Special Effects In Music Videos: A-ha vs. Kanye West

Promotional music videos have come an exceedingly long way since their creation in 1981 when The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ became the first ever play on MTV. This landmark event in music history set the story for every record release in its wake with music videos becoming a vital contribution to music star success. Arguably no one will ever be able to eclipse the mammoth popularity and critical acclaim of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video, despite the continual strive of his predecessors to achieve if only a small slice of his accomplishment. Progress twenty eight years later and you have a music scene that is as concerned about visual image as ever. Having a unique and appealing look can push you a considerable distance as a performer but it’s those that produce the best efforts of breaking artistry barriers that deserve the largest respect. A quarter of a century separate the music videos ‘Take On Me’ by A-ha and ‘Power’ by Kanye West, but both artists had intentions to valiantly leap ahead of their contemporaries with music videos that aimed to go down in history. Although they are two entirely different music video projects, it is the innovative use of special effects that link them.

When ‘Take On Me’ was projected onto the world no one could predict a number one placing at the top of the US charts, a Gold selling status and six MTV Video Music Awards for this once unknown Norwegian band. In a career move that resulted in A-ha becoming the music act on everyone’s lips, the Steve Barron directed video was forged from revolutionary pencil-sketch animation called rotoscoping. The video conveys scenes of an attractive woman immersing herself in a comic strip world where she is enticed by sketched lead singer Morten Harket. The couple entail in a dramatic chase from a villain duo before the woman returns to the real world with a now humanly formed Harket waiting to surprise her. When the MTV Video Music Awards came around the year after its release the band managed to clear-up, earning six awards including the ultimate accolade Video of the Year. This achievement saw them become cemented as one of the biggest winners of the awards ever.

‘Power’ on the other hand came from the fully established rap icon Kanye West. The Atlanta MC was already four albums and twenty one music videos down before the video to ‘Power’ was released in August 2010. Produced by first time music video-maker Marco Brambilla, West says the inspiration for the video came from ‘his dreams, the things he sees and the things he felt as a child’.  Through the video he expresses his ‘love with paintings and going to art school’. The noticeably short video of 1:33 consists of just one scene with the camera panning out to reveal West amongst a Sistine chapel artwork setting joined by a variety of animated mythical characters. Riddled with a mass of hidden meanings referencing both Egyptian and Greek mythology, the crafted cinematography makes the video look like a moving painting. With this outstanding piece of work West continues to prove he is one of the few artists of today that fully understands how exciting and powerful music videos can be. When comparing the two time periods for music video production there is a lot fiercer competition on the music channels in 2010, so whether West manages to pick up any MTV Video Music Awards at next year’s proceedings is debateable. After all, ‘Power’ wasn’t quite a world-wide smash (#22 in the US and only #36 in the UK) and video awards are all too often handed out for singles with the biggest chart success .

Filming technology has greatly changed over the years and the methods used to calculate music video success has also improved. Tens of millions of views on YouTube are now common for the pop stars of today and usually indicate how the single will perform in the charts. West’s ‘Power’ has clocked up fourteen and a half millions views to date whilst A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ only manages to achieve half of this number at seven million. Had YouTube existed back in the early 1980s this statistic would surely be dramatically reversed. The capabilities of music videos will continue to broaden and certain work will have the power rise above others, particularly when the addition of dazzling special effects comes into play. However, it is comfortably certain that visual promos of the future will have to try increasingly harder to amaze and entertain us to a level which has yet to been seen.


Aha- Take On Me

Kanye West- Power
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