How Visual Albums Became the New Norm in 2016
    • THURSDAY, DECEMBER 08, 2016

    • Posted by: Amy Tang

    Let's talk about visual albums. Although visual albums were a thing way back in the 60's (The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night), it seems like it wasn't until today that they became more and more normal. So let's put them in the spotlight and talk about how they've been affecting society's ears and what it'll mean for the future of the music industry itself.

    Both audio and visual have been long-running duos. Regular music videos were extremely popular from the 80's well into the early 2000's. Since then, however, music videos have been wavering back and forth, showing subtle declines in interest. It doesn't help that the development and advancements of widespread streaming services such as Spotify has changed how the world listens to music. The ability to stream any song in the palm of your hand is incredible and has left many relying on these services instead of opting for Apple Music or Tidal (because who doesn't enjoy basically free music?). There's no denying that the progression of time has taken its toll on music videos, dropping them to the point where they're practically on the verge of extinction. What happened to the good old days when we'd gather around the television and watch MTV?

    But it seems as if visual albums are beginning to make a splash, garnering the attention of many and becoming a new way for artists to differentiate themselves from the rest. With top artists such as Beyonce and Frank Ocean hopping onto the bandwagon, the interest in opting for visuals rather than audio has substantially increased in 2016 - in trends and as well in revenues. Talk about awesome promotional techniques. And what better way to get to know these albums then to watch a few for yourselves?

    Beyonce - Lemonade

    Lemonade is Beyonce's most critically acclaimed album to date. With Beyonce's 90-year-old grandmother-in-law serving as the inspiration to the title, we can already get a sense that the visual album will be nothing but personal anecdotes that reflect on male infidelity and female self-evaluation. The film itself exudes a unique kind of brilliance - a journey or anger to recovery. According to the The Washington Post, the album was a "...triumph of design, cinematography and visual storytelling: incantatory, mysterious and deeply, almost overwhelmingly, cathartic" and in addition to that, it also grabbed all of those Grammy nominations. It's no doubt that she absolutely slays in this 45 minute film - a film that raised her above the bar. Also - taking clips from the film months after it dropped and releasing them as standalone music videos? Pretty genius marketing.

    Frank Ocean - Endless


    Though not available to the public (you can watch it *legally* on Apple Music), Frank Ocean's Endless is a 45-minute video art project that takes place in a warehouse as multiple clones of Ocean fashion wood to contribute to a spiraling staircase dominating the room. The album itself is apart of a live stream and features a variety of diverse musicians including James Blake, Sampha, Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, and Jazmine Sullivan. When Endless first dropped and then Blonde right after, it had everyone feeling a little bit confused. Was this the official project? Could we listen to it without watching the video? Why was this image of Ocean building boxes so simple, yet so groundbreaking?

    Tove Lo - Lady Wood

    With Tove Lo's passionate personality and in-depth emotion, Lady Wood addresses the wild child side of the Swedish singer as each clip in the video shows her chasing the rushes that tempt her and the lust that seduces her. Directed by Tim Erem and co-written by Tim Erem and Tove Lo, the 31-minute video also features a monologue from actress Lina Esco. From fiery car crashes to inexplicable steamy shots, Tove Lo seriously drops some serious visual magic. She took a "traditional" pop album and turned it into something bigger. She transforms our perspective and impressions on what the album should be viewed as. When I listened to the album's title track, I thought it was just your average pop song. With simple lyrics and simple structure, I was caught off guard when her visual interpretation represented something that I could've never imagined just by listening - and for all of the tracks. Instead of envisioning the album with an upbeat ambiance, Tove Lo shows how dark and sadistic her interpretation of the project is, giving us a unique perspective.

    Florence + The Machine - The Odyssey

    In the 47-minute film, Florence + The Machine gathers clips released in 2015 from their album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. "The film is titled The Odyssey because it follows Welch's journey through the storm of heartbreak," director Vincent Haycock stated. The visual representation shows Welch meandering through streets and apartments battling off blood-thirsty crowds and showing off temper tantrums as she sings about her conflicted feelings throughout the entirety of the album.

    So what do these albums all have in common? If there's one thing for sure, it's that these visual music videos promote an emotional outlet for artists to create and have fun with releasing their new songs. It's a way for artists to connect to their audiences directly. These artists are allowing their audiences to view their music the way they want us to. It makes it that much more personal, making it one of the main reasons why listeners are aware and interested in the concept of visual albums. Think of it as an evolving technique from your standard music video and these artists have turned something fleeting into something fantastically permanent. With their ability to thread their music into short films and narratives, these artists have come out on top by showing the world their personal projects, reflecting on issues that lie in themselves and society.

    Keep in mind that visual albums have always been existing conceptually with other artists such as Kanye West, Animal Collective, and even going further back with the Beatles. So does this mean that visual albums will continually grow and develop? In a study done by Microscoft, the rise of smartphones have shortened our attention spans from twelve seconds to eight. So maybe not everyone will have the tolerance to sit through a twelve minute video. In a review by Complex, listening to Endless while being aided with visuals was something that complicated the experience. Consequence of Sound, however, stated the opposite with Lemonade. Why?

    So are visual albums just a creative way of reviving the concept of music videos? With a handful of visual albums released in 2016, it'll continue to grow and evolve. It may be hard to believe, but we're only at the beginning of the visual era.

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