VR Music Videos Give Power to the Fans



Before we could whip out our iPhones to film music videos, the budget for artists to create videos for their hit records often exceeded millions. Madonna and Michael Jackson spent upwards of $20 million for projects like “Express Yourself” and “Black or White” in a time when music video releases were as blockbuster as a new Tom Cruise movie.

Now, all some artists need to reflect their work is an app from the iTunes store. Childish Gambino, the musician alter ego of actor Donald Glover, released a video for his single "Me and Your Mama" that was designed for an immersive experience on the virtual reality app Pharos.

The mesmerizing video places you in a 360-degree view of the concert, letting you shift perspectives as you please. With a VR headset, it’ll be as if you’re viewing Gambino from the front row, but people watching the video on YouTube without a headset can also interact with the video by clicking and dragging around the screen. You can choose to focus on Gambino crooning away on stage, you can tilt the view upward to gaze at the starry dome ceiling, or you can spin around to see the crowd soaking up the performance. When it comes to a VR music video, the power’s entirely in the hands of the fans.

Advancing technology, specifically the development of VR and augmented reality (AR) programs, emphasizes user engagement and control. More and more, there’s an expectation that new software and hardware will allow to us curate even the most minute details of our lives. There’s no fan power in watching an artist dance on a gold yacht or in a swanky club in three different flashy costumes, so it appears that Gambino is onto something for the music industry; specifically, music video production.

It’s been a long time since there was any M in MTV. There’s a general disinterest in music videos, even for chart-topping pop songs. The Chainsmokers released a video for their song-of-the-summer "Closer" in October, and, frankly, no one cared to see Andrew Taggart or Halsey lip syncing through a choreographed scene. It almost seemed unnecessary, seeing that the song had immense success without it. Whereas a traditional, big-budget music video is intended to act as supplementary promotional material, the developing VR experience aims to put the fans first, perhaps giving music videos a chance for revival.

However, virtual reality isn’t just “coming soon” to the world of music: it’s already here and accessible. This past summer, Dawn Richard (also known as D∆WN, and former member of early 2000s girl-band Danity Kane) experimented with VR for “Not Above That,” a music video adventure that turns the viewer into a spaceship pilot on an intergalactic journey. Rapper Azealia Banks’ "Wallace" video takes it a step further, allowing you to insert your image into the affair. When you move, so does Banks. You’re the one in charge.

What we particularly like about Gambino’s video is the stress on the reality part of VR. Nothing can compare to seeing your favorite artist perform live at a concert, but experiencing the songs in 360-degree comes pretty close. This is also a way for artists to perform for audiences that wouldn’t be able to see them otherwise due to accessibility issues. This makes VR out to be a legitimate alteration to life, rather than a next-level-nerdy gaming toy.

According to research firm Tractica, worldwide spending on virtual reality content and hardware will reach $21.8 billion by 2020. Musicians, so often the deciders of “cool,” are getting into this budding technology and certainly have the power to accelerate it toward the mainstream and capitalize on yielding the joystick to fans. Once it gets to Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, there will be no stopping people rushing out to get their own headsets and figuring out how to tame these videos. Let’s just hope the next round of artists to hop on the VR music video train can be as tasteful in their execution as Gambino.

Culture, MusicKate KozuchComment