Has Lady Gaga single-handedly reinvigorated the music video?
According to industry insiders, yes.
And this time, the revolution is taking place on the Web.
Gaga's shape-shifting theatrics might not be entirely original -- she is, after all, a direct beneficiary of Madonna's taboo-bashing antics during
For example, the clip for "Bad Romance," which debuted on YouTube in November, has generated more than 257 million views on YouTube at last count, vs. the 90 million to date for one of last year's hottest clips,
Not only have Gaga's outrageously inventive and fashionable -- not to mention explicit -- videos raised the bar for other artists and labels, they prove big stars and labels can successfully monetize their music on the Internet.
Gaga's unique understanding of the medium, her calculated ability to fan the flames of hype, and a very concerted behind-the-scenes push by music streaming channel Vevo.com have all contributed to her chameleonic allure.
Built on an ad-sales-driven business model, Vevo sells advertising based on its videos to about 150 companies, and the artists and labels get a "sizeable" portion of the revenue, according to Vevo execs.
For the premiere of Gaga's "Telephone" music video in March, Vevo launched its biggest promotional push thus far. It took all of its artist videos on YouTube -- about 40,000 of them, collectively generating about 10 million hits per day -- and added advertising "skins" to those videos, promoting and linking to the "Telephone" video. This drove about 15 million views to the "Telephone" video on Vevo during its first 24 hours, according to Caraeff.
"We were only three months old at that point, and it was the first time we had channeled that much energy into a solitary event."
Like Madonna's "Justify My Love" video in 1990, which was banned by
Highly stylized and co-starring
"Thanks to Gaga, artists are inspired by the possibilities of the Web -- whether it's the duration or the content," says Caraeff. "They are doing more on the Web now than they could have ever done on television. They can reach more people and generate more revenue."
According to "Telephone" director
"Six or eight years ago music videos were so boring because the brief was always 'look at what's on (
Already, Gaga's influence as a sexual provocateur appears to have spread to even such long-established stars as
And while Gaga's brand of performance art hasn't ventured beyond sexual politics, it's hard to imagine the shock-and-awe controversy associated with M.I.A.'s genocide-themed "Born Free" video or
In the '80s and '90s, music videos were treated as promotional tools, like movie trailers, designed to promote album sales. When music videos went online, the audiences for them grew even as their budgets shrank along with physical album sales.
Now Gaga and other big artists are transforming videos from promotional to inherently commercial.
"We have found that advertisers have really gravitated to music videos," says Caraeff. "We have over 150 advertisers on board, from every category of advertising. And they like that we have improved the quality of those videos, because we stream them in high-definition." ("Telephone" was the first hi-def video on Vevo.)
The rights owners -- the artists, the songwriters and the publishers -- make money through the Vevo ad sales model. "For all of the content programming that Vevo has, the revenue goes directly back to the artist," Caraeff says.
But do online videos stimulate actual demand for music product? Big Champagne's Garland is unequivocal in his response. "Did elaborate videos affect demand for Madonna? Of course!" he says. "Visualizing Gaga is important, it deepens the connection between her and her fans. It all drives the phenomenon: the directorial bent and the costumery. Her visual storytelling is part of what differentiates her from the rest."
Garland says the explosion of music videos on YouTube is "a replacement behavior" for consumers of music. "The top videos are getting hundreds of millions of views -- and, in many cases, not very well-remunerated views. For some songs, YouTube is larger than P2P file sharing, in terms of fulfilling online demand. And a great deal of that demand is not even for video -- people use YouTube as a streaming audio player! I'm inclined to say that YouTube is the biggest name in Internet music. And Vevo is clever -- trying to capture some of that ad inventory back."
So where does that leave cable television networks like
"Fans now participate and often create whole ecosystems around a video," she says. They don't just watch, they share, they comment, they even create and post parody videos. The challenge is that the environment for videos is more cluttered than ever. Television still plays a critical role in helping fans cut through that clutter to discover new music."
And while CMT's Frank agrees that TV is an important medium for music video, mobile content continues to show signs of strength. "The home for the video today is where the viewer makes it," he says.
Frank predicts that Gaga's viewership levels will become the standard for labels and their biggest artists, just as "Jaws" and "Star Wars" made
"Lady Gaga is a unique artist, and attempting to replicate her playbook will almost certainly result in failure," he says. "The music business of the future requires vision and commitment -- Lady Gaga stuck to this road map and is reaping the rewards. The net result is that she proved what I've known all along: that big budgets can be successful on small Internet screens."
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