Music videos have evolved beyond mere visual accompaniments to songs; they have become a powerful medium for narrative disruption. These videos defy traditional storytelling structures, embracing nonlinear narratives and fragmented sequences.
By challenging our expectations, they invite us to question and reinterpret the meaning behind the visuals, creating a unique and engaging viewing experience that encourages active participation from the audience. Unlike conventional music videos with straightforward messages, narrative disruption music videos are not solely focused on changing minds. Instead, they aim to help viewers understand themselves better by evoking emotional responses. Watching a narrative disruption music video and feeling something becomes an opportunity for self-discovery and introspection.
Introducing Narrative Disruption in Music Videos
Music videos are vastly different from other forms of visual media because of what they are. Consider the academic paper “Music Videos: The Look of the Sound” by Pat Aufderheide. Pat Aufderheide is In These Times in Washington, D.C.’s cultural editor and a visiting professor in International Studies at Duke University. “Music videos have also set themselves free fi-om the television set, inserting themselves into movie theatres, popping up in shopping malls and department store windows, becoming actors in both live performances and the club scene. As omnivorous as they are pervasive, they draw on and influence the traditional image-shaping fields of fashion and advertising-even political campaigning.” Let’s delve into a few examples of music videos that have successfully disrupted narratives during their time:
“This Is America” By Childish Gambino
Through its powerful commentary on gun violence, racism, and the state of America, this video challenges viewers to confront uncomfortable truths.
“Gambino uses his platform to voice just some of the troubling social problems endured by Black communities in Trump’s America. In just 4 minutes, it references prevalent issues from gun violence to police brutality. Having racked up close to 150 million views on YouTube, ‘This Is America’ has proved to be a huge success, predominantly because of its power to provoke political conversation. With one video and one rap Gambino has highlighted many of the hardships within the USA. The power of the visuals conveys dark themes, and clearly, if you isolate the music from the video, these political nuances will be missed. That said, its fundamental political message is also apparent in Gambino’s use of music. The track features backing vocals by American rappers Young Thug, Slim Jxmmi, BlocBoy, 21 Savage and Quavo, and draws on a number of musical styles.”Lola Grieve of The Oxford Student
“Formation” By Beyoncé
Addressing racial identity, police brutality, and Black empowerment, this video asserts a strong narrative that demands attention and reflection.
“The Melina Matsoukas-directed “Formation” video came as a surprise the day before Queen Bey was set to headline the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. With its powerful messages about Black culture, its debut during Black History Month was not only strategic but fitting. In the music video, Beyoncé addressed issues of police brutality, remembered Hurricane Katrina and danced over lyrics that flaunted her Black pride, her country roots and her Creole background. The song and music video sparked a backlash from conservatives and politicians, who called the Houston native out for allegedly spreading anti-police messages.”Sweenie Saint-Vil Stones
“Alright” by Kendrick Lamar
Exploring themes of police brutality, racism, and resilience within the Black community, this video disrupts conventional narratives by presenting a raw and honest portrayal of societal struggles.
“Four hundred years ago, as slaves, we prayed and sung joyful songs to keep our heads level-headed with what was going on. Four hundred years later, we still need that music to heal. And I think that ‘Alright’ is definitely one of those records that makes you feel good no matter what the times are.”Kendrick Lamar in an interview with Miles Marshall Lewis.
“Borders” by M.I.A.
Tackling the refugee crisis, immigration, and global inequality, this video brings attention to pressing social issues, urging viewers to reconsider their perspectives.
“The video for “Borders,” a song off her forthcoming album Matahdatah, features images recalling all sorts of migrations from the developing world—there are people crossing deserts, fences, and bodies of water. Though much of M.I.A.’s work has been about women and children, this video is filled with brown men: the ultimate bogeyman for many in the West stereotyped as terrorists, criminals, and job-takers.” She continues, “The most powerful thing about “Borders” is that the mantra of “what’s up with that?” is not a condemnation. It’s a question. Standing calmly in front of representations of the most desperate populations in the world, M.I.A. asks it again and again. What’s your answer?”Spencer Kornhaber; The Atlantic
“Where Is the Love?” by The Black-Eyed Peas
This video serves as a call for unity while addressing various social issues such as terrorism, war, and discrimination, effectively disrupting traditional narratives of division.
“The music video highlights the neglect of LA’s poor neighbourhoods while wars are waged overseas. The members of the group post images of question marks throughout East LA as a symbol of the song’s central question, and children and others from the city join the chorus to plead, “Where is the love?” During the third verse, the video provides an example of common negative and divisive portrayals of African Americans in the media, showing Apl.de.ap being chased by white police officers. In September 2016 the Black Eyed Peas updated the song as “#WHERESTHELOVE ft. The World” and released a new video that places it in a much broader context.”
Voices Across Time from the University of Pittsburgh
“Zombie” by The Cranberries
Symbolically depicting the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the impact of political violence, this video challenges narratives of conflict and prompts reflection on the consequences of such strife.
“Zombie’s genesis is traceable to March 20, 1993, when two bombs, planted by the Irish Republican Army, exploded in the northern English town of Warrington. The blast from the second bomb injured dozens of people, but most cruelly claimed the lives of three-year-old Jonathan Ball and 12-year-old Tim Parry: a twin tragedy that shocked and appalled both the UK and Irish public. Deeply affected by the tragedy, O’Riordan began working on a song that reflected upon the event. However, unlike many Cranberries tracks that sprang from group collaboration, the formative ‘Zombie’ was composed alone by O’ Riordan during downtime from her band’s punishing tour schedule.”
“Same Love” By Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Ft. Mary Lambert
Advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and challenging homophobia, this video disrupts societal narratives by promoting acceptance and equality.
“Same Love” — a call to action to support marriage equality — was released in July of 2012, nearly three years before same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide. It became a radio hit around the summer of 2013 when the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down. While songs like Madonna‘s “Express Yourself” or Whitney Houston‘s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” have long been hailed as Pride anthems, “Same Love” was one of the first mainstream hits to outwardly vocalize support for LGBTQ+ rights and marriage equality, and to condemn stereotypes attributed to people of the community.”Alex Gonzalez
All in All
These music videos exemplify thought-provoking social commentary through their artistic expression. Each explores various aspects of society, aiming to spark conversations and raise awareness about important topics.
In conclusion, Narrative disruption in music videos offers a refreshing and impactful approach to storytelling. It challenges our preconceived notions, encourages active engagement, and fosters introspection. We would love to hear some of your song suggestions that embody the spirit of narrative disruption in music videos!