Moving Words and Movable Type: Lyric Videos and Remediation

Curator's Note

In recent years, the ‘lyric video’ has emerged as a distinctive new form within contemporary digital culture. The genre originated as a popular fan activity on YouTube, but it was swiftly appropriated by the music industry as an effective promotional tool, following the success of the ‘official lyric video’ for Cee Lo Green’s hit ‘F*** You’ in 2010. The latter featured the use of kinetic typography – a digital animation practice that remains to the fore in lyric video – and it quickly amassed many millions of views on YouTube. The adoption of lyric videos by huge stars such as Katy Perry and Avicii ensured the genre’s immense popularity and continued innovation as the decade advanced.

As a digital form, the lyric video is marked by a range of complex remediation practices, and it absorbs many different visual and textual modes all at once. For instance, the lyric video can be understood as a digital remediation of obsolete elements such as the lyric booklet and album artwork that were once a popular feature of music releases in the pre-digital era. At the same time, however, the visuals for a great many lyric videos do not take their cue from music culture but from cinema, and particularly from ‘opening titles’ sequences. The influence of Saul Bass’s graphic design work on a host of movies is especially notable here, as demonstrated by Taylor Swift’s recent lyric video for ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. There are also resonances between the lyric video and concrete poetry, as in the case of Avicii's 'The Days'.

As befits the lyric video’s origins as a fan activity, however, the form also consciously channels the mundane practice of scrapbook poetry and doodling. This accounts for the prominence of ‘scrawled’ or ‘cursive’ styles of typography in many lyric videos (e.g. The Chainsmokers’ ‘Young’ [2017], Lykke Li’s ‘I Follow Rivers’ [2012]). The typography here mimics that of the hand-written lyric, either as it was initially penned by the artist or else as transcribed by fans onto schoolbooks and other materials. Its use in lyric video clearly attempts to forge a sense of connection and intimacy, and to convey a degree of the emotional weight that fans invariably attach to song lyrics.

Significantly, like many examples of remediation that Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin have examined, the lyric video is marked by a tension between a desire to imbue song lyrics with an emotional immediacy on the one hand, and a hypermediate fascination with the labyrinthine aesthetics of digital media on the other. 

Source:  Bolter, Jay and Grusin, Richard. Remediation: Undestanding New Media. MIT Press, 1998.  

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.