Thursday, May 11, 2017


Recently, my husband and I have become connoisseurs of quality music videos. At least that's what I tell myself to feel better about how much time we waste on YouTube. Sometimes we feel like watching something but don't want to commit to a full-length movie or even a TV episode, so we've been building a playlist of music videos that we enjoy watching over and over. Randon has even written a computer program that downloads new videos as we add them to our list, so that we can watch them offline and without ads (and without paying a premium for ad-free viewing). The list is about half Mika videos, with the other half from a variety of artists ranging from Janelle Monae to Pentatonix to Scissor Sisters to OK Go. The best videos have great music, of course, but they typically also have visual appeal, make an interesting point, or tell a good story.

Take, for example, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's "Same Love." We have several Macklemore videos on the list because most are hilarious, but this one has a different appeal. Or, I should say, different appeals, plural. The song itself sounds great, between Ryan Lewis's masterful production, Macklemore's smooth rapping, and Mary Lambert's beautiful chorus. The lyrics argue for gay rights and marriage equality, which makes the song personally meaningful for me. The video tells the story of a gay man from birth to death, including his difficult coming out process and his joyful wedding, which is a story I can relate to. And to top it off, the cinematography is top-notch, with nearly every shot a delight to view.

The other day we were watching Adele's "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)." We've watched the video before with friends and have discussed what a technical feat it is--for the choreographer to come up with multiple dances that look good when overlaid on top of each other, and for Adele to learn those multiple, similar-but-not-quite-the-same dances well enough to pull it off. And whoever chose that dress knew what they were doing; the intricate design adds a complexity to the overlaid images that makes it even more fascinating to watch. So as we were watching the video the other day and I was thinking of these conversations we've had about the technique behind it, I thought, "It's a shame most people who watch this don't realize what must have gone into making it." And then I immediately thought, "That's stupid. In the first place, it's pretentious to assume that I, with no training in choreography or cinematography, am capable of understanding anything 'most people' wouldn't, and in the second place whether or not you are conscious of the effort that went into making great art, you can still appreciate the end result."

That's the thing about great art--it appeals to many different people because it has multiple layers of appeal. When I was a library science student at the University of Washington, I took a class from Nancy Pearl where she talked about the different ways books appeal to readers: through plot, character, setting, and language. Her point was that different books have different appeals--some have strong characters, some have beautiful language--and so we can find books people will enjoy by understanding what appeals to that particular reader. As I thought about it, though, I realized that the books with the widest appeal are strong in all four aspects. The Harry Potter series, for example, has a captivating plot, memorable characters, unique settings, and clever language. Some would argue that popular literature is a very different thing from good literature, and I agree that the two are not necessarily the same thing, but I would also argue that the two are not mutually exclusive.

As far as I'm concerned, the best art appeals to the masses as well as to us snobs who are interested in the craft behind the art, in uncovering deeper layers of meaning. As an artist, my goal is to communicate. If I can appeal to different types of readers in multiple ways, then I am simply using multiple frequencies to broadcast my message. Whether you are listening with AM radio, FM radio, or broadband internet, if I connect with you on your personal frequency then I've succeeded.

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