Rock This Party Popular Music Video, by Stephen Hill
- Rock This Party (Everbody Dance Now)
- Directed by Denis
This is an example of a case study on popular music that includes a textual analysis of a music video. The case study explores a number of related issues and debates after analysing this example. The level is clearly sophisticated and is written above AS level, but this is a good example of how popular culture can be analysed in an academic manner. Why don't you have a go at analysing a video of your own in a similar manner?
Of the many music videos that have been made since the launch of YouTube in 2005 it is perhaps Denis Thibaud's promotional clip for Bob Sinclar's Rock This Party (2006) that will be remembered as a landmark production. A parodic anthology of popular music video history, Rock This Party captures both the retrospective sensibility of the contemporary music scene and the creative possibilities of recycling. Unlike other key moments in the history of popular music video, Strawberry Fields Forever (1967) by The Beatles for example, or Bohemian Rhapsody (1975) by Queen), Rock This Party does not challenge the grammar of music video production. And, indeed, in this direction, OK GO's infamous self-produced treadmill sequence for Here It Goes Again (2006) is far more representative of recent shifts towards a more ‘DIY aesthetic’. Productions such as these foreground the creativity of the individual producer and in many cases restate cinematic conventions that can be traced back to silent film and Hollywood musicals: the relationship between sound and image being pivotal to the genealogy of the genre. However, by rejecting the mainstream values of music video, productions aimed at the post-MTV market also serve to reinforce those conventions. As a consequence, understanding the difference between the way in which a multi-million dollar production makes meaning and a DIY creation is often central to the pleasure a YouTube specific music video offers its audience.
For all its revolutionary potential YouTube has to some extent reinforced the hegemony of dominant media forms. Professionally produced music videos have always been staple part of YouTube content. However, until recently these were usually user generated ‘bootleg’ editions sourced from domestic VHS cassette tapes. Today most major record labels have their own YouTube ‘channels’ streaming digitally re-mastered versions of classic clips alongside their latest releases. Exemplary of this trend is EMI America, which has made 459 videos available to Internet users by artists as diverse as Billy Idol, The Verve, The Specials, Megadeth, Tina Turner and John Lennon. Although it has to be said that very often those videos that secure the greatest number of views are not necessarily the authorised versions. For example, an unofficial version of the video for Blondie's Heart of Glass (1979) ripped from DVD and broadcast on the channel ‘susieretrofuture’ has been watched by three and half million viewers, while the official release on EMI America has been viewed by only three and a half thousand. Nevertheless, it is testimony to YouTube's influence on the market that record companies have opened their vaults for free public consumption. As its sale to Google in 2006 confirmed, YouTube is now the mainstream of music television: transforming the conventions of music video and determining new patterns of consumption.
Denis Thibaud's video for Rock This Party is an important video therefore because it has a foot in both camps: the mainstream and more specialised knowledge. On the one hand the video is professionally produced on a substantial budget: its glossy look is designed for heavy rotation on MTV and other digital channels. On the other hand, it draws heavily upon the kind of cultural archive available on YouTube. Like AllUC, Dailymotion and other websites dominated by user-generated content, the range of footage available on YouTube has made audiences for popular music video more sophisticated than ever before. It is this sophistication that the video for Rock This Party draws upon in the construction of meaning. Understanding of the text is contingent upon access to a raft of knowledge about popular music history: knowledge that will enable mastery in the code to decipher the meaning of the video. That said, as Thibaud's creation implies, audience pleasure with the music video is as much about the generic recognition of audience mimicry as it is about close deconstruction. Before we begin deconstructing the video for Bob Sinclar's Rock This Party, however, it is perhaps worth pausing to reflect upon the biography of its creator and the institutional context of the records release.
Bob Sinclar has produced music in a variety of guises since the mid 1990s including The Mighty Bop and Africanism. This more plural sense of identity reflects the reconstructed sensibility of dance music culture in general: the infinite versions of the text that exist in endless remixes, re-workings and samples. This duality is prevalent in the release for Rock This Party. In addition to the explicit sample of C+C's Everybody Dance, the song is credited also to Sinclar's co-producer Cutee B and vocalists Dollarman, Big Ali and Makedah. However by using 15 year old Canadian actor David Beaudoin in the video as the front piece for this contingent alliance Thibaud's film imposes a recognisable brand identity that unifies the track with Sinclar's preceding releases. Beaudoin starred in the videos for both Love Generation (2005) and World Hold On (2006) and the success of repeating this strategy for Rock This Party is evidenced by the songs chart success across all territories. In the UK the track reached number 3 in October 2006 while in Europe it made the top ten in Belgium, The Czeck Republic, Holland, Finland, France, Latvia, Romania and Switzerland. In America the song also made it to number one on the US Dance Chart. While it would be easy to see the international success of Rock This Party as a reflection of the globalised nature of record production, the business infrastructure underpinning Sinclar is more modest than his achievements would suggest.
Like many recording artists today Sinclar is more self-sufficient that his forbears. In part this is reflects the lower cost of music technology. However, it also reflects instability in a music industry focused on short-term profit margins. For Sinclair the key strategy for success is to own his own record label: Yellow Productions, an outfit that has gone on to remix and produce for artists as diverse as Madonna, Moby and Lionel Ritchie. While such high profile collaborations are usually licensed back to the record label of artist in question, Yellow Productions own releases are typically confined to 12-inch singles for club use. As a consequence, for his own releases, the secret of Sinclair's success has been to license records to bigger labels in other territories. For example, in the UK Yellow Productions have an exclusive deal with Defected Records who release and promote all Sinclar's material. Likewise, in the US, Sinclair is licensed to Tommy Boy Records: a label that has its origins in the New York disco scene of the late 70s.
This level of specialisation in the career of Bob Sinclar reflects wider moves within the industry towards niche marketing and the targeting of defined communities of consumers: an effect of what Chris Anderson talks about in the The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (2006). In short the combined marketing and distribution possibilities of created by the Internet and other digital technologies have opened up possibilities for the profitability of fringe creative industries. That Bob Sinclar's career is a tribute to the reconstructed economic landscape of the Twenty First Century is entirely befitting. Just as the proliferation of the Internet has disrupted traditional economic models so too has the technology underpinning dance music challenged received ideas about authenticity and authorship in popular music. It is appropriate then that Thibaud takes this tension between the real and the simulated as his subject matter for Rock This Party. To understand this more fully, however, we perhaps need to focus on the representation of performance in the music video as a whole.
From a theoretical standpoint the popular music video has long been considered the ultimate example of the post-modern text. Music video is a depthless world in which musicians lip synch in simulated depictions of musical performance or act out the fragmented narrative elements eluded to in the lyrics. Rock This Party reinforces this idea in the fluid representation of Beaudoin's identity, as he ‘becomes’ different stars at specific points in the music. For example, in the songs opening riff we see him playing air guitar in the guise of Kurt Cobain, followed by Angus Young from AC/DC. As the beat shifts into a harder R+B style, he then transforms into Justin Timberlake before becoming Bob Marley as the record then takes on a more reggae/calypso feel. This pattern continues throughout the video whereby sonic conventions are indexed to very specific visual codes. In particular the guitar riff is accompanied by depictions of rock performers (Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Beatles, AC/DC), while the softer more melodic parts are juxtaposed invocations of more traditional R+B/disco performances (Michael Jackson, Saturday Night Fever etc). It is interesting to note, however, that while Beaudoin is given license to transgress temporal and racial boundaries, there is no footage of him performing as female. This rejoinder to the dominant structure of the cultural hegemony is reinforced also by the choice of location: an affluent suburb of Montreal. And, indeed, part of the pleasure for the audience is perhaps lifestyle aspiration. This is connoted, for example, in the way that the camerawork lingers to focus on details of the house: its capacious garaging, ornate portico and imposing threshold. In this sense the celebration of the incidental material backdrop echoes the visual style of television drama: the largesse of shows like The O.C or Beverley Hills 90210. Of course the subtle codes of avarice are routinely worked into the visual presentation of Hip-Hop and R+B: the celebration of materialism or ‘bling’ that accompanies videos for artists like Jay Z and 50 Cent. And indeed an element in the construction of Rock This Party is of course the rap by Dollarman and Big Ali. However, the significance of the Rock This Party lies beyond the representation of sex, race and social class and is in the representation of pop music video history itself. To understand this, however, it is perhaps necessary to understand a little more about the broader contours of popular music video.
While some music videos affect a genuine representation of musical performance, this veneer of authenticity conceals the constructed and artificial nature of the representation. Musicianship is often central to this: the presence of guitar, bass and drums serving as motifs for a recordings musical providence. Videos in the rock idiom are particularly prone to rehearse such hackneyed depictions: mean and moody men wielding guitars and lead singers who prostrate themselves heroically at the challenge of getting to the end of the first chorus. The charm of Rock This Party, however, is it that it does none of this. Working within the dance genre the promo for the track is not pre-occupied with fabricating the circumstances of the records production: if it was then the record would focus on the studio exploits of the French DJ and not the fantatastical suburban world of 15 year old David
Forms and Conventions
He is alone in his house because his parent are on holiday so he is so happy to be alone he starts to dance in underwear in the living room
This mimetic quality is central to the forms and conventions of the clip, which derive directly from the history of pop music video. As
The shift from Tom Cruise to Kurt Cobain in the opening sequence of the video is connoted by a number of key shifts. At first
Fifteen seconds after the shift from AC/DC to Eminem the doors open and close to reveal a medium long shot of
At one minute thirty three the action shifts with a wipe right into the garage: the journey from the bedroom, which is upstairs, to the garage, which is on the ground floor, is connoted but the movement of the camera from a crane shot to a medium shot of a band ‘rehearsing’. Though this movement is accomplished in one take, a jump cut to a mid-shot of the guitarist interrupts the flow; this creates the impression that the camera enters the garage door twice: the disjointed camerawork purposefully reflecting the staccato structure of Sinclar's composition. In this sequence there is considerable camera movement as
A wipe to left heralds the next scene at one minute fifty, which takes place on the drive outside the detached house. A change in camerawork is immediately evident as the lens resumes its steady focus, this time from a low angle, on the two female actors who now sport more conventional b-girl attire: short sleeve tops, tight pants and baseball caps. While the angle of the shots puts them in an elevated position, this is undercut by the synchronised performance of a menial task (washing the car). Their subordinate subject position is reinforced then by the appearance of
The shift to black and white at two minutes ten is less expected than previous wipes, in part because the scene prior lasts longer at approximately twenty seconds but also because it is not accompanied by a major shift in the musical soundtrack.
After this interlude the structure of the song reaches its outro and the backing harmonies are repeated to which previously invocations of Bob Marley and The Beatles have been set. Once again this shift to a more melodic style is symbolised in the visual depiction of less contemporary artists: John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Michael Jackso's Thriller (1983). Neither Saturday Night Fever nor Thriller are of course music videos in the strictest sense having both been cinema releases originally. However, their presence here reflects their enduring influence upon popular music culture and provides a sense of crescendo to
On a very simple level Denis
In conclusion the factors determining the success Bob Sinclar's Rock This Party and Denis