From Sound to Screen – How Good Music Videos Can Be


Music videos can be works of art in and of themselves. They are a director’s interpretation of a piece of music, and depending on the kind of song he or she is working with and their own creative capability, that visual rendering can lead to some fascinating results. A good music video can give its source new layers and cement the quality of that song. Here I present to you a threesome of videos that do just that.

Pearl Jam – Jeremy
Pearl Jam is not a band to make music videos. In fact, the group initially vowed to never film one! When singer Eddie Vedder met photographer Chris Cuffaro, though, he was so impressed that he asked him to choose a song of the album Ten and make a video for it. Jeremy tells the story of a young boy who is depressed by his home situation and the bullying he suffered in school, to the point that he drew a gun in class and shot himself then and there, as well as a bit about a boy Vedder knew from school, who went through the same, but shot up a classroom instead of himself.

The video captures the many nuances in the song, with its many different scenes in a studio and a forest, where a boy walks amongst and interacts with different pictures, signifying parts of his life, as well as scenes involving school and dinner with his parents. Pearl Jam themselves also feature in the video, but the focus lies on the many different ways in which Jeremy’s life and its outcome are brought to life through imagery. The result is a very powerful and emotional music video.

Nine Inch Nails – Closer
This is a strange one. Nine Inch Nails is the one-man band of Oscar-winning artist Trent Reznor, and the song Closer is its biggest hit. Its explicit and profane chorus did not impact its chart success, and it performed best in Canada, of all places. The album it is part of, The Downward Spiral, is an album exploring human deprivation and pain, and it is an immensely difficult album to listen to because of its heavy themes. Closer deals with self-hate and an obsessive lust.

Director Mark Romanek delivered one of the most visually disturbing and fascinating music videos of all time for Closer. It involves Reznor in a room belonging to what can only be the most perverted and insane scientist. Around him, there’s a pig’s head turning on a strange contraption, a heart on a plate being shocked into beating, a crucified monkey, eels, a pig’s carcass sawed in half, a naked bald woman whose eyes are covered by a black blindfold with a crucifix on it, and so on. The video explores the depths of deprivation the song presents the hearer with. With many cuts between the multitude of images that are done with great style, the whole thing is simply an overwhelming package. Viewer discretion advised.

Poets of the Fall – Carnival of Rust
Here is a video that was actually chosen as the best Finnish music video of all time back in 2006. The Finnish band Poets of the Fall is a band that mostly writes love songs, but manages to do that in a great many wonderful ways. Carnival of Rust is one of their most successful and beautiful songs, composed with strong acoustic and distorted guitars and some of the best singing singer Marko Saaresto has done so far, and that is saying a lot. He is able to enliven even the cheesiest of lyrics and alleviate them to heights most singers can only dream of. It was also Saaresto who came up with the idea for the video.

Carnival of Rust features a woman clothed in black, wearing a gasmask and carrying a giant lolly visiting the Carnival of Rust. She explores it and meets the people who work there and the attendees, all of whom are odd and detached. There is no true joy to be found there, as it is deviant and perverted. As a whole, the song and video show the painful side of unrequited love, the music translating the pain into sound and the video putting the effects of that pain on the screen. In spite of the cheap CGI the video is made with, its imagery is rich and engaging, especially Saaresto’s singing puppet. Its title is well-deserved.

All in all, these videos all have an artistic merit that goes far beyond singers singing and dancing to their music, or a band filmed performing in an empty parking lot or on a stage. They contain ideas and concepts, and try to convey an interpretation of an aural piece of art. It takes great creativity and skill from a director to do that. Actually, some of the most visually appealing film directors working today have begun by directing music videos today, like Spike Jonze and David Fincher. You might never know, the next video of a Justin Bieber song could be directed by a future Oscar-winner.



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