Music videos and films have long been an important part of audiovisual culture. For our exhibition Playback – Te Rongotuaruatanga we’ve selected some favourites from our collection to help tell the fascinating story of the evolution of the music video in Aotearoa.
He mea hirahira ngā kiriata waiata kei roto i nga āhuatanga ataata-rongo. Kei tēnei whakaaturanga ngā tino kiriata waiata i whiriwhiria e mātou i ā mātou kohinga, hei whakamārama i te whanake haeretanga o tēnei mea te kiriata waiata i Aotearoa.
In a few minutes, a video can tell a story, introduce a band or do something new and creative, and provide a memorable accompaniment to a song. The images have become crucial to the promotion and success of many hit songs.
After the invention of sound synchronisation with film in the late 1920s, it didn’t take long for music-related clips to become popular. Perhaps the earliest forerunner to music videos in New Zealand was a one-minute promotional clip of Epi Shalfoon and His Melody Boys performing in Rotorua in 1930. It is also New Zealand’s first jazz recording.
Many film directors also used pre-recorded music to make their visual work more engaging. One early example is Len Lye, who used a range of jazz and ethnographic music recordings in his creative films and adverts.
With television launching in New Zealand in the 1960s, live performance of popular music was able to move into the living room. In tandem with the rise of the 45 rpm single and music superstars like Elvis Presley and The Beatles, music film production and consumption exploded. Early New Zealand television music shows like Let’s Go, Happen Inn and C’mon captured live performances in-studio, sometimes with live audiences – a style of video* that was used for many years. Television played a huge role in pushing popularity and star power.
As film cameras became smaller and cheaper, music videos could be shot outside the studio. Many featured the band ‘larking around’ – their actions moving away from a performance or a representation of song lyrics.
Music videos began to develop as their own art form thanks to both the use of new visual and editing techniques and to the accessibility of video tape as a medium. Similar to short films, music videos often included storylines, characters or references to other popular culture or literary works. Programmes like RTR Countdown and Radio with Pictures (RWP) helped with the dissemination of these works, as happened in the United States and elsewhere with the rise of MTV. In New Zealand, local programmes placed homegrown music videos alongside overseas content.
Much like any short narrative form, music videos need to immediately grab the viewer’s attention. Clever animation, composition or live action techniques help a video stand out. At the other end of the scale, low-fi and handmade approaches hope to catch the attention of the viewer amongst more polished productions.
A great video can connect the mood and image of the band with the visual story being told, or incorporate a metanarrative that goes beyond the song to a political movement or social commentary.
Curiously, sometimes the music video is remembered more than the song itself. With the rise of the internet, songs and their videos are much more accessible than they used to be, when audiences had to wait for the once-a-week screening of C’mon or RWP. The tools to create videos are even more available now, too, leading to a democratisation of content creation. And with the viral nature of social media and internet platforms, a New Zealand-made video can easily travel around the world – one example is Princess Chelsea’s “The Cigarette Duet”.
Information for this exhibition came from the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision archive and online research. Much information was drawn from Audioculture, NZ On Screen and 5000 Ways to Love You – many thanks to these sites for their enormous banks of knowledge.
*‘Music videos’ didn’t truly come about until the mid-1970s with the widespread use of videotape. Before this, clips were film-based. We’re using the modern term to refer to the style regardless of media.
Our new music video exhibition is now live! Check out Playback: Scroll Through Our Favourite Music Videos – Te Rongotuaruatanga: Tirohia Ā Mātou Tino Kiriata Waiata.