One of 2010’s runaway video hits was Bruno Mars’ ‘Just the Way You Are’. A charming mix of live action and lo-fi animation, the video managed to seem fresh, while breathing new life into a song that had already received more than enough airplay. The reasons for its success are numerous, but it was the animated sequences that really caught the public’s eye. The image of Mars ‘drawing’ shapes with the unspooled tape to show his girlfriend how he sees her was a powerful one that played with ideas of dreams, romance, memory and self-image. Not bad for a 4 minute pop song.
Animation, Art and Music
The potential for animation to express a deeper, more poetic reality than film has been evident since the days of Walt Disney, but it’s only recently that the idea reached the mainstream. Obviously Mars isn’t the first, or the most-successful music artist to utilise this; animated music videos are big business these days. Michel Gondry has been churning out innovative stop-motion examples for years, while one of 2005’s biggest albums was Demon Days by the animated band Gorillaz. The latter’s mix of barnstorming visuals and sonic-experimentation allowed the creation of an entire alternate universe for the band to live in; a strange place where opium dens float through the sky and a young girl can keep Shaun Ryder’s head locked up in her spare room. Almost as innovative was Daft Punk’s 2001 album Discovery, which incorporated the specially made Sci-Fi Manga film Interstella 5555, blurring the line between film, animation and music video until the three became utterly interchangeable.
Animation’s Tricky Path To Recognition
With hindsight, these projects seem destined for success: charming, raucous and psychedelic, they do everything a live-action music video could and more. Given the deluge of artists now jumping on the bandwagon, it’s easy to forget that animation had a tricky path to being recognised within music. While David Bowie, Michael Jackson and Derek Jarman were showing us music videos could be art, only concept-films like Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ or ‘Yellow Submarine’ were utilising animation. It wasn’t until A-Ha’s 1985 escapist video for ‘Take On Me’ that animation produced a proper music hit, and even then the practice didn’t really catch on until the mid-90’s. It took the shifting of an entire culture: The Simpsons rising to televisual dominance, Pixar storming the box-office and graphic novels emerging from the underground, before the mainstream accepted cartoons were no longer ‘kids stuff’. The collaboration of a handful of influential bands with artists and animators: David Shrigley with Blur for ‘Good Song’, Radiohead handing ‘Paranoid Android’ over to Mangus Carlsson for visuals, Red Hot Chilli Peppers inviting Beavis and Butthead on their ‘Love Rollercoaster’, proved the final catalyst. By the time Gorillaz showed up on the scene, animation had become an accepted part of the video director’s toolbox.
This recent success of animation lies in it being able to show things live action finds difficult. Imagination, dream, movement between reality and memory are all concepts animation can show with fluid ease. The darker aspects of life, too, are up for exploration. In Shrigley’s ‘Good Song’ video, a dreaming squirrel devours his lover’s head before being butchered and left to rot: all things that would result in a live-action version getting banned, yet here are, somehow, bleakly funny. For those with less-fatalistic sensibilities, the growth in animation simply allows a 3 minute song to explore imaginative new worlds, throwing its artists into a distant future, as Linkin Park did in ‘Breaking The Habit’. Ultimately the possibilities animation offers makes it such an attractive prospect for modern artists: The potential to create a whole new world for your band to play in, or simply show your girlfriend how you really see her. Animation is now big business in music and if the success of Just the Way You Are is anything to go by, it will remain around for some time.
Author: Alfie Davenport works for DV247; Pro Audio specialists and suppliers of Fender guitars.