Friday, 6 July 2012

Hip-hop "music" videos

With that being a very liberal use of the word "music".

In this post I'm going to be looking at several hip-hop music videos to try and get an idea of some of the tropes which keep appearing throughout the genre, as well as seeing how the videos fit in with Goodwin's music video theories.

Just a warning: I am fairly biased against the hip-hop genre. I hate it. How much do I hate it? Well, the other week I had to be taken in to hospital after randomly passing out at a party and was in there for five and a half hours not being able to eat or walk around, feeling physically sick the whole time, developing a neck ache from the shape of the 'bed' (which is really just a plastic board of some kind) whilst being tested for all sorts of things, including having to be pinned down to have a blood sample taken because of my unnatural intolerance of needles. I would take that over having to listen to hip-hop any day.

On that note, let's look at a video from an artist I would quite happily punch in the face, Eminem. Apologies if this becomes a bit laggy.

1) Lose Yourself - Eminem

The first thing we see is a use of cinematography to establish the setting: a bird's eye view of a city, followed by a wide shot of a street area. This is showing us that it is set in what appears to be a deprived area, which from my background knowledge seems to be a recurring factor of hip-hop videos.

Now, how is the artist himself presented to us?

Eminem is shown wearing both a hooded jacket and a hat in some shots, and the hat alone in others. He also appears to be trying to look angsty in a great deal of the shots - in the same manner as those individuals who find it worthwhile asking random members of the public what they're looking at.

You could say they're trying to make him look like he's a threat, or that they're trying to make him look 'cool'. Personally I think he looks like a waste of organs.

As far as intertextual references go? We see a lot of reference to "8 Mile", which IIRC was a film he brought out around the same time as this record. I am also aware that product placement is common in hip-hop. Yay for consumerism!

2) Low - Flo-Rida ft. T-Pain

Ugh, this song. Most of what is shown here is in a club, tying in with the lyrics which are about a bird in a club. As with the Eminem video, the guy is shown at times in a hooded jacket, which again appears to be to make him look threatening.

In reference to the lighting, we see a lot of shots which feature nothing but coloured lights.

I imagine this is just to remind the viewer that it is a club. In case the terrible music and shots of people dancing hadn't already managed to get this message across.

There are also a lot of women shown in the video, and as you would expect from a hip-hop video they are shown in a respectful manner -

All the shots of women dancing in this video are highly sexualised, and it's definitely worth mentioning that from what I could see none of the women appear to be on screen for a significant amount of time - suggesting that this 'hip-hop lifestyle' the video seems to celebrate sees women as objects to be used for sex as opposed to actual people. The idea of women being treated as objects could also be seen in the shot where Flo-Rida is shown completely surrounded by women, as though they are being seen as his 'property' -

3) Drop It Like It's Hot - Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell Williams

As with the Flo-Rida video, here the artist is shown completely surrounded by women - again this could be seen as objectifying women by showing them as being Snoop Dogg's possessions.

It's also worth noting that the whole video is presented in greyscale; this appears to be for artistic effect.

4) Can I Kick It? - A Tribe Called Quest

I think the most interesting point about this video is the portrayal of the artist - instead of being shown as either yobs or guys who treat women like objects, these lot actually come across as genuine nice people who have a sense of humour. Whilst they are dressed in typical hip-hop costume in the same way Eminem is in the Lose Yourself video, they aren't trying to be threatening in any way, and are shown having a laugh in a good majority of the shots.

5) Gangsta's Paradise - Coolio ft. L.V.

Firstly, Coolio is a hypocrite and I hate him. Why? He whinged and whined about Weird Al basing Amish Paradise off of this when in actuality all he's done himself is taken Pastime Paradise and shouted over it.

But that's irrelevant, what's relevant here is the video. Two things which stand out here in particular - firstly is the representation of women. Whilst the women in this video don't appear to be shown in a sexualised manner (opposing Goodwin's theory re: voyeurism in music videos to appeal to a male audience), there are some moments where the male artist is shown to have a high degree of dominance over a female in the video, e.g.

The combination of both the staging of the people in the shot and the position of the camera show Coolio to be above the female lead, rapping 'at' her, whilst she submissively listens to what he's going on about - which could be seen to suggest that males are more dominant in that the female doesn't appear to challenge anything which is being said to her.

Secondly is the artist's image - as with Eminem they seem to be trying to make him appear threatening/intimidating. This is achieved through the use of lighting; the shots featuring Coolio are particularly dark, with the only lighting covering his face -

This also reinforces the point in Goodwin's theory regarding videos containing a lot of close-ups of the artist to promote their image - with this taking it a step further and ensuring that the only thing you can see in the shot is Coolio's face.

6) Airplanes - B.o.B. ft. Hayley Williams

What's this, a hip-hop song I can sort-of tolerate? That is only because of Hayley Williams' part, mind you.

Making their reappearance from the Low video are the brightly coloured lights!

The screen in the background changes between a number of different colours, with the black, red and green being most apparent. Whilst this isn't down to being set in a club environment like the Low video, it does appear to be aiming for a similar kind of effect (making the setting seem active/lively).

In terms of voyeurism, it seems a lot tamer than the other videos - some of the shots of Hayley at the beginning could be interpreted as going out of their way to draw a male audience (thus satisfying the male gaze theory) very little attention is given to these shots in comparison to other shots of her, such as those with her in the printed photographs.

These shots also help build up the artist's image - Hayley is shown to be a regular human being, walking through typical everyday snapshots, who the audience is meant to feel that they can relate to. This contrasts to the way B.o.B. is presented - as seen in the earlier screenshots, he is dressed in a black jacket and is seen performing a variety of different arm motions towards the viewer, making him look slightly threatening, in the vein of Eminem and Coolio (though not to the same extent).

This could lead to a point regarding the representation of males and females; B.o.B. is shown to be slightly intimidating, whilst Hayley is shown to be innocent and potentially vulnerable, depending on interpretation. This could be representing the male artist having dominance over the female one.

So, to summarise and answer the question, "what are the conventions of hip-hop music videos?", we need to look at the recurring trends in these six videos.

I'm seeing two main kinds of location from these - the 'street', and the club. The 'street' features in Lose Yourself, Can I Kick It and Gangsta's Paradise, and is shown to be a deprived area with things people usually associate with deprived areas, such a hoodies/gangs. Often shown in a negative light, but not always - A Tribe Called Quest don't seem too bothered about their surroundings. The club, which features in Low (and to an extent Airplanes/Drop It Like It's Hot) typically features a lot of flashing lights and dancing.

Portrayal of Artist
As mentioned many times already in this post, a lot of the videos portray the artist as being threatening, in the sense that you wouldn't want to bump into them in a dark alley. This is especially true in the Eminem/Coolio videos, whilst being pretty much completely subverted in the A Tribe Called Quest video. This is potentially to make them appear 'cool' or 'rebellious' to their audiences - specifically picking up an appeal to teenagers. If we go by Dyer's theory of an artist's image being something which has been manufactured to make them a star who has a big appeal, we could theorise that the labels have identified what this particular market are looking for, and have built up their stars to meet these expectations.

Representation of Women
Some of the videos I have looked at here show women to be little more than sex objects, with this being especially apparent in the Drop It Like It's Hot/Low videos. These two are especially guilty as they show wide shots of the male artist surrounded by multiple women in a way which makes it look like they 'own' said women. They also show women wearing next to nothing whilst dancing suggestively, which appears to be a method of gaining the attention of heterosexual males.

Shots of Artist
There are lots of close-ups of the artists in each of these videos; going by Goodwin's theory, this is typically a demand from the institutions for the sake of making it absolutely clear to the viewer who is performing the track, as well as being a factor in building the artist's star image.


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