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Reviewed by:
  • Music/Video: Histories, Aesthetics, Media ed. by Gina Arnold et al.
  • Matthew R. Crick
Music/Video: Histories, Aesthetics, Media Edited by Gina Arnold, Daniel Cookney, Kristy Fairclough, and Michael Goddard. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017, 311 pp.

The comprehensive edited volume Music/Video: Histories, Aesthetics, Media, edited by Gina Arnold, Daniel Cookney, Kirsty Fairclough, and Michael Goddard, crafts a palpable and synesthetic experience for the reader. In fact, the 311-page book, brimming with substantive notes and a weighty videography, questions the very nature of music video and the role it has played in popular culture since even before the Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star was broadcast on MTV in 1981. Music video reflects, shapes, problematizes, and challenges [End Page 62] the viewer's experience and understanding of song, sound, and the music video's raison d'être. It possesses the power to destabilize, reconstitute, and then erase classic structures of top-down media power, aesthetics, gender representation, and art.

Recognizable music videos and artists, screen captures, and original artwork populate each of the book's four distinct but connected sections: (1) "Music Video Histories In, Outside, and Beyond MTV"; (2) "Gender, Embodiment, and Sexual Representation"; (3) "The Art of Music Video"; and (4) "Digital Media and Mutations." Music/Video draws on the experience and perspectives of seventeen different authors, each with a unique view of how music video functions historically within the context of the artist's work and music video as a whole.

Section 1 ("Music Video Histories In, Outside, and Beyond MTV") sets forth the history of music video's "cultural work" (14) and the pleasures of music video as per author Sunil Manghani. Manghani concedes that music video had strong promotional use, especially in the early days with pop stars such as Michael Jackson and Duran Duran. Today, he suggests, most music videos are simply one visual and aural drop in the sea of music video content that spreads across social media.

Using the Grandmaster Flash song "The Message," Greg de Cuir Jr. proposes that hip-hop music's cultural, political, and artistic import "intersects with shifts in aesthetics and ideology in hip hop culture" (54). Cuir effectively unpacks—through lyrics and performance—the cinematic and documentary aspects of "The Message" and analyzes how the original music video's staged "reality" is further mediated and embedded culturally throughout different hiphop songs, their music videos, and lyrics and imagery referenced decades after "The Message" aired.

Julie Lobalzo Wright's exploration of the "star image" captures the fluid image of artist/icon David Bowie that established Bowie's career in music. Wright states that Bowie's "emphasis on non-normative characters, settings and circumstances" (77) in his music videos provided the continuity and foundation that challenged the typical star image at the time. Bowie's music videos also often present the popular image of the male rock star.

Music videos, as discussed, have shifted from a primarily promotional use, which began in the 1980s, to a more complex audiovisual message. In section 2 ("Gender, Embodiment, and Sexual Representation"), Benjamin Halligan probes the presentation of male lifestyle, wealth, and freedom in the form of "yacht pop." Music videos from artists such as Duran Duran and George Michael provide replacement narratives for traditional British wealth, with nouveau riche pleasures. Specifically, Halligan argues that music videos such as Duran Duran's Rio and Roxy Music's Avalon helped create an aspirational, "glamorous and enviable lifestyle" (98) that can be linked to the birth of MTV—a new broadcast network that needed single-song music videos.

Vera Brozzoni investigates the artist Björk and her personal and public display of her romantic life, as shaped by her music videos and other artistic output. According to Brozzoni, Björk's videos present a mixture of erotic and romantic love. Aided by director Chris Cunningham's own interpretation, Björk's vision finds its voice in the form of android lovers, quick cuts of self-mutilation, and bare breasts. Themes of loneliness and loss, expressed in Björk's onscreen choreography, have her "turning masochistically against herself, punching her chest" (117), and mark another phase in her music video canon.



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pp. 62-64
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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