Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Some years ago, I sometimes noticed that VH1 would actually play music videos in the wee hours of the morning (when I'm usually sound asleep).  I like music videos, so one day (May 26, 2008 to be precise) I set my DVD recorder to automatically record the channel's broadcast onto a DVD-R beginning at 3:30am, until the DVD ran out of room a little over 3 hours later.  I was asleep, so it recorded everything, commercials and all, and I didn't watch back what I'd recorded until late morning.  I didn't realize it at the time, but what I had captured was a snapshot of the music scene during a time of transition, because some of the era's biggest music stars were just emerging this year while others were on the way out.

     I watched the DVD-R again earlier today, curious to see if anything would strike me as unusual or noteworthy.  One difference between then and now is that I didn't see any mention of Facebook in the ads.  One commercial showed an iPhone-like device but it was showing a person's MySpace page (although it looked more like a message-oriented Facebook page than the usual graphics-heavy MySpace page).  I was surprised by how many of the artists seemed to be in the serious, singer-songwriter vein that would appeal to an older audience.  Not many scenes of wild parties, lots of skin, etc., such as one thinks of when one thinks of modern music videos (of course this could have something to do with VH1 historically skewing towards an older demographic than its sister channel MTV).  Another thing that I was surprised by is how I hadn't heard of some of these artists; they got their video on TV and then seemingly faded away.

     Both then and now, my very favorite videos on the DVD-R were Coldplay's "Violet Hill," Ben Jelen's "Wreckage" and Madonna/Timberlake's "4 Minutes," all of which are really catchy and intriguing.  To a lesser extent, I also enjoyed Sara Bareilles' "Bottle It Up," Silverchair's "Straight Lines" (which sounded like a Newsboys song), Yael Naim's "New Soul," Alicia Keys' "Teenage Love Affair," Alanis Morrisette's "Underneath," and Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours."  Gavin DeGraw's "In Love With A Girl" is initially catchy but soon becomes irritating (perhaps the corny video contributes to this).  Every other music video on the DVD-R is (and was at the time) fairly forgettable to me.

     Alicia Keys' "Teenage Love Affair" and Alanis Morrissette's "Underneath" both were underwhelming to me at the time; it wasn't until watching the videos again today that I really appreciated their merits.  Back in 2008, it may have seemed that Alanis' more recent efforts failed to measure up to her 1990s peak, but hearing it now, it sounds like it could have been from then, albeit lacking the heavy 1990s guitar sound.  In fact, I've since heard "Underneath" being played on the radio in department stores often enough to make it seem quite familiar.  Also on the DVD-R, there's a short clip -- an ad actually -- where Alanis sings "You Oughtta Know" a capella.  Perhaps Alanis was attempting a bit of a comeback at this point... I'm not sure if it worked, but it likely worked better then than it would now (she has in fact seemed to be trying to score a comeback recently).  

     Alicia Keys in 2013 seems to be in the position now that Alanis was in 2008, trying to get back in the public eye after a brief absence to promote her new album.  In 2008, Alicia's song "Teenage Love Affair" had struck me as a disappointing follow-up to her smash hit "No One" (my favorite song of hers).  Listening to "Teenage Love Affair" now, however, I was instead struck by what a classic Motown style sound it has, like it could have been recorded in the 1960s or 1970s (and that's a good thing).

                                                                             Yael Naim's video for "New Soul" (2008)

     Among the artists on the DVD-R who I'd completely forgotten about were Yael Naim, Olivia Broadfield and Paddy Casey.   Yael Naim, who looked and sounded like a cross between Natalie Merchant and Norah Jones, had a top-ten hit called "New Soul" that was released in the U.S. in March 2008.  After that, she unfortunately faded away into obscurity.  Olivia Broadfield's video was a throwback to the late 1980s when a female artist didn't need to show much of herself on screen.  She is still active, but her Wikipedia entry is only around 8 sentences long.  (Forget that, though -- check out her official website.) As for Paddy Casey, Wikipedia reveals that he is an Irish singer whose debut album came out in 1999, but he hasn't put out an album since 2007.  "In March 2008, MTV US promoted him as [an] MTV Buzzworthy Artist on their TV channel and website," his Wikipedia entry notes, which would be the right timeframe for this May 2008 DVD-R of VH1 airplay.

     As noted earlier, Ben Jelen's "Wreckage" was one of my favorite songs on here (both then and now), and it's a shame that he is not more well-known.

                                                                        Ben Jelen's music video for "Wreckage" (2008)

     At the beginning of this post I mentioned that 2008 was a time of transition in music.  Some of today's biggest artists like Adele, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga had yet to release their debut albums when I recorded that VH1 airplay on May 26, 2008.  Another of today's hottest artists, Rihanna, had already made her mark at this time; her debut album was released in 2005 and a song from her third album was aired on VH1 that morning ("Take A Bow," a slower song that gives little hint of her amped-up anthemic sound). 

     Adele was also present that morning of May 26th.  Both Adele and Duffy were spotlighted as new artists to watch.  Adele's first album 19 was released in the USA a couple weeks later (June 10) although it had already been released in Europe and Australia back in January.  The Wikipedia entry for Duffy notes that, "By May, 'Mercy' was a staple on VH1," and so it was -- aired twice within the three hours I recorded, in fact.  Interesting that Adele and Duffy came to the public's attention around the same time and while Adele has put out the biggest-selling album in recent memory (21, her follow-up to 19), Duffy took "an extended hiatus from music" in early 2011 and has yet to re-emerge.

     Two of the biggest stars to emerge in 2008 are nowhere to be seen in this 3-hour time-capsule from May 26th.  Although Lady Gaga's song "Just Dance" was released as a single in April, and the music video for it came out in May, her debut album The Fame wasn't released in the U.S. until late October.  Even the Wikipedia entry for her was created only in July 2008.  On May 6, Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" was released as a single, ahead of her debut album One of the Boys on June 17th.  The Wikipedia entry for Katy was created on March 22, 2008.  As the flamboyant, dramatic appearances of Katy and Gaga gained popularity in the pop music scene, influencing those who rose to prominence shortly after them (including perhaps Ke$ha and Nicki Minaj, whose debut albums appeared in 2010), the era before their fame seems ever more remote, even though it was only five years ago.  Looking back on the music videos of 2008 (at least those that aired on VH1) gives the impression of a simpler time, where less thought seemed to be given to wigs and wardrobe.

      After writing all of the above (and by then it was 3am), I noticed that VH1 and MTV both still have music video blocks scheduled for the wee morning hours.  The MTV block of videos runs from 4am to 9am and is called AMTV, while the VH1 block is titled Jump Start (as it was back in 2008) and runs from 4am to 11am.  (I'm not sure if this is every day or what.)   VH1 still has the You Oughta Know feature spotlighting new artists (click here for the You Oughta Know part of their website).   I sat and watched an hour (4am to 5am) of both blocks last night and found that although there was a little bit more party-pop music on display than I had noticed in 2008, there was also singers still singing catchy songs with an acoustic guitar and seemingly little attention given to "wigs and wardrobe."  An example would be American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, whose song "Home" has a very polished sound while remaining earthy and real.  Alicia Keys was also aired last night, and while her comeback song "Girl on Fire" was more amped-up (even featuring Nicki Minaj as a guest), the video they aired ("Brand New Me") was once again more in the more soulful, classic style that I had observed in 2008.

     So, while important and influential artists debuted in 2008 and changed music, some things never seem to change, or have a habit of coming back in style.  The increase in popularity of one type of music doesn't necessarily mean the demise of another.  So, if anyone wants to get a snapshot of what is happening in music in 2013, I'd recommend recording a block of these music videos being played on VH1 and MTV (yes, they still play them) and, who knows, you might someday find yourself noticing things about today's music that you didn't recognize at the time.

Here's the VH-1 playlist on Monday, May 26, 2008 from 3:30am to 6:40am::

SILVERCHAIR, "Straight Lines"
YAEL NAIM, "New Soul"
R.E.M., "Hollow Man"
AMY WINEHOUSE, "Tears Dry On Their Own"
ADELE, "Chasing Pavements"
THE KOOKS, "Always Where I Need To Be"
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, "I Will Posess Your Heart"
DUFFY, "Mercy"
OK GO, "Here It Goes Again"
MOTLEY CRUE, "Saints of Los Angeles"
GAVIN ROSSDALE, "Love Remains the Same"
COLDPLAY, "Violet Hill"
3 DOORS DOWN, "It's Not My Time"
- YOU OUGHTA KNOW segment: DUFFY [repeated]
DUFFY, "Mercy" [repeated]
FERRAS, "Hollywood's Not America"
ALICIA KEYS, "Teenage Love Affair"
NATASHA BEDINGFIELD, "Pocketful Of Sunshine"
BEN JELEN, "Wreckage"
RIHANNA, "Take A Bow"
JUSTIN NOZUKA, "After Tonight"
ASHANTI, "The Way That I Love You"
GAVIN DeGRAW, "In Love With A Girl"
LIFEHOUSE, "Whatever It Takes"
- NEWS about FERGIE album The Dutchess (Deluxe Edition) release
JASON MRAZ: "I'm Yours"