Just My (down)size

Low-res videos are redefined for the got-to-have-it-now generation

April 19, 2007|By Ricardo Baca | Ricardo Baca,New York Times News Service

Being an adult has its privileges.

And you almost have to be 21 or older to remember the days of music videos on television. The lack of music videos on cable's Music Television has become a joke, so much so that 14-year-olds miss the point. For them, the M in MTV stands for something else.

Call it Me TV - or even Myopia Television, specializing in the pseudo-reality of shows such as Real World: Denver, The Hills and Bam's Unholy Union. Music videos are the bright snippets that play in small windows during the credits to Laguna Beach - a far cry from the heyday of primetime music-video programming.

At first, the death of videos on television was something fans mourned in the '90s - a loss for followers of the still-new visual art form. Directors such as Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry were just emerging as the music video's stars, but suddenly their vision was being hacked and shortened and eventually made extinct - on television at least.

So it made sense when the Internet, with its seemingly endless memory and thriving, widespread broadband connections, picked up where MTV dropped the ball, giving us more freedom and power than ever. Instead of watching carefully for hours in search of the one video we wanted to capture on the VCR, it's a lot easier to capture that moment now.

Our new friends Yahoo Music and MTV.com may lack the personality of 1980s MTV, but they provide us with the ultimate remote control. And that's only the beginning.

Thanks to the mammoth user-generated site YouTube, you can find any music video - current or vintage - with only a few keystrokes. And say you want to see Avril Lavigne's hot new video for "Girlfriend," which sits atop Yahoo Music's Top 10 videos chart this week. Go to YouTube, grab the provided html text and embed it into your blog or MySpace homepage so that it plays each time someone brings your page up.

In the same way that kids don't understand adults' beloved MTV of old, adults don't get the kids' new music television - the user-selected playlists that play in 4-by-5 inch windows on computers and even smaller iPod screens. While viewing the smaller, glitchier screens seems like an inconvenience to older generations, they miss out on the fact that it's the ultimate convenience.

It's what you want, when you want it, where you want it. And it's also the standard viewing method for kids who have been raised with the willingness to get their music videos (and other filmed entertainment) through the low-resolution delivery system.

While Michael Jackson and Madonna defined the music video's television age, others are stepping up to define its computer age. There's even been a subtle shift the past decade in music-video production, gearing them for the smaller screen. Just as album art has gotten less complex so it can display well on CD covers and iPod screens, videos are often presented in simpler fashion - which isn't to say they've lost any of the style.

Gondry's 2002 video for the White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Girl" was animated using Legos and programs that simulated Lego figures. It's been widely praised for its genius. The brand new Nine Inch Nails video for "Survivalism," the first single off Year Zero, is a series of surveillance camera shots captured by director Rob Sheridan. Both videos are ideal for smaller-than-average, low-resolution screens, and without losing any of the creative drive.

In 2006, Chicago band OK Go took a catchy song, "Here It Goes Again," and parlayed it into a gigantic hit on YouTube with its choreographed treadmill video. More than 17 million views later (on YouTube alone), the group's power-pop was among the hottest sounds in cyberspace.

A few weeks ago, YouTube awarded the band the most creative video award in the newly created YouTube Video Awards. The invention of such an awards ceremony can't help but remind older generations of the very first MTV Video Awards, which seemed like an indulgent upstart at the time, but has almost vintage appeal now.

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