc to accompany their songs. Its use spread to other countries and similar machines such as the Cinebox in Italy and Color-Sonic in the USA were patented.[12] In 1961, for the Canadian show Singalong Jubilee, Manny Pittson began pre-recording the music audio, went on-location and taped various visuals with the musicians lip-synching, then edited the audio and video together. Most music numbers were taped in-studio on stage, and the location shoot "videos" were to add variety.[13] In 1964, Kenneth Anger's experimental short film, Scorpio Rising used popular songs instead of dialog.

In 1964, Rain"/"Paperback Writer" all directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg,[15] who went on to direct The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus and The Beatles final film Let It Be. The colour promotional clips for "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane", made in early 1967 and directed by Peter Goldman[16] took the promotional film format to a new level. They used techniques borrowed from underground and avant garde film, including reversed film and slow motion, dramatic lighting, unusual camera angles and color filtering added in post-production. At the end of 1967 the group released their third film, the one hour, made-for-television project Magical Mystery Tour; it was written and directed by the group and first broadcast on the BBC on Boxing Day 1967. Although poorly received at the time for lacking a narrative structure, it showed the group to be accomplished music video makers in their own right.

The Beatles in Help!

Concert films were being released in the mid-1960s, at least as early as 1964, with the T.A.M.I. Show.

The monochrome 1966 clip for Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" filmed by D. A. Pennebaker was featured in Pennebaker's Dylan film documentary Dont Look Back. Eschewing any attempt to simulate performance or present a narrative, the clip shows Dylan standing in a city back alley, silently shuffling a series of large cue cards (bearing key words from the song's lyrics). Many "filmed inserts" were produced by UK artists so they could be screened on TV when the bands were not available to appear live. Pink Floyd were pioneers in producing promotional films for their songs including "San Francisco: Film", directed by Anthony Stern, "Scarecrow", "Arnold Layne" and "Interstellar Overdrive", the latter directed by Peter Whitehead, who also made several pioneering clips for The Rolling Stones between 1966 and 1968. In the UK The Kinks made one of the first "plot" promo clips for a song. For their single "Dead End Street" (1966) a miniature comic movie was made. The BBC reportedly refused to air the clip because it was considered to be in "poor taste".[17] The Who featured in several promotional clips in this period, beginning with their 1965 clip for I Can't Explain. Their plot clip for Happy Jack (1966) shows the band acting like a gang of thieves. The promo film to Call Me Lightning (1968) tells a story of how drummer Keith Moon came to join the group: The other three band members are having tea inside what looks like an abandoned hangar when suddenly a "bleeding box" arrives, out of which jumps a fast-running, time lapse, Moon that the other members subsequently try to get a hold of in a sped-up slapstick chasing sequence to wind him down.

The Rolling Stones appeared in many promotional clips for their songs in the 1960s. In 1966, Peter Whitehead directed two promo clips for their single "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?"[18] In 1967, Whitehead directed a plot clip colour promo clip for the Stones single "We Love You", which first aired in August 1967.[19] This clip featured sped-up footage of the group recording in the studio, intercut with a mock trial that clearly alludes to the drug prosecutions of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards underway at that time. Jagger's girlfriend Marianne Faithfull appears in the trial scenes and presents the "judge" (Richards) with what may be the infamous fur rug that had featured so prominently in the press reports of the drug bust at Richards' house in early 1967. When it is pulled back, it reveals an apparently naked Jagger with chains around his ankles. The clip concludes with scenes of the Stones in the studio intercut with footage that had previously been used in the "concert version" promo clip for "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby". The group also filmed a colour promo clip for the song "2000 Light Years From Home" (from their album Their Satanic Majesties Request) directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg.[18] In 1968, Michael Lindsay-Hogg directed three clips for their single "Jumping Jack Flash" / "Child Of The Moon"—a colour clip for "Child Of The Moon" and two different clips for "Jumpin' Jack Flash". In 1968, they collaborated with Jean-Luc Godard on the film Sympathy for the Devil, which mixed Godard's politics with documentary footage of the song's evolution during recording sessions.

In June 1968, Elvis Presley recorded music videos again, in recording studios, in order to promote their new albums, making videos where famous stars If I Can Dream and Trouble/Guitar Man.

During late 1972–73 David Bowie featured in a series of promotional films directed by pop photographer Mick Rock, who worked extensively with Bowie in this period. Rock directed and edited four clips to promote four consecutive David Bowie singles—"John, I'm Only Dancing" (May 1972), "The Jean Genie" (Nov. 1972), the December 1972 US re-release of "Space Oddity" and the 1973 release of the single "Life on Mars?" (lifted from Bowie's earlier album Hunky Dory). The clip for "John, I'm Only Dancing" was made with a budget of just US$200 and filmed at the afternoon rehearsal for Bowie's Rainbow Theatre concert on August 19, 1972. It shows Bowie and band miming to the record intercut with footage of Bowie's dancers The Astronettes dancing on stage and behind a back-lit screen. The clip was turned down by the BBC, who reportedly found the homosexual overtones of the film distasteful, although Top of the Pops replaced it with footage of bikers and a dancer.[20] The "Jean Genie" clip, produced for just US$350, was shot in one day and edited in less than two days. It intercuts footage of Bowie and band in concert with contrasting footage of the group in a photographic studio, wearing black stage outfits and standing against a white background. It also includes location footage with Bowie and Cyrinda Foxe (a MainMan employee and a friend of David and Angie Bowie) shot in San Francisco outside the famous Mars Hotel, with Fox posing provocatively in the street while Bowie lounges against the wall, smoking.[21]

Country music also picked up on the trend of promotional clips to go along with songs. Sam Lovullo, the producer of the television series Hee Haw, said his show presented "what were, in reality, the first musical videos,"[22] while JMI Records made the same claim with Don Williams' 1973 song, "The Shelter of Your Eyes.[23] Country music historian Bob Millard wrote that JMI had pioneered the country music video concept by "producing a 3-minute film" to go along with Williams' song.[23] Lovullo said his videos were conceptualized by having the show's staff go to nearby rural areas and film animals and farmers, before editing the footage to fit the storyline of a particular song. "The video material was a very workable production item for the show," he wrote. "It provided picture stories for songs. However, some of our guests felt the videos took attention away from their live performances, which they hoped would promote record sales. If they had a hit song, they didn't want to play it under comic barnyard footage." The concept's mixed reaction eventually spelled an end to the "video" concept on Hee Haw.[22] Promotional videos of country music songs, however, continued to be produced.

1974–1980 – Beginnings of music television

The Australian TV shows Countdown and Sounds, both of which premiered in 1974, were significant in developing and popularizing the music video genre in Australia and other countries, and in establishing the importance of music video clips as a means of promoting both emerging acts and new releases by established acts. In early 1974, former radio DJ Graham Webb launched a weekly teen-oriented TV music show which screened on Sydney's ATN-7 on Saturday mornings; this was renamed Sounds Unlimited in 1975 and later shortened simply to Sounds. In need of material for the show, Webb approached Seven newsroom staffer Russell Mulcahy and asked him to shoot film footage to accompany popular songs for which there were no purpose-made clips (e.g. Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talking"). Using this method, Webb and Mulcahy assembled a collection of about 25 clips for the show. The success of his early efforts encouraged Mulcahy to quit his TV job and become a full-time director, and he made clips for several popular Australian acts including Stylus, Marcia Hines, Hush and AC/DC.[24] As it gained popularity, Countdown talent coordinator Ian "Molly" Meldrum and producer Michael Shrimpton quickly realized that "film clips" were becoming an important new commodity in music marketing. Despite the show's minuscule budget, Countdown's original director Paul Drane was able to create several memorable music videos especially for the show, including the classic film-clips for the AC/DC hits "It's A Long Way To The Top" and "Jailbreak".[24] After relocating to the UK in the mid-1970s, Mulcahy made successful music videos for several noted British pop acts—his early UK credits included XTC's "Making Plans For Nigel" (1979) and his landmark video for The Buggles' "Video Killed The Radio Star" (1979) which became the first music video played on MTV in 1981.[25]

The long-running British TV show Top of the Pops began playing music videos in the late 1970s, although the BBC placed strict limits on the number of 'outsourced' videos TOTP could use. Therefore a good video would increase a song's sales as viewers hoped to see it again the following week. In 1974 the American rock band Sparks was sanctioned by the UK to create a video clip to promote their hit single This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us, and this use of music in video has been considered by many to be the first of its kind in Britain. In 1980, David Bowie scored his first UK number one in nearly a decade thanks to director David Mallet's eye catching promo for "Ashes to Ashes". In 1975, The Who released their all-music feature film Tommy, directed by Ken Russell, based upon their 1969 rock opera of the same name. Also in 1975, the band Queen ordered Bruce Gowers to make a promo video for their new single "Bohemian Rhapsody" to show it in Top of the Pops; this is also notable for being entirely shot and edited on videotape. The Alan Parker film adaptation of Pink Floyd The Wall transformed the group's 1979 concept double-LP of the same title into a confrontational and apocalyptic audio-visual labyrinth of stylized, expressionistic images, sounds, melodies and lyrics. The long-running British Rock music show The Old Grey Whistle Test produced a number of pioneering videos made especially for the program throughout the 1970s and early 1980s.

Video Concert Hall, created by Jerry Crowe and Charles Henderson, launched on November 1, 1979, was the first nationwide video music programming on American television, predating MTV by almost three years.[26][27][28][29] The USA Cable Network program Night Flight was one of the first American programs to showcase these videos as an artform. In 1980, New Zealand group Split Enz had major success with the single "I Got You" and the album True Colours, and later that year they produced a complete set of promo clips for each song on the album (directed by their percussionist, Noel Crombie) and to market these on video cassette. This was followed a year later by the first American video album, The Completion Backward Principle by The Tubes, directed by the group's keyboard player Michael Cotten, which included two videos directed by Russell Mulcahy ("Talk To Ya Later" and "Don't Want To Wait Anymore").[30] Among the first music videos were clips produced by ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith who started making short musical films for Saturday Night Live.[14] In 1981, he released Elephant Parts, the first winner of a Grammy for music video, directed by William Dear. Billboard credits [26] the independently-produced Video Concert Hall as being the first with nationwide video music programming on American television.[27][28][29]

1981–1991: Music videos go mainstream

In 1981, the U.S. video channel MTV launched, airing "Video Killed the Radio Star" and beginning an era of 24-hour-a-day music on television. With this new outlet for material, the music video would, by the mid-1980s, grow to play a central role in popular music marketing. Many important acts of this period, most notably Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran and Madonna, owed a great deal of their success to the skillful construction and seductive appeal of their videos.

Two key innovations in the development of the modern music video were the development of relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use video recording and editing equipment, and the development of visual effects created with techniques such as image compositing. The advent of high-quality color videotape recorders and portable video cameras coincided with the DIY ethos of the new wave era, enabling many pop acts to produce promotional videos quickly and cheaply, in comparison to the relatively high costs of using film. However, as the genre developed, music video directors increasingly turned to 35 mm film as the preferred medium, while others mixed film and video. During the 1980s, music videos had become de rigueur for most recording artists. The phenomenon was famously parodied by BBC television comedy program Not The Nine O'Clock News who produced a spoof music video "Nice Video, Shame About The Song".

In this period, directors and the acts they worked with began to explore and expand the form and style of the genre, using more sophisticated effects in their videos, mixing film and video, and adding a storyline or plot to the music video. Occasionally videos were made in a non-representational form, in which the musical artist was not shown. Because music videos are mainly intended to promote the artist, such videos are comparatively rare; three early 1980s examples are Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City", directed by Arnold Levine, David Mallet's video for David Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure", and Ian Emes' video for Duran Duran's "The Chauffeur". One notable later example of the non-representational style is Bill Konersman's innovative 1987 video for Prince's "Sign o' the Times"[31] – influenced by Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" clip, it featured only the text of the song's lyrics.

Michael Jackson in Thriller.

In 1983, the most successful, influential and iconic music video of all time was released: the nearly 14-minute-long video for Michael Jackson's song "Thriller", directed by John Landis. The video set new standards for production, having cost US$800,000 to film.[32][33] The video for "Thriller", along with earlier videos by Jackson for his songs "Billie Jean" and "Beat It", were instrumental in getting music videos by African American artists played on MTV. Prior to Jackson's success, videos by African-American artists were rarely played on MTV: according to MTV, this was because it initially conceived itself as a rock-music-oriented channel, although musician Rick James was outspoken in his criticism of the cable channel, claiming in 1983 that MTV's refusal to air the music video for his song "Super Freak" and clips by other African-American performers was "blatant racism".[34]

On March 5, 1983, Country Music Television, or CMT, was launched,[35] created and founded by Glenn D. Daniels and uplinked from the Video World Productions facility in Hendersonville, Tennessee. The Canadian music channel MuchMusic was launched in 1984. In 1984, MTV also launched the MTV Video Music Awards (later to be known as the VMA's), an annual awards event that would come to underscore MTV's importance in the music industry.

In 1985, MTV launched the channel VH1 (then known as "VH-1: Video Hits One"), featuring softer music, and meant to cater to an older demographic than MTV. MTV Europe was launched in 1987, and MTV Asia in 1991. Another important development in music videos was the launch of The Chart Show on the UK's Channel 4 in 1986. This was a program which consisted entirely of music videos (the only outlet many videos had on British TV at the time), without presenters. Instead, the videos were linked by then state of the art computer graphics. The show moved to ITV in 1989.

The video for the 1985 Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing" made pioneering use of computer animation, and helped make the song an international hit. Ironically, the song itself was a wry comment on the music-video phenomenon, sung from the point of view of an appliance deliveryman both drawn to and repelled by the outlandish images and personalities that appeared on MTV. In 1986, Peter Gabriel's song "Sledgehammer" used special effects and animation techniques developed by British studio Aardman Animation. The video for "Sledgehammer" would go on to be a phenomenal success[36] and win nine MTV Video Music Awards.

In 1988, the MTV show Yo! MTV Raps debuted; the show helped to bring hip hop music to a mass audience for the first time.

1992–2004: Rise of the directors

In November 1992, MTV began listing directors with the artist and song credits, reflecting the fact that music videos had increasingly become an auteur's medium. Directors such as Chris Cunningham, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Floria Sigismondi,[37] Stéphane Sednaoui, Mark Romanek and Hype Williams all got their start around this time; all brought a unique vision and style to the videos they directed. Some of these directors, including, Gondry, Jonze, Sigismondi,[38] and F. Gary Gray, went on to direct feature films. This continued a trend that had begun earlier with directors such as Lasse Hallström and David Fincher.

Two of the videos directed by Romanek in 1995 are notable for being two of the three most expensive music videos of all time: Michael and Janet Jackson's "Scream", which allegedly cost $7 million to produce, and Madonna's "Bedtime Story", which cost a reported $5 million. From this, "Scream" is the most expensive video to date. In the mid to late 1990s, Walter Stern directed "Firestarter" by The Prodigy, "Bitter Sweet Symphony" by The Verve, and "Teardrop" by Massive Attack.[39][40] During this period, MTV launched channels around the world to show music videos produced in each local market: MTV Latin America in 1993, MTV India in 1996, and MTV Mandarin in 1997, among others. MTV2, originally called "M2" and meant to show more alternative and older music videos, debuted in 1996.

2005–present: The Internet becomes video-friendly

The website iFilm, which hosted short videos, including music videos, launched its service in 1997. Napster, a peer-to-peer file sharing service which ran between 1999 and 2001, enabled users to share video files, including those for music videos. By the mid-2000s, MTV and many of its sister channels had largely abandoned showing music videos in favor of reality television shows, which were more popular with its audiences, and which MTV had itself helped to pioneer with the show The Real World, which premiered in 1992.

2005 saw the launch of the website YouTube, which made the viewing of online video much faster and easier; Google Videos, Yahoo! Video, Facebook and Myspace's video functionality, use similar technology. Such websites had a profound effect on the viewing of music videos; some artists began to see success as a result of videos seen mostly or entirely online. The band OK Go may exemplify this trend, having achieved fame through the videos for two of their songs, "A Million Ways" in 2005 and "Here It Goes Again" in 2006, both of which first became well-known online. (OK Go repeated the trick with another high-concept video in 2010, for their song "This Too Shall Pass".)

The 2008 video for Weezer's "Pork and Beans" also captured this trend, by including at least 20 YouTube celebrities; the single became the most successful of Weezer's career, in chart performance. In 2007, the RIAA issued cease-and-desist letters to YouTube users to prevent single users from sharing videos, which are the property of the music labels. After its merger with Google, YouTube assured the RIAA that they would find a way to pay royalties through a bulk agreement with the major record labels. This was complicated by the fact that not all labels share the same policy toward music videos: some welcome the development and upload music videos to various online outlets themselves, viewing music videos as free advertising for their artists, while other labels view music videos not as an advertisement, but as the product itself.

In 2009, Thirty Seconds to Mars' music video "Kings and Queens" was uploaded to popular video-sharing website YouTube on the same day of its release, where it has garnered over one hundred million views.[41] It also received over forty million plays on MySpace. "Kings and Queens" was featured as iTunes Store video of the week and was one of the most downloaded videos ever to be featured.[41] The video also received four nominations at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, making 30 Seconds to Mars the most nominated rock artist in VMA history for a single year.[42]

MTV itself now provides streams of artists' music videos, while AOL's recently launched AOL Music features a vast collection of advertising supported streaming videos. The Internet has become the primary growth income market for record company-produced music videos. At its launch, Apple's iTunes Store provided a section of free music videos in high quality compression to be watched via the iTunes application. More recently the iTunes Store has begun selling music videos for use on Apple's iPod with video playback capability.

To further signify the change in direction towards Music Video airplay, MTV officially dropped the Music Television tagline on February 8, 2010 from their logo in response to their increased commitment to non-scripted reality programming and other youth-oriented entertainment rising in prominence on their live broadcast.[43]

Vevo is a music video website launched by several major music publishers in December 2009.[44] The videos on VEVO are syndicated to YouTube, with Google and VEVO sharing the advertising revenue.[45]

Official Lo-fi Internet music clips

Following the shift toward internet broadcasting and the rising popularity of user-generated video sites such as YouTube around 2006, various independent filmmakers began recording live sessions to present on the Web. Examples of this new way of creating and presenting a music video include Vincent Moon's work with The Take-Away Shows; In the Van sessions, a similar platform;[46] and the Dutch VPRO 3VOOR12, which puts out music videos recorded in elevators and other small, guerrilla filmmaking type locations in a similar tradition called Behind.[47] All of these swiftly recorded clips are made with minimal budgets and share similar aesthetics with the lo-fi music movement of the early nineties. Offering freedom from the increasingly burdensome financial requirements of high-production movie-like clips, it began as the only method for little-known indie music artists to present themselves to a wider audience, but increasingly this approach has been taken up by such major mainstream artists as R.E.M. and Tom Jones.[48]

Lyric videos

A lyric video is one in which the words to the song are the main element of the video. The music video for R.E.M.'s Fall On Me interspersed the song's lyrics with abstract film footage. In 1987, Prince released a video for his song "Sign o' the Times". The video featured the song's words pulsing to the music presented along with abstract geometric shapes; an effect created by Bill Konersman.[49][50]

In 1990 [51]

A lyric video may be released separately by a music label prior to the more usual video featuring the artist. Cee Lo Green, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Muse and Avenged Sevenfold among many others, have released lyric videos.[52]


As the concept and medium of a music video is a form of artistic expression, artists have been on many occasions censored if their content is deemed offensive. What may be considered offensive will differ in countries due to censorship laws and local customs and ethics. In most cases, the record label will provide and distribute videos edited or provide both censored and uncensored videos for an artist. In some cases, it has been known for music videos to be banned in their entirety as they have been deemed far too offensive to be broadcast.


The first video to be banned by MTV was Queen's 1982 hit "Body Language". Due to thinly veiled homoerotic undertones plus lots of skin and sweat (but apparently not enough clothing, save that worn by the fully clothed members of Queen themselves), it was deemed unsuitable for a television audience at the time. However, the channel did air Olivia Newton-John's 1981 video for the hit song "Physical", which lavished camera time on male models working out in string bikinis who spurn her advances, ultimately pairing off to walk to the men's locker rooms holding hands, though the network ended the clip before the overt homosexual "reveal" ending in some airings. The video for "Girls on Film" by Duran Duran, which featured topless women mud wrestling and other depictions of sexual fetishes, was banned by the BBC. MTV did air the video, albeit in a heavily edited form.

Laura Branigan initially protested an MTV request to edit her "Self Control" video in 1984, but relented when the network refused to air the William Friedkin-directed clip, featuring the singer lured through an increasingly debauched, if increasingly stylized, series of nightclubs by a masked man who ultimately takes her to bed. In 1989, Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time" video (where the singer performs the song in an extremely revealing body suit surrounded by a ship full of cheering sailors) was restricted to late-night broadcasts on MTV. The Sex Pistols' video for "God Save the Queen" was banned by the BBC for calling the United Kingdom a fascist regime. Mötley Crüe's video for "Girls, Girls, Girls" was banned by MTV for having completely nude women dancing around the members of the band in a strip club. Mötley Crüe did make another version of the video that was accepted by MTV.

In 1983, Entertainment Tonight ran a segment on censorship and "Rock Video Violence."[53] The episode explored the impact of MTV rock video violence on the youth of the early 1980s. Excerpts from the music videos of Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Golden Earring, Kiss, Kansas, Billy Idol, Def Leppard, Pat Benatar and The Rolling Stones were shown. Dr. Thomas Radecki of the National Coalition on TV Violence was interviewed accusing the fledgling rock video business of excessive violence. Night Tracks' producer Tom Lynch weighed in on the effects of the video violence controversy. Recording artists John Cougar Mellencamp, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of Kiss, along with directors Dominic Orlando and Julien Temple, provided a defense of their work. The episode's conclusion was that the controversy will continue to grow. Some artists have used censorship as a publicity tool. In the 1980s, the show Top of the Pops was censorious in its approach to video content, so some acts made videos that they knew would be censored, using the resulting public controversy to promote their release. Examples of this tactic were Duran Duran's aforementioned "Girls on Film" and Frankie Goes to Hollywood with "Relax", directed by Bernard Rose.


In 1991, the dance segment of Michael Jackson's "Black or White" was cut because it showed Michael Jackson "inappropriately" touching himself in it. Michael Jackson's most controversial video, "They Don't Care About Us" was banned from MTV, VH1, and BBC because of the alleged and falsely accused anti-Semitic messages in the song and the visuals in the background of the "Prison Version" of the video.

Madonna is the artist most associated with music video censorship. Controversy surrounding Madonna's marketing of her sexuality began with the video for "Lucky Star", and amplified over time due to clips such as "Like a Virgin". Outcry occurred over the subject matter (relating to teenage pregnancy) discussed in the video for the song "Papa Don't Preach". "Like a Prayer" courted heavy criticism due to its religious, sexual, and racially-oriented imagery. In 1990, Madonna's music video for the song "Justify My Love" was banned by MTV due to its depiction of sadomasochism, homosexuality, cross-dressing, and group sex which generated a media firestorm. The debate over the banning of "Justify My Love" by the Canadian music video network MuchMusic led to the launching in 1991 of Too Much 4 Much, a series of occasional, late-night specials (still being aired in the early 2000s) in which videos officially banned by MuchMusic were broadcast, followed by panel discussion regarding why they were removed.

In 1992, The Shamen's video for the song "Ebeneezer Goode" was banned by the BBC due to its perceived subliminal endorsement of the recreational drug Ecstasy.[54] The Prodigy's 1997 video for "Smack My Bitch Up" was banned in some countries due to depictions of drug use and nudity. The Prodigy's video for "Firestarter" was banned by the BBC because of its references to arson.[55]

In 1993, Australian rock band INXS' song "The Gift" was banned by MTV because of its use of Holocaust and Gulf War footage, among images of famine, pollution, war and terrorism. As well as this, metal band Tool's music video for Prison Sex was banned from MTV, as the video and lyrics touch on the sensitive matter of child abuse.


In 2000, the music video for "Dominican Republic due to allegations of satanism.[56]

In 2001, Björk's video for "Pagan Poetry" was banned from MTV for depictions of sexual intercourse, fellatio, and body piercings. Her next single, "Cocoon", was also banned by MTV as it featured a nude Björk (which the nude body was actually a fitted body suit rigged with red string).

In 2002, the video for "All the Things She Said" by Russian duo t.A.T.u. caused controversy as it featured the young girls, Lena Katina and Yulia Volkova, embracing and eventually kissing. UK TV presenters Richard and Judy campaigned to have the video banned claiming it pandered to pedophiles with the use of school uniforms and young girls kissing, although the campaign failed. Capitalizing on the controversy, the kiss was choreographed into their live performances. Top of the Pops aired the girls' performance with the kiss replaced by audience footage. NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno cut away from the girls' kiss to shots of the band. Throughout their promotional tour, t.A.T.u. protested by appearing in shirts reading "censored".

In 2004, Maroon 5's video for "This Love" generated controversy due to intimate scenes between frontman Adam Levine and his then-girlfriend. Despite those particular scenes being shot at strategic angles, a censored version was released with a stream of computer-generated flowers added in to cover up more. The video for "(s)AINT" by Marilyn Manson was banned by that artist's label due to its violence and sexual content. The following year, Eminem's video for "Just Lose It" caused controversy over its parody of Michael Jackson's 2005 child molestation trial, plastic surgery, and hair catching fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial. The video was banned from BET, and Jackson spoke out against the video, calling it "inappropriate and disrespectful to me, my children, my family and the community at large."

As of 2005, the Egyptian state censorship committee banned at least 20 music videos which featured sexual connotations due to Muslim moral viewpoints.[57] In 2004, many family groups and politicians lobbied for the banning of the Eric Prydz video "Call on Me" for containing women dancing in a sexually suggestive way, however, the video was not banned. In 2008, Justice's video for their song "Stress" was boycotted by several major music television channels due to allegations of racism and violence; the video depicts several youths committing various crimes throughout the streets of Paris, with the youths mainly being of North African descent.[58]

While country music has largely avoided controversy surrounding video content, it has not been immune. The music video for the 2003 Rascal Flatts' song "I Melt," is a case in point, gaining notoriety for clips featuring guitarist Joe Don Rooney's bare buttocks, and model Christina Auria taking a shower in the nude.[59] The video was the first aired on CMT to show nudity,[60] and eventually reached No. 1 on the network's "Top Twenty Countdown" program.[61] However, Great American Country banned the video when the group refused to release an edited version.[60]


In 2010, Thirty Seconds to Mars video "Hurricane" was censored because of its major elements of violence, nudity and sex.[62] The short film was later released with a clean version that can air on television.[63] The explicit version is available on the band's official website with a viewing certificate of 18+.[64]

In 2010, a rumour circulated that Lady Gaga's video "Telephone" was banned by MTV, a rumour which reached some press outlets. The rumour claimed that MTV had banned the video because the content could not be shown within their programming. MTV denied the ban and showed the video frequently on European MTV programming.[65] Lady Gaga's previous videos have also attracted criticism for their sexually suggestive content; the video for "LoveGame" was refused play on the Australian video music program Video Hits; however, other Australian programs aired the video uncensored. The video for Alejandro was criticized by the Catholic League, for showing the singer dressed in a red latex fetish version of a nun's habit, simulating rape, and appearing to swallow a rosary.[66]

Ciara's video for "Ride" was banned by BET, with the network citing that the video was too sexually charged. The video was also subsequently banned by all UK television channels.[67]

Rihanna's video "S&M", which features the singer whipping a tied-up man, taking hostages and indulging in a lesbian kiss, was banned in 11 countries and was flagged as inappropriate for viewers that are under 18 on YouTube.[68]

Miley Cyrus's video for "Wrecking Ball" featured the former teen star swinging naked on top of a wrecking ball and licking a sledgehammer. The video became the fastest video to reach 100 million views, in six days.[69] A scene featuring a naked Cyrus was fully censored when it was aired on MTV.

In 2014, Katy Perry's video for "Dark Horse" caused offense to some Muslims, over Perry's character turning a man wearing a pendant that says Allah, the Arabic word for God, into sand, with the necklace burned by lightning shot from Perry’s fingers. A petition accused Perry of "representing an opposition of God" and demanded that the video should be taken down from YouTube.[70] The petition reached over 65,000 signatures and as a response, the pendant was digitally removed from the video on February 26, 2014, after which the petition was closed. However, as of March 2014, MTV Greece still shows the unedited version of the video.

Unofficial music videos

Unofficial, fan-made music videos ("bootleg" tapes) are typically made by synchronizing existing footage from other sources, such as television series or movies, with the song. The first known fan video, or songvid, was created by Kandy Fong in 1975 using still images from Star Trek loaded into a slide carousel and played in conjunction with a song. Fan videos made using videocassette recorders soon followed.[71] With the advent of easy distribution over the internet and cheap video-editing software, fan-created videos began to gain wider notice in the late 1990s. Videos are sometimes known as OPV, Original Promotional Videos (or sometimes Other People's Videos). A well-known example of an unofficial video is one made for Danger Mouse's illegal mash-up from his The Grey Album, of the Jay-Z track Encore with music sampled from The Beatles' White Album, in which concert footage of The Beatles is remixed with footage of Jay-Z and rap dancers.[72]

In 2004, a Placebo fan from South Africa[73] made a claymation video for the band's song "English Summer Rain" and sent it to the band. They liked the result so much that it was included on their greatest hits DVD.[74]

Music video stations

Here are some music video stations from around the world:

Music video shows

See also


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Further reading

  • Banks, Jack (1996) Monopoly Television: Mtv's Quest to Control the Music Westview Press ISBN 0-8133-1820-3
  • Clarke, Donald (1995) The Rise and Fall of Popular Music St. Martin's Pressy ISBN 0-312-11573-3
  • Denisoff, R. Serge (1991) Inside MTV New Brunswick: Transaction publishers ISBN 0-88738-864-7
  • Durant, Alan (1984). Cited in Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
  • Frith, Simon, Andrew Goodwin & Lawrence Grossberg (1993) Sound & Vision. The music video reader London: Routledge ISBN 0-415-09431-3
  • Goodwin, Andrew (1992) Dancing in the Distraction Factory : Music Television and Popular Culture University of Minnesota Press ISBN 0-8166-2063-6
  • Kaplan, E. Ann (1987) Rocking Around the Clock. Music Television, Postmodernism, and Consumer Culture London & New York: Routledge ISBN 0-415-03005-6
  • Keazor, Henry; Wübbena, Thorsten (2010). Rewind, Play, Fast Forward: The Past, Present and Future of the Music Video. transcript Verlag. ISBN 383761185X
  • Kleiler, David (1997) You Stand There: Making Music Video Three Rivers Press ISBN 0-609-80036-1
  • Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
  • Shore, Michael (1984) The Rolling Stone book of rock video New York: Quill ISBN 0-688-03916-2
  • G.Turner, Video Clips and Popular Music, in Australian Journal of Cultural Studies 1/1,1983, 107–110
  • Vernallis, Carol (2004) Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural Context Columbia University Press ISBN 0-231-11798-1
  • Thomas Dreher: History of Computer Art Chap. IV. Music Videos.

External links

  • Music video at DMOZ
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