Why Interactive Music Videos Will Take Over

Pilobolus 7 from OK Go's 'All Is Not Lost' / Courtesy of Nadirah Zakariya via nytimes.com
Pilobolus 7 from OK Go’s ‘All Is Not Lost’ / Courtesy of Nadirah Zakariya via nytimes.com

With two interactive music videos released this past week (“Ink” by Coldplay, which has 300 possible journeys, and “Touchin, Lovin” by Trey Songz feat. Nicki Minaj, a red pill/blue pill scenario), it may feel like the choose-your-own-adventure format is suddenly all the rage. But the interactive uprising has been a quiet one, stretching back more than a decade. In a rapidly-evolving digital age where clicks and fingertips reign supreme, the increased adoption of this format comes as no surprise. The surprising thing is that it hasn’t already taken over completely.

It’s 2003. MTV is still the primary source for music videos, and YouTube will not be founded for another two years. Hell Is For Heroes releases a music video for “You Drove Me To It,” and it’s the first of its kind, because viewers are able to choose the outcome using buttons on their TV remote control. It turns out to be the only one of its kind, until Internet advancements provide a better medium to create customized experiences.

In 2007, Arcade Fire release an eerie interactive video for the song, “Neon Bible” in which you play puppetmaster with the hands of frontman Win Butler. Perhaps it was a catalyst, because the interactive concept really blows up in the next few years. Remarkably, the trend develops almost as if the whole idea is already old news. It wasn’t enough just to have an interactive music video. It had to be more than that.

Arcade Fire is back at it in 2010, partnering with Google Chrome to create a truly personalized experience called the Wilderness Downtown for the song, “We Used to Wait.” Before it starts, you are prompted to type in the address of the house you grew up in. The resulting music video is a burst of whimsical animation, street views, and satellite images of your old neighborhood, as well as an opportunity to write a postcard to your past self. In 2011, music video masters OK Go also release a Chrome-powered experience. Accompanying the song, “All Is Not Lost,” viewers are able to enter a customized message and watch dancers from Pilobolus 7 spell it out with the band.

In 2012, FKi, Iggy Azalea, and Diplo bring us “The World’s First Interactive Shoppable Music Video” for the song, “I Think She Ready.” With a seamless integration of designer clothing by SSENSE and taggable video technology called wireWAX, viewers can purchase the clothes the artists are wearing directly through the video. It’s genius, and it harnesses two things we have known about ourselves for a long time: we look to musicians for style ideas, and we love instant gratification.

But most interactive music videos appeal to a third truth: we want to be amazed. Leave it to Bob Dylan, the man who basically invented the modern lyric video with his 1965 “promotional film clip” for “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” to set the standard once again. In 2013, he releases a rather mind-blowing interactive video for the 1965 hit, “Like a Rolling Stone.” Viewers are able to flip through hundreds of TV channels and watch as news anchors, reality show divas, and game show contestants flawlessly lipsynch Dylan’s lyrics.

Some interactive videos play out like games, such as Dutch band Light Light’s “Do Not Touch.” Others allow you to be the director. You can control the tempo in Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead,” the dancers in Bombay Bicycle Club’s “Carry Me,” the layout in Jacques Greene’s “On Your Side,” the instrumentation in Cold War Kids’ “I’ve Seen Enough,” the special effects in MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” and both the audio and visual layers in Tanlines’ “Not the Same.” You can be somebody totally new in Death Grips’ video for “Gif Me More Party,” which lets you enjoy a pool party from the perspective of different guests. You can peek into different rooms and see what each of the Red Hot Chili Peppers are up to “Look Around.” You, you, you.

In a society ruled by social media and self-focused (though mostly lovable) little souls, it’s almost shocking that more music videos aren’t this personalized. Sure, they are harder to translate to television. But the use of TV as a platform for discovering new music videos is (hides from angry MTV mob) quickly fading. The fact that two major artists have put out interactive music videos in the same week seems to be foreshadowing another tremendous leap for the format. And it’s exciting, because we can all be a part of it.

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