After a moment of feeling like a dying relic of the ’90s and 00’s, videos as a medium for music are seeing a real resurgence. We see this revitalisation in a variety of creative forms in R&B / Soul music – a genre where storytelling and conveying emotion has always been an intricate part of the music itself.
Solange's 'When I Get Home' Short Film is the pinnacle
Solange’s 33-min short film, ‘When I Get Home’ (WIGH), is the prime example here. A collection of visuals, ranging from candid footage to 3D animated sequences and featuring music videos for tracks from her latest album with the same name. With the visuals from A Seat At the Table, Solange established her visual genius. On WIGH, she takes things to the next level. Weaving in stunning afro-futurist vibes, with home videos and beautiful landscapes, Queen Solo transports us to her a universe of unbridled blackness. Wide-screen cinematography also make an appearance here – the format making a strong comeback in this and in several other artists’ music videos. In the Almeda video, the afro-futurist vibes are in full effect for one of the most powerfully ephemeral videos we’ve seen in a bit. Itself, a mini-film, Almeda is the pinnacle of black American Southern swag expressed in video.
Charting your way with videos
Early 2018, choosing to modernise, The Official Charts included video streaming on the UK Singles chart, meaning viewing music videos could actually help musicians’ performance on the charts. This move has encouraged musicians and labels alike to look back to videos for their promotional effect. Social media and the exploding popularity of Instagram over the past few years has also played a big role. Teaser clips posted on Instagram, Twitter and the increasingly popular Musically, help create a buzz and curiosity around musical releases. The visual medium also gives artists another means to creatively express themselves and importantly, an increasingly important revenue stream. For we the listening (and viewing) audience, music videos can be a more accessible way of enjoying music from faves and discovering new faves.
Speaking of discovering new talent, popular YouTube channel, COLORS, has revolutionised the use of video to showcase emerging artists with the super simple concept of a performance against the backdrop of bright color aesthetics, often coordinated with the artists’ outfit. In many ways, R&B / Soul acts have stood out in these sets with Mahalia, Jaz Karis, Cleo Sol, Pip Millett, H.E.R. and more clocking some of the highest views COLORS has seen to date.
NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert also adds to the pool of YouTube channels fans head to for dope musical performance visuals. Lyric videos have also become a strong YouTube phenomenon with many being uploaded before official music videos. Sometimes artist-curated, fans tend to be the main source of these creations, often collaging footage from the artist’s previous projects.
Music videos in emerging R&B
Over the years, the cost of making good music videos has dramatically reduced. This has made the format far more accessible to emerging talent and up & comers in R&B have particularly taken to it. Artists are increasingly looking to video for poignant storytelling and vividly representing the messaging in their music.
More videos, more dance
More videos has also meant more dance. And with that, the ability for dance to tell stories and convey emotion. A trend of weaving contemporary dance into music videos seems to be emerging. In Mahalia’s Do Not Disturb, she adopts the dance genre, swiftly moving in sync with the bopping beat in a solo routine. Similarly, Cleo Sol’s One video opens with a solo performance of an interpretive dance routine enhancing the ethereal feel of the track. She is later joined by a group of African traditional dancers and drummers, solidifying a sense of unity through their uniformed choreography and exposing an extra layer to the meaning of ‘One’.
Yet another standout example is Kyan’s moving Neighbours video. A poignant commentary on Brexit, the video is threaded with emotion and passion, this piece heavily relies on dance to convey meaning, alongside Kyan’s impassioned singing. The eerie vibe of the track perfectly matches the visuals and lyrics, collectively forming a revelation of tactics and motives behind several media reports, contributing to people’s fear of the ‘other’.
The music video comeback has brought with it throwback vibes and reminiscing. In Etta Bond and Shae Universe’s, No More Love, which holds major throwback feels of Brandy and Monica’s classic The Boy Is Mine down to the split wall imagery and the girl’s coming together in the end.
Ray Blk’s Paradise, also portrays a motif of time through its black and white theme, coupled with her narrative touching on the hope in life after death ‘’up in the sky’’. The monochrome visuals draw out a dated sense, whilst her lyrics are forward thinking, cleverly crafted to create a unique piece.
Using visual storytelling, unique styling and cinematography, dance, swag and a bunch of other creative techniques, video in music continues to push boundaries to speak to viewers in ways never before seen. And the R&B / Soul genre is propelling this movement. With this visual musical rebirth, we 90’s and 80’s babies can celebrate that these dear elements of our childhood are here to stay.