Since 1981, when the US video channel MTV infiltrated domestic space with Video Killed the Radio Star, the music video has been both a controversial and transgressive medium. Music videos both affirm and question dominant forms of representation. They articulate questions around gender, race, class, power relations and lived realities. A promotional tool for artists, the music video also continues to be a medium for experimental and critical practice.
Beyond the videos lie constructed spaces and material realities that are not always easily visible or accessible. Interdisciplinary teams invent spatial, cinematographic, and post-production techniques to create fictional realities. Stage designs for live music performances are video sets to accommodate the different camera angles used by the audience when recording and circulating footage on social media. Meanwhile platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Facebook Live, Snapchat, Tumblr, Twitter’s Periscope, Twitch and TikTok have brought a more diverse and complex audiovisual landscape, allowing artists to produce and distribute their music and videos independently.
Music videos are remixed with new or existing footage. Circulating across platforms and territories, they often become objects of public debate. Groups of fans constitute interconnected digital subcultures of sometimes unlikely demographics; they shift between circulating, viewing, producing and commenting on the videos. During the Covid-19 pandemic, DIY music videos, dance challenges, live-streamed concerts and Zoom parties enabled spaces of solidarity and collectivity across time zones and territories.
Through a growing collection of essays, playlists and video productions, this web publication aims to involve fans, artists, designers, researchers and practitioners from different fields to engage in an ongoing exchange about the politics of music video culture. Readers are invited to navigate the publication through tags, links and queries, and to contribute with annotations or by creating their own thematic video playlist.
For the Record started as a series of live events at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. Fascinated by the structures, protocols and design strategies of music videos, film and television sets, the team decided to develop a format in which events took the form of a public recording studio, transforming the research centre at Het Nieuwe Instituut. The studio visualised elements of production and post-production that are deployed in video, and that are often invisible or inaccessible to the public. The studio was used to record the events and later circulate short recap videos via the project’s video channel, following the rhythm, duration and post-production techniques often used in music video productions. From the very first event, the team worked closely with moderator and cultural programmer Shay Kreuger, who actively involved invited guests and audience members, often video enthusiasts and experts themselves, in all the discussions. The spatial design of the recording studio was developed by Koos Breen and Jeannette Slütter, and the videography by Tanja Busking and her team.
The release of Childish Gambino’s music video This is America prompted the organisation of the first event in the series. The programme discussed the status of racism and use of propaganda in modern-day America with contributions by Esperanza Denswil, Malique Mohamud, Marina Otero Verzier, Rob Schröder, Melanin Kris, and Shay Kreuger. In the summer that followed, Beyoncé and Jay-Z (aka The Carters) released their music video Apeshit, and the team organised the second For the Record event, this time according to the methodology that would come to define the series. During the evening, invited speakers and members of the audience reflected upon forms of representation and decolonising cultural institutions through a close reading of the music video. Invited guests were dancer and choreographer Davide Bellotta, curator of the Amsterdam Museum Imara Limon, and director of Showroom MAMA Nathalie Hartjes, each bringing their own unique perspective to the discussion.
The ways in which music videos have articulated gender expressions and feminist positions since the early 1980s, was examined during For the Record: Performing Gender. Together with theorist Eliza Steinbock, information designer Gabriel A. Maher and film and video director Emanuel Adjei, the event discussed music videos from Prince, Madonna, Sevdaliza and others, with a focus on how gender is articulated through the cinematographic gaze and the performing body of the artists.
For the following event For the Record: K-Pop Fandoms and Digital Diasporas, the team invited writer and poet Momtaza Mehri to speak about how K-pop and K-drama fandoms form interconnected digital subcultures. Her lecture On Hallyu & Halimos; The Evolution of Somali K-pop Fandom was followed by contributions by respondents Natalie Nzeyimana and Juha van ‘t Zelfde, further discussing multiple dimensions of online fandoms and the role of digital platforms.
For the Record: Designing Realities was organised in collaboration with the Netherlands Film Festival. The event looked at the politics of production design and world building together with science fiction scholar Dan Hassler-Forest, video director Emma Westenberg and production designer Romke Faber. Topics ranged from a close reading of queer Afrofuturism in the work of Janelle Monáe, to design strategies to create fictional realities in music videos.
Inspired by Tom Burke’s music film From Here We Go Extreme (2019), that investigates the climate crisis through the lens of an agricultural community in the Coquimbo region of Chile, the team organised For the Record: Rendering Climate, in collaboration with FIBER’s Cartographies of the Vanishing Now programme. Together with creative director and musician Tom Burke and writer and activist James Westcott (Extinction Rebellion London), participants discussed how popular music videos take on urgent environmental issues, and examples of local and global imaginaries and visual communication strategies within artistic practice, activism and journalism.
Another important collaboration was established with the International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2019, together with which Het Nieuwe Instituut invited international filmmakers' collective The Ummah Chroma to conceive an exhibition based on their music film G/D Thyself. Spatial designer for the exhibition Lauri Faggioni was invited to speak about her work as a film-set designer, together with set and stage designer Chiara Stephenson for For the Record: Staging Realities. In their conversation with Shay Kreuger, Stephenson and Faggioni unveiled the technologies and spatial design techniques that they use in productions for music videos and live performances. Examples were the stop-motion video for Steriogram’s Walkie Talkie Man directed by Michel Gondry, for which the film set was hand-knitted by Lauri Faggioni, and the spatial strategies that were deployed by Chiara Stephenson to design the stages for Björk, Lorde and Sampha. Creative directors TAWBOX contributed to the event remotely, unpacking the scenographies and design choices for Stormzy’s Glastonbury performance.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, and millions of people under lockdown experienced a sudden reshuffling of public and private spaces, video-based platforms assured the continuation of public life, gathering and communication outside domestic environments. Produced as a ‘hybrid event’ during the first months of the pandemic - recorded at Het Nieuwe Instituut, but with the audience joining online by joining the live-stream - For the Record: Urban Imaginaries discussed ways in which local realities and the aforementioned changing notions of public space were represented in recent music videos. Invited guests were researcher, curator and writer Katayoun Arian, associate professor of sociology Marguerite van den Berg, writer and rapper Massih Hutak, and artist and saxophonist Tim Wes. Later that Summer, Tim Wes launched the release of his new music video Face Me as a video projection on the walls of Het Nieuwe Instituut.
As the pandemic continued with ongoing lockdowns and regulations, artists were forced to find other ways of sharing and performing their music online. Music festivals had to decide to postpone their events once more, or to move to digital and online environments. In collaboration with Rewire Festival, the online event For the Record: In Another Setting was organised in May 2021, exploring design tactics for collective music experiences during and beyond the pandemic. Contributing speakers were artist Alpha Rats, interdisciplinary collective Archivo Auxiliar, artist GLOR1A, founder of the Volumetric Performance Toolkit Valencia James, and artist, writer and scholar Jason King.
From 1 to 7 December 2018, For the Record travelled to New York for the exhibition and lecture series Screen Spaces, a Geography of Moving Image, examining the relationship between video and the construction of the public sphere. The programme, curated by Vere van Gool, explored video and time-based media, including net art, set-design, animation, video, reportage, music videos, television, CCTV, and social media channels, as sites of reality production and circulation. By examining the material, spatial and political dimensions of the space of the screen and the territories it mediates, the project aimed to unveil the identities, ideologies and imaginaries that inform video culture today.
Screen Spaces presented ten site-specific installations in Lower Manhattan, and took place at Anthology Film Archives, Are.na, the Bamboo Garden, Baxter St. at the Camera Club of New York, the Emily Harvey Foundation, Mathew NYC, Rhizome at ON CANAL, Seward Educational Campus, Spring Mart Bodega, and Whooden Collective. Free and open to the public, Screen Spaces transformed these sites into temporary, urban viewing, recording and broadcasting stations, as nodes in a scrolling geography across the city.
To celebrate the opening of Screen Spaces, a public programme at Anthology Film Archives on 1 December 2018 convened a group of experts in the field of media, technology, design and video to discuss how the production of reality is mediated by the architecture of the screen. Screen Spaces was documented as a live-archiving channel on Are.na, which developed a digital research, documentation and sharing platform, resulting in a publication.
Participating artists and speakers were Constant Dullaart, Naïmé Perrette, Sean Monahan, Manolis Lemos, Shigeko Kubota with exhibition design by Marlous Borm, Tayyib Ali, Analisa Teachworth, Devin Kenny, Rites Network, Angus Tarnawsky and Jan Bot with exhibition design by Koos Breen and Jeannette Slütter, JODI, Morehshin Allahyari, Arnon Grunberg, Prince Harvey, Devin Kenny, Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Legacy Russell, and Katía Truijen.
Building upon the insights and knowledge developed during the live events, conversations with artists and commissioned essays by scholars, the exhibition Set Stage Screen: Realities of Postproduction opened in June 2020 at Het Nieuwe Instituut. Through a collection of videos, designs, interviews, and essays, the installation examined the technologies, design strategies, and forms of representation in music videos and live events as sites for the production and circulation of realities. Involving a broad network of set and stage designers, architects, artists, film-makers, musicians, choreographers, media producers and cultural critics, the installation was updated with new videos and essays over time. Designed by Koos Breen and Jeannette Slütter, the site was free to use as a stage and recording station, as the audience saw fit.
In 2019, Het Nieuwe Instituut and the IFFR invited artist collective the Ummah Chroma (Terence Nance, Jenn Nkiru, Marc Thomas, Kamasi Washington and Bradford Young) to conceive an installation following their music film G/D Thyself. Their ritual space G/D Thyself. Spirit Strategies for Raising Free Black Children was the first installation designed by the Ummah Chroma, and their inaugural project in the Netherlands. Its distinct sensorial language, a result of the artists’ interdisciplinary and synergetic practice, aimed to provide a sacred space in which to explore forms of spirituality, self-expression, Black futurity, and retro-causality. Local and international artists and collectives contributed with rituals, performances, film screenings, workshops and talks.
Juha van ‘t Zelfde (artist, gardener and founder of Progress Bar) was invited to continue his research on the club as a political space for collective desire and communal joy. When the pandemic hit and clubs around the world had to close, Juha decided to work with photographer Amie Galbraith, scenographer Karl Klomp and artist and musician Gaika Tavares to transform the basement of Het Nieuwe Instituut into a temporary club. The installation uses various media to sketch a collective portrait of club culture and the feelings of being one with their surroundings and each other. After a forced period without nightlife, it allows visitors to (re)experience the togetherness and collective joy of music and dance. An interview with the collective will be published on this website in the autumn.
Similarly to Screen Spaces in New York City, the team organised a series of video installations in Rotterdam, reflecting on how the urban environment takes centre stage through video and film. Curated by Furtado Melville and Metahaven, the team invited five artists and collectives who all share a personal bond with the city of Rotterdam. By using several of the city's publicly accessible sites, the artists reconfigure the generic experience of video, forging a relationship with the embodied space that allows for messier, yet more enriching, viewing experiences. Because of the pandemic and ongoing lockdowns, the situated video channel was postponed twice, and finally took place in September 2021. Participating artists were Hannah Dawn Henderson, Safiq Nasution and former collective LFWRKS, Natalia Papaeva, Ashley Röttjers, and Geo Wyeth and Jay Tan.
In order to foster and bring together new and existing research initiatives, Het Nieuwe Instituut and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision launched an open call for researchers in October 2020, to reflect upon the politics of design in television and music video, and in the process to engage with the collection of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.
The selection committee, composed of Guus Beumer, Liselotte Doeswijk, Jason King, Johan Oomen, Eliza Steinbock, Katía Truijen and Jesse de Vos, awarded two proposals with a residency, and three extra proposals with a research stipend. The selected researchers were Archivo Auxiliar (Gabo Barranco, Ayesha Ghosh, Ramon Jaramillo, Frankie Ventura, Alicja Wozniak) with their proposal Cyberstreams, investigating the social, sonic and spatial dimensions of live-streamed events during the pandemic; Bartlebooth (Antonio Giráldez López and Pablo Ibáñez Ferrera) with Selling Bricks, examining the differences between the built environment in the northern and southern peripheries of Europe, through the Spanish trap scene and the Dutch nedertrap as case studies; KMworks (Miruna Dunu and Karin Fischnaller) who investigated the politics of deepfake technology as a design tool; Jordi Viader Guerrero with his proposal Infinite Scroll as Symbolic Form on the politics of scrolling and TikTok as a case study; and Albert Figurt with The Self Splintering Evolution of Web Music Videos, reflecting upon DIY video practice and multi-screen performances by multi-instrumentalists.
Outcomes of the research projects are included in this publication in the form of video essays and project websites, and interviews are published on the website of Het Nieuwe Instituut.
As part of the Satellite Programme of the Porto Design Biennale PDB ’21, For the Record presented a two-day lecture and workshop programme in Maus Hábitos in Porto, and Casa da Arquitectura in Matosinhos. For the lecture programme, the team invited artists and filmmakers from Porto and Lisbon, all with a unique approach to music video production. Film and music video director Vasco Mendes discussed cinematographic and post-production techniques to create distinct visual languages for the various artists he worked with. Artists Maria Reis and Sara Graça from Cafetra Records and Sreya talked about DIY practice, working as a collective and the joy of creating your own music videos using settings and techniques that are at hand such as using Instagram filters and superimposition.
For the workshop at Casa da Arquitectura, researchers both in Matosinhos and abroad joined for a hybrid conversation on music video culture, discussing a range of topics and case studies including; American Suburbia and music videos in the 1980s; the notion of ‘tarab’ in Arabic music, TikTok as a ‘meta music video’; legacies of Nigerian pop music; and the staged realities in the music video oeuvre of artist Dorian Electra. Participating researchers and organisers were Rawad Baaklini, Delany Boutkan, Erick Fowler, Anastasia Kubrak, KM Works, Fope Ojo, Marina Otero Verzier, Rui Pedro Martins, Luisa Sol, Katía Truijen, Jordi Viader Guerrero and Yesum Yoon. The contributions to the workshop are also included in the form of video playlists as part of this web publication.
From the very beginning in 2018, For the Record was conceived as a public research project, inviting many voices to participate in an ongoing conversation and reflection on the technologies, design strategies and forms of representation in music video culture. For each stage in the project - from the event series and the exhibitions to the workshops and residencies - the team collaborated with designers, festivals, filmmakers and artists to create formats that would accommodate the public aspect of the research. During the events for instance, all participants - both speakers and audience - were actively involved in the discussions, through the set-up of a public recording studio and the way in which the events were moderated.
To bring this three-year research project together while allowing the project to continue to grow with new additions and voices, the team decided to create a web publication. The publication enables researchers, artists and fans to contribute with new thematic video playlists, and to make annotations to existing videos as part of existing essays, playlists and events. This way, the videos become conversational pieces through time, in a similar way as the collective discussion of videos during the For the Record event series in Rotterdam. The team worked together once more with graphic designer Koos Breen, and with creative coder Vera van de Seyp for the development and interaction of the website, including the development of an annotation tool. In a similar way to the Soundcloud interface, the annotation tool allows the user to select a fragment of a video, and to add text or an external link. While viewing the video on the website, a ‘text video’ of annotations will play, showing the comments that connect to the selected time codes. Annotations can easily be submitted via the interface, and are added to the video within a week.
In addition to the commissioned essays, the team decided to include the possibility for users to add their own thematic video playlists. Inspired by the interface of video playlists on YouTube that are often shared among peers, the format allows for short thematic reflections and a sequence of music videos. An elaborate overview of the essays and video playlists is included in the introduction of the publication.
Once discarded as a medium after the end of MTV, the music video as a commercial, experimental and political format is more popular than ever, and continues to evolve and circulate online. For The Record aims to contribute to the discourse on the ever-expanding audio-visual universe of the medium, and to inspire researchers, artists and fans to continue to unpack the music video in all its complexities.
All the videos in this publication are included as conversation pieces: they offer the possibility to make annotations to particular moments, scenes or entire music videos, or to include links to other videos or sources. You can use the annotation tool below each video to contribute to the collective list of annotations. After submitting, the annotations are reviewed and uploaded within one week.
You are also invited to submit a thematic music video playlist. A playlist should include at least five videos that are available on YouTube or Vimeo, and an introductory text to contextualize the chosen videos. For an overview of examples and themes, see the index and scroll to ‘video playlists’. To submit a video playlist, you can use this form. After submitting, the annotations are reviewed and uploaded within one week.
The For the Record research collective organizes thematic workshops around music video culture for participants to collectively read and annotate music videos, and to create and discuss video playlists. A first workshop was organized on July 23 and 24, 2021 as part of the Satellite Program of the Porto Design Biennale.
For questions, comments, workshop enquiries, or if you would like to get in touch, please reach out to the For the Record research collective via email@example.com
Marina Otero Verzier (director of Research, HNI)
Katía Truijen (senior researcher and project lead, HNI)
Delany Boutkan (researcher, HNI)
Tony Santos and Maximin Lavoo
Marguerite van den Berg
Antonio Giraldez Lopez
Vere van Gool
Roland de Groot
Pablo Ibanez Ferrera
Gabriel A Maher
Stufish Entertainment Architects
Jordi Viader Guerrero
Juha van ’t Zelfde
The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
The Netherlands Film Academy
International Film Festival Rotterdam
Netherlands Film Festival
Porto Design Biennale 2021