Sunday, January 29, 2017

Under the Music: How a Young Thug Music Video Perfectly Defines the Art Movement of Today

The Wyclef Jean music video by Young Thug is a postmodernist masterpiece. I know that sounds really stupid when I'm talking about someone like Young Thug. And I know it sounds stupid that I'm analyzing a 2017 Rap video for any bearing on the art movement that defines today. Believe me, these are words I never thought I would say. But trust me, I think these are really important thoughts to have, and I TRULY believe that this video perfectly defines what postmodernism is in 2017. So I am going to break down the music video bit by bit and say something about why each part plays a crucial role in this thesis. 

Let me start by providing some context. In order to understand what postmodernism art is, you need to understand what modernism is. (I'm gonna cite Wikipedia cuz that shit's credible now okay?) The Wikipedia definition of modernism is: a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Basically, because of the cynicism and Earth shattering emotions that the war brought, it encouraged people to think outside the box and start producing more experimental and unique forms of art and literature. Granted, they didn't know what the response would be. All of the work was genuine but experimental. When all this new art came out and it was well received by the public, people started thinking "hey, why don't we just ALWAYS break conventions?" This is where postmodernism comes in. The Wikipedia definition of postmodernism is: a late-20th-century style and concept in the arts, architecture, and criticism that represents a departure from modernism and has at its heart a general distrust of grand theories and ideologies as well as a problematical relationship with any notion of “art.” A lot of people like to describe postmodernism by simply doing air quotations. I like to describe it as a constant self-awareness. People are now able to take art, analyze and commentate on it, and then reproduce it as art as itself. Some even believe we've ascended into a new form of art, a post-postmodernism if you will. I won't call it anything else yet as it is early, however. A popular movement in all of art right now is to be Meta. 21 Jump Street is an easy example of this. The whole movie operates on a complete self-aware basis. And that was really fresh and new to audiences when they first saw it. It's all about riding the waves of the present art movements. 

So that brings us back to Thug. Alright time to break down the video. Go ahead and give it a watch for yourself.

You can probably already see where I'm going with this. But I'd like to break it down into eighteen different moments and talk about why each of them are important and brilliant. I know it may seem a little long and convoluted (I'm gonna use the words "self-aware" a lot), but bear with me, as I learned a lot about not only the video, but what makes us as a society gravitate towards videos and content like this in general.

1. The director of the video introduces himself, is talking to us ONLY through text cuts: Even though the director isn't lying or falsifying information by telling us who he is, he is establishing himself as a character inadvertently. By having his identity be true, we suspend any sort of disconnect between this being fiction and fact.

2. He's doing everything very "literally": Everything he's doing in the video is fairly literal for the most part. We see this by starting up the video and having him click the MP3 file of the song along with a .png text of the video title with that tile background. This adds the illusion that the video was sort of hastily thrown together with minimal content to work with, a bit of a passive aggressive tone to express frustration, and of course for that self-aware statement.

3. He visually follows the instructions Thug lays out in separate prerecorded audio:  This is just a great story telling technique that keeps the eyes and the mind very engaged. He's following Thug's stupid requests and as Thug "stream of consciousness-s" his idea for the video, this video we're watching matches it exactly. EXCEPT for Thug showing up. This is to show that the director is still a professional who does exactly what he's told because he was hired, and that helps highlight the fact that Thug was not there to do his job.

4. Young Thug didn't show, so they had to improvise: this is the fulcrum of this entire video. If Young Thug had shown up on time, this video that we're currently watching wouldn't exist. It was a beautiful mistake. I'll elaborate more on this at the end of the article. 

5. Director puts in footage Thug sent in much later with a smaller aspect ratio; roasts thug: Some more shade from the director, as the small aspect ratio with relation to the regular video shows disrespect and expresses frustration. The jokes are the cherry on top. It's reinforcing us to side with the director, but also puts us in a subtle position not to hate on Thug as much because the director is doing it for us.

6. Director then explains where the video falls apart: This is where the videos main concept begins to set in motion. This is the storyline we're meant to follow. How it's told though made a huge difference.

7. " Juxtaposition" in that amazing font: Another bit of self-aware, sarcastic humor, as the director is playing a recording of some more of Thug's requests for the video. Without words we can tell that the director is condescendingly mocking Thug for using a word which people use so often now a days to make their videos look and more artistic. Obviously this video did not call for any sort of Juxtaposition.

8. "It even feels like a real video": The director uses misdirection to help immerse us in the mindset that this went so wrong and everything was awry. But the thing is, this is a real video, and for all intensive purposes, this is what was supposed to happen based on the concept of the video. 

9. Director points out that bat props are fake: This is done to highlight more mistakes and issues that went along with the video. Not only does it tie up anything that would seem off or wrong about the video, but it further pushes the narrative that so much went wrong and was off about this entire shoot. This was very deliberate.

10. Director points out the magic of editing: This is a way for the director to point out a very underappreciated job. In this day and age of postmodernism, jobs in movies and music that are normally neglected and not talked about are beginning to become more revered and appreciated. In turn, people begin to develop new appreciation for the medium. 

11. Director points out cops and tells us to remember them because they'll be back: The director is in control of the story, and it's highlighted with him telling us what to do in respect to said story. By us fixating on the fact that the cops will be back, we start to wonder and make up our own scenarios in our head about what will happen. The end result is pretty insignificant, but having us remember the policeman is important.

12. Points out how he'd fix red bathing suit in post (production), does a half-assed job: Again, this is a way for the director to convey his frustration and passive aggression towards Thug without using a single word. An eye-for-an eye-type move on his end.

13. Talks about how Thug wants to keep it cleaner for impressionable kids, then perfectly points out explicit lyrics in real time:  This is just one of my favorite parts of the whole video. The timing on this had to be perfect and we as a viewer have no idea its coming because the song is playing the whole time in the background, but we're more focused on the story. In this moment he pulls us out of the narrative and back onto the song, but only to point it out in such a negative light. God I love this video.

14. "Perhaps commenters will guess what it was": The director is now directly addressing us, and challenging us to interact and engage with the video. This isn't the first time someone has done this but its a real clever way to generate engagement on a video without directly asking for it. It also gives us a role in the video, making it even more intimate.

15. Director explains the rest of the story: This one is similar to point number 6, but we have callbacks from the beginning of the video, including those cops he was telling us about. Everything about the story sort of ties up here, now it's time to wrap up the video.

16. "Moral of the story: none of this matters": Okay so nihilism as a state of mind is kind of coming back into pop culture in a very angsty-why-does-my-life-suck-teenage way. He's playing into a very popular and up in coming mindset of today. I also believe this mindset plays into today's postmodernism because being self-aware has an element of "none of this matters" to it anyways. But the funny thing is, this does matter, because we're watching it. It also matters because he made it, even though he didn't have to. He clearly wanted to, but is playing it off as such a burden. Trust me director guy, it definitely matters.

17. "But you're still watching and the song ended so I guess it worked": See I told you it matters. He got everyone watching to sit through a song, while doing everything in his power and using all the tools his medium provides him to detract from the song and Thug's overall image. Selective attention at its best, this video worked on every level.

18. Director comments on the post credit logos: This is to fully keep up the image of him commentating on everything and being so "self-aware." Consistency and continuity. That's what the whole video and postmodernism is really all about. 

Phew, okay that was a lot I know, but hopefully you can now see from my point of view on the whole thing. And maybe you've even gained some insight about our present day art movement and what type of content is really working with us now a days. It plays into the internet and all the readily available information, the culture behind it (memes and things), as well as its overall attitude and ambiance. I think this was a true story in the video, and if so, I would like to draw a comparison to one of my favorite all time movies Jaws.  That movie was supposed to have the shark prominently filmed from all angles and perspectives. But the animatronic shark kept malfunctioning and director Steven Spielberg had to call some last minute audibles to make his movie work. He thought the best way to work around the issue was to film from the sharks POV for the majority of the movie. This was the best thing that could have happened for the film because it added mountains of suspense and tension. That was a beautiful mistake. This video is no different. What was originally supposed to be Thug's vision fell apart at the hands of Thug himself. The director had to make lemonade with some bad lemons. And boy did he find the perfect solution. I can't praise this video enough. What's even more amazing is no one is calling for Thug's head or brandishing him as a huge asshole. It's sort of implied, but I think it endearingly adds to Young Thug's charm. Props to his team for allowing the video to be released in it's present state because I really think it helped a lot with his image. For a video to rip on the artist that hard with some very valid reasoning only to help his overall image is nothing short of a masterwork in my opinion. And like I said before, it perfectly plays into our culture of not only living on the internet, but the hip hop culture as well. The genre is blowing up and taking over a lot of different lifestyles. And I think this video bridges the gap for some who were hesitant to hop aboard that train. 

So thank you for taking the time to read this very in depth analysis on a Young Thug music video. I learned a lot about the culture of today writing this, and I can only hope the same for you. Please fix and flesh this part Future Nick I trust you can close it out bang bang skeet skeet.

(That was postmodernism joke, just making sure we're on the same page).