"Telephone" is a switchboard conversation

07 May 2010|Lee Shupp

Very interesting article in the New York Times weekend edition about how people are making their own YouTube videos in response to the music videos of famous artists like Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga’s big hit “Telephone” has spun off its own ecosystem of related videos, including “how to” dance lessons that show you how to dance the Telephone moves, tribute videos that try to exactly mimic the video, and parody videos that make fun of all of the above.

While the Times article traces the beginnings back to “Crank That (Souja Boy)” DIY video responses to popular music videos have been appearing on YouTube almost from the beginning of the medium. The trend is accelerating, now mainstreaming, and catching the notice of established media. Why is this interesting?

Big budget music videos, like the rest of media, have moved beyond a world of “broadcast” media to a world of “interactive” media, where even a big budget music video is not a stand-alone media event. Instead it is the beginning of an electronic conversation, with many threads. Fans and enthusiasts make tribute videos, doing their best to exactly replicate the performance. Media critics and funsters make parody videos to add their opinions and input to the conversation. Responses to the video may be crafted from another character’s point of view, creating a series of videos that present a story over time from multiple viewpoints, with each video being a chapter in the story.

The conversation is not just between fan and artist; it also includes fan to fan, fan to non-fan, anybody who wants to join in. Sometimes the most entertaining DIY videos are from those with the least experience or talent, particularly with dance. (Maybe bad music is harder for me to watch because I’m a musician, and I just cringe in horror.)

This has in turn changed how people create and produce music videos. Now they are written with viral marketing and replication in mind. The point is not to just create a great music video; it’s to start a conversation by creating a meme and related movement that is so powerful that it creates an ecosystem all its own, spinning off how to’s, tributes, parodies, and responses to all of those. Much like melody is simplified to enable “sing-along” pop songs, dance is being simplified to enable “dance-along” dance music.

Ready for five minutes of fun? Go do a search for your favorite music video on YouTube and check out the ecosystem that it has likely created. And while you are there, here’s how you can learn the dance moves for Telephone, courtesy of dancer Dejan Tubic.
And a couple of Cheskin favorites:
Total Eclipse of the Heart: Literal Video Version
Prison Thriller

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