Behind The Scenes
On Animation
December 16, 2019

5 Amazing Music Videos To Steal Explainer Ideas From

Okay, okay, ‘steal’ is a harsh word. What we’re looking at today are five music videos that contain some great ideas for developing your own explainer videos. Techniques to take cues from. To be inspired by. To ste–uhh, to ‘appropriate’ for your own branded content. Let’s check out how you can apply these ideas to your own videos, whatever your stealing intentions. (We won’t tell anyone.)

1) just – radiohead: keep viewer interest by building a mystery

In Radiohead’s music video for ‘Just‘, a man in a suit lies down in the middle of a city pavement. He did not fall, is not drunk, and will not allow anyone to touch him. A crowd assembles, demanding the man tell them the reason he’s lying there. He insists, “You don’t want to know, please believe me.” A mystery builds – why is this man lying in the street?

When we develop concepts for branded videos three things are at the top of the list: staying true to the brand personality, tapping in to the viewer’s need(s) and, in this point, providing entertainment that holds the viewer’s interest.

Mystery can be a great long-term way to gain and keep viewer interest, especially given the curious nature of human beings. But if there’s anything we’ve all learned from watching the dismal fizzling end to the TV series Lost, it’s that your mystery must build toward something, even if that something is more mystery. Posing an enigmatic question to your viewer is the easy part, but to what end?

In ‘Just’, the man finally relents and tells the crowd the reason he’s lying down just as the video’s subtitles cut out. The mystery doubles down as the whole crowd listens, then proceeds to lie down on the street too. The viewer is left not with the original mystery of ‘Why is the man lying down?’ but now with the more specific burning question, ‘What did the man say?’ And to this end, one could argue ‘Just’ reveals the human need for truth, and the pain and madness that is revealed when we are denied it.

2) look what you made me do lyric video – taylor swift: dive deep into kinetic typography

Kinetic typography – also known as motion text – has been all the rage in the last couple of years. It’s a natural progression springing from a nostalgic obsession with fonts combined with the rise of explainer animation, culminating in some very interesting works of animated textual art. Among some of the most interesting are lyric videos – a type of music video created (originally by fans, then by artists themselves) to showcase the written lyrics of a song.

Taylor Swift’s lyric video for ‘Look What You Made Me Do‘ follows this trend by combining text with stylised motion graphics which support the lyrical motifs of vengeance and drama. A grainy, rough-edged art style supports the ‘edgy’ and emotionally unstable image the lyrics aim to express. A largely monochromatic red-black-white colour scheme also supports the idea of danger.

3 and 4) fell in love with a girl – the white stripes / feels like we only go backwards – tame impala: use a medium that supports your brand’s style

As mentioned above, carving out the personality of your brand or message is one of the three most important tasks for your explainer to achieve. In an ideal scenario we want to see that personality ooze from every aspect of a video – from the writing to the sound, from the minor visual choices to the major aesthetic.

As the music industry has developed to become as much about personality and presence as it has about the music, this focus on visual branding has become equally as important for artists as it has for companies. Even indie and alternative bands are in on image-branding, with artists like The White Stripes and Tame Impala producing memorable music videos perfectly suiting their independent image.

Fell In Love With A Girl‘, perhaps one of The White Stripes’ most stripped-down punk tunes, uses the traditional hands-on medium of stop-motion animation with lego pieces for a lo-fi feel. Similarly the video for ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards‘, from Tame Impala’s modern-psychedelic album Lonerism, uses a smattering of bright colours and semi-abstract shapes in constant movement to push the trippy, hallucinogenic image of the band at the time.

5) star guitar – chemical brothers: use the power of rhythm to hook your audience

There’s something naturally engaging about rhythm for most human beings. Though the effects of music and creativity on human behaviour are still somewhat of a mystery, studies do reveal there’s an innate connection between humans and rhythm beyond our cultural learnings. Seeing this rhythm emphasised visually can be downright hypnotising, especially when found in unexpected places.

In the Chemical Brothers’ video for ‘Star Guitar‘ we see the electronic beats sync up perfectly with the view outside a moving train. A railway post goes by in perfect rhythm with every snare-like ‘clap’ sound. A long jittering synth appears in time with a long, multi-wheeled train cart. As the main rhythmic measure comes into form, a distinctive spherical pole goes by with each bar. It’s a truly fascinating video to watch unfold as the music grows, and new sounds (and therefore new visuals) are introduced, all seamlessly fitting in to what would an otherwise ordinary train ride view.

It may be tempting to think that only music videos benefit from a strong visual emphasis on rhythm, but even explainer videos and branded videos can find success with a musically-focussed video. Spotify’s US launch promo aptly used music as the focal point to deliver a dynamic introduction to the wildly successful music-streaming app. Not only does the soundtrack use only music rather than narration, but the text and visuals move, cut, throb, and jump in time with the upbeat jazzy track, emphasising the ingrained nature of rhythm in our brains.

chemical brothers
kinetic typography
music videos
tame impala
taylor swift
white stripes
Written by
Maree Railton

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