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What are the music video cliches you've noticed...

Don't know why but probably thanks to antville it's clearer and with the help of others I'm reminded of the short memories in the world of promos and how much recurs and repeats.

I thought it would be fun to list tropes that seem to pop up a lot in videos - and seeing if there's an origin point for this. I'm not talking about mimicry or homage, like I've been accused of (and probably should accept to some degree).

To start with:

  • Bands on rooftops (I'm going to say this is U2's fault)
  • Bands in power plants / warehouses (when did metal move from Tolkien-esque worship of the outdoors into sparks factories)
  • Car crashes and their aftermath
  • The story that plays out in reverse (and usually we find a car crash is involved)

Any more come to mind?

, February 7, 2006 at 6:53:15 PM CET

Forced perspective. The lead singer looking up at the camera while the room (usually all one color) appears to spin around like a top, or something like that. It's all very annoying...

Also, bands/individuals performing in rainstorms during the "dramatic" part of a song.

hassinator, February 7, 2006 at 6:54:51 PM CET

band on rooftops - maybe the beatles have copywright on this one!

remember: talent borrows, genius steals

benroll, February 7, 2006 at 6:59:22 PM CET

Band multiples:- Look out there's loads of me!

And on the backwards thing, check out... Videoville:Genres:Backwards

icyhotstunta, February 7, 2006 at 7:11:03 PM CET

when you steal it's homage, but when other people do it, it's cliché? rad, let me get some of THAT tasty rationale!

kevathens, February 7, 2006 at 7:16:39 PM CET

UPDATE: Clichés now listed at Videoville

Cliché is just when something is overdone. Homage is a direct reference/tribute to something else.

Merriam Webster's cliche: 1 : a trite phrase or expression; also : the idea expressed by it 2 : a hackneyed theme, characterization, or situation 3 : something (as a menu item) that has become overly familiar or commonplace

And homage.. 2 a : expression of high regard : RESPECT -- often used with pay b : something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another : TRIBUTE

benroll, February 7, 2006 at 8:02:17 PM CET

And then there's pastiche: The band are performing in a backwards car crash on the roof of a power station......

familiar, February 7, 2006 at 8:07:08 PM CET

... but that's not the band, those are people with animal heads!

isaacrentz, February 7, 2006 at 8:18:06 PM CET

People just standing there holding signs with personal or vaguely proverbial statements written on them.

biccamera, February 7, 2006 at 8:42:48 PM CET

Slo-mo singing. the band sings to the track at twice the speed and then it is slowed down. or something like that. Anyway, it makes me cringe as it is it seems to suggest that the singing is more heartfelt. eg. Yellow (coldplay), Mr writer (stereophonics). In fact probably all the videos by those two bands. And in reverse. Probably.

progosk, February 7, 2006 at 8:54:42 PM CET

here's a simple but recurring one: the band (or members) walking around (somewhere) singing. oh and, of course, bands playing in forests.

also, the heart of a million videos: suddenly folks start group dancing.

familiar, February 7, 2006 at 8:57:50 PM CET

Mirrors. Lots of mirrors. In the dark? Wow why are there so many images of the band? Oh! The lights came on and now we can see all the mirrors. Let's do that again...

progosk, February 7, 2006 at 8:59:49 PM CET

bare, swinging lightbulbs (to be honest i haven't seen too many of those lately...)

kevathens, February 7, 2006 at 9:05:55 PM CET

I remember VH1 or VH1 Classic doing a show (as they do nowadays) of 20 worst music video cliches.. Couldn't find anything on their site for it though :(

I remember rain, fog, and I think their most clichéd video was Bonnie Tyler "Total Eclipse of the Heart" or something similar..

scudmore, February 7, 2006 at 9:18:49 PM CET

i'd love to see somebody do a shot-for-shot remake of the 'total eclipse of the heart' video with another artist. i've long been looking for the excuse but it just never seems to work...

captainmarc22, February 7, 2006 at 9:56:02 PM CET

scudmore that would be awesome. Then do a Ben Gibbard / Apple press release from Bonnie Tyler saying the video ripped her off.....

biccamera I disagree w/ slow motion singing being a cliche - it's a technique just like adjusting the shutter or using flourescent lights.

I just read a myspace bulletin of some band describing the awesome view on the roof they shot their video on - like they were breaking ground because the view was so awesome. pretty funny.

we sorta touched on this w/ that albertin thread - the cliched creepy video - prob. originated w/ NIN Closer and Marilyn Manson's sigismondi videos - ya know - bugs, surgical isntruments, dirty cellars, sickly people. I love "Closer" but hate about every other video that does this shit. Not in terms of original vs. unoriginal but cause they're just vapid - they show no ideas, just creepy production design.

familiar, February 7, 2006 at 10:01:26 PM CET

That weird imagery cliche originated well before those videos were made. "Weird" = "interesting" for some people, it seems.

benroll, February 7, 2006 at 10:04:07 PM CET

A vase of flowers tumbles earthward and shatters on the floor in slo-mo.

kevathens, February 7, 2006 at 10:18:24 PM CET

Waking up suddenly from a nightmare (et tu, Axl?).

Spike makes fun of clichés a lot in his work, doesn't he?

captainmarc22, February 7, 2006 at 10:37:52 PM CET

one thing i'm sick of and I know will never stop is the "ironic place to have a performance" video - simply think of a place you're least likely to see a cool rock band perform (an old folk's home, a family restaurant, a bar mitzvah, a 1st Grade school play) and voila. You just came up with a played-out music video.

familiar, February 7, 2006 at 10:48:17 PM CET

Film strips... that last image posted just reminded me.

claire., February 7, 2006 at 11:47:09 PM CET

How about rappers dripping in gold, fur and diamonds, surrounded by tacky, half naked girls shaking their booty into the camera?

chewie, February 8, 2006 at 12:41:45 AM CET

I can't believe no one has mentioned hip hop/r+b videos.....

Money (counting), gold chains and diamonds, driving around, hub caps, girls shaking their thing, most of there friends in the background, beach/street/backyard/boat parties, in da club, CRYSTALLLLL, token celebrities (usually other rappers or boxers), prison stories (and everything that goes with it), small children body-poppin, rooms made of lights (see puff daddy), wet roads, police harassment .......

........ and don't forget technique..... fish-eye, lots of slow mo, cutting by constantly fading to black, colourful wide screen bars, blue screen shots with tons of graphics (see Eminem).... lots of retouching and face masking (see J-Low)

..... there has to be some more?

familiar, February 8, 2006 at 12:53:46 AM CET

Hmmm... when you point out things like gold chains, booty, and hub caps, you guys are talking about stereotypes, not cliches. There is a difference. These are images that are representative of hip-hop culture, and not constructs of the film/video industry. Talk set design and technique, and you've got some points.

gwan, February 8, 2006 at 1:28:15 AM CET

STOP-MOTION ANIMATION!!!!!!!!!, overly simple animation i,e, shoes or other house hold items moving around on there own. people in box rooms, "crazy people" Wide open desertscapes... anything in the woods.

pops, February 8, 2006 at 2:25:15 AM CET


vijay, February 8, 2006 at 2:49:30 AM CET

theatrical representation of the band playing the song

i can't remember the exact term but basing the video on other works of art, like what romanek did with joel-peter witkins photography for nin closer "or so i hear"

quixoticnyc, February 8, 2006 at 5:04:44 AM CET

Maybe its me but the idea of flat lo-fi 2d graphics that are done in a 70's style and/or reference old video games are fairly cliche.

While many of the above cliches definitely have me laughin cause of how true they are, I think often the real problem is simply either lack of great execution or really fresh concept and less whether it rings of something we've seen before. A few threads ago someone compared zombie girls that were dancing and washing cars to window licker. As far as I can tell, the only similarity is makeup, car, girls and silly fun approach. Yet I admit I too immediately thought this person likes Window Licker. Whats this mean? Maybe sometimes techniques, or ideas start to become a bit engrained in our cultural language and we can't shake it.

This week I am shooting a performance video (I promised myself for ages that I wouldnt do another). I'm kind of excited to see just how successful I can be at making a minimal and hoepfully uncoventional performance music video. Hope to post it soon.

biccamera, February 8, 2006 at 9:26:54 AM CET

Offices. People who work in offices are, like, robots, man. What people in offices really want is a bunch of kids with big hair and skinny legs to tell them to 'lighten up'.

captainmarc22, February 8, 2006 at 10:48:43 AM CET

ah yeah - everything is grey and sterile. An epiphany occurs - and then the aforementioned drone finds himself outside in nature.

Another one - call it the Blind Melon bee girl story - wacky protagonist walks around, and everyone is unfriendly to the protagonist's quirks. Ends with them finding similar people where they can be themselves.

Another take on this is the normal person walking around, but everyone has some weird trait that he doesn't. Ends with him acquiring that trait or finding someone who is in "normal" like him.

biccamera, February 8, 2006 at 12:43:51 PM CET

in addition to the movie soundtrack there is also the video-in-the-film promo, where the singer is 'cleverly' edited into the movie. 'Cleverly' meaning that if the film is about the army, or war, then the singer is lying in some stinking hotel room somewhere tropical. With a big fan casting shadows across his face. Think: Top Gun/Kenny Loggins

eraserhead, February 8, 2006 at 4:13:12 PM CET

-people in furry costumes -dreams that are not a dream -swift&till and clairmont squishy lenses -cutting frames in a sequence of motion (sigismondi) -fake 3D effects and 2D animations a la Gilliam (the rapture, incubus, franz ferdinand, etc) ...

c-dub, February 8, 2006 at 8:35:23 PM CET

well that pretty much covers everything, doesnt it.

spreech, February 8, 2006 at 9:57:14 PM CET

Months ago I did draft for a categorisation of clips (such as situational dance-video) -which includes maybe the clichés, don't know. When I read through this blog today, I thought of making a rough translation, and so we did - you can see it on my homepage in two languages HERE. This might be senseless, but it was fun to write it. Let me know, what you think of it - and don't mind that the examples are bit old.

knomadix, February 8, 2006 at 11:19:01 PM CET

I have not seen one good (meaning interesting) hip-hop clip on commercial TV. There was an interesting Aussie one using a flip/sketch book for animation.


stick the band in a space, drop a track sideways in front of them and bammo. clip done.

progosk, February 9, 2006 at 12:04:43 AM CET

a few more freshly culled fron the third directions piece:

  • spinning clocks
  • calendars with days going by
  • items shattering to symbolise broken hearts


  • dutch angles (never thought i'd see those again...)

captainmarc22, February 9, 2006 at 2:07:34 AM CET

progosk I disagree. These are standard film/tv narrative devices; and not tied to the music video world. Using the TV News as an exposition device is another one. The Simpsons plays off of these all the time - often using our expectation of the cliche for a joke, sometimes using it as the "straight man" to set up a different joke.

progosk, February 9, 2006 at 2:37:34 AM CET

hm. well, isn't a cliché just a badly/lazily used device? whether that device be a technique or a narrative trope.

you're probably right about dutch not really being frequent in the video world, so i guess it shouldn't figure here (but oh boy was it a cliché - a visual cliché - in commercials a while back).

aspedis3000, February 9, 2006 at 11:17:55 PM CET


Longwave, Kashmir, Architechture in Helsinki... and sure there's more!

tblunt, February 9, 2006 at 11:50:40 PM CET

what's the kino flo flare look like? is it different from an anamorphic flare?

hakai, February 20, 2006 at 12:43:31 PM CET

I love cliches! Its cliche not to be cliche;) Its 4AM this video needs to be done! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!

okapisafari, February 20, 2006 at 2:06:20 PM CET

Knomadix: You haven´t seen one interesting Hip-Hop Video on commercial TV? What about The Outkast oder The Roots Videos?


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