In this day and age, pop culture is distributed to the masses through an overwhelming digital network. Through YouTube videos, Instagram posts, Twitter updates and even Tumblr interactions (see Taylor Swift’s foray into that insular world), artists, companies and celebrities are able to communicate with the public instantaneously. In keeping with this trend, music videos should be playing a huge part in the way that we interact with and absorb music. However, bizarre as it seems, music videos have somehow become irrelevant. With notable exceptions like Michael Jackson and, more recently, Katy Perry and Beyoncé, it seems like for most mainstream artists, music videos are an unimportant and tedious part of music production. A relic of the days of MTV, many established artists view music videos as a necessary part of producing music. Unfortunately, this obligation does not inspire creativity. Instead, these pop powerhouses produce video after video with a linear and trite plot-line, often merely play-acting the lyrics of their songs in overwrought and tasteless ways.
But here comes the interesting part. While established and popular artists fail to capture the imaginations and passions of listeners through media, the indie masses seem to flock to digital media to gain followers. Artists like Feist, tUnE-yArDs and Die Antwoord consistently turn to music videos as a crucial part of the process of releasing music. With a clear artistic voice and compelling and challenging visuals, these groups succeed in harnessing the power of digital media in order to showcase their musical prowess.
Die Antwoord, most notably, has been making strides in the world of music videos for over four years. A bizarre South African rap-rave group fronted by rappers Ninja and Yo-landi Vi$$er, Die Antwoord seems too strange for the mainstream. Though their music is unapologetically abrasive (and totally addictive), you’d be hard pressed to find a radio station playing Die Antwoord tracks on any given day. What’s more, the group can easily seem like a cheesy caricature of legitimate rap; with two white leaders and some pretty old-school notions of the thug life, Die Antwoord can seem out of touch with modern rap and, ultimately, modern music. Given their limited accessibility as musicians, Die Antwoord made an ingenious move: They turned to music videos to bring out the best of their music. With their videos, Die Antwoord has managed to garner a passionate and diverse audience, while shocking people with violent imagery and bizarre situations. Released two years ago, their most popular attempt to date is their video for “I FINK U FREEKY,” a dark and uncomfortable satire of classic music video tropes and experimental imagery.
Their newest video released about a week ago, “Ugly Boy,” carries on the torch of their earlier attempt. Though the video has similar imagery to “I FINK U FREEKY,” it is a clear departure for Die Antwoord. With a new maturity and willingness to take themselves seriously, the “Ugly Boy” video is at once shocking and dark, serious and hysterical. And the range of cameos that populate this music video speak to their diverse and bizarre aesthetic choices. With funny-man Jack Black in bizarre face makeup juxtaposed against supermodel Cara Delevingne, all topped off with the strange appearance of Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Marilyn Manson — the god of the dark and strange — it is clear that Die Antwoord has made a substantial statement in the musical world. Even with the absolutely offensive appearance of God in a white hoodie and apparently in black face, the “Ugly Boy” video has attracted viewers and is taken seriously by them. This skill, the ability to impress upon people a musical statement that is strong and insane, is a total rarity in the current musical landscape.
Garnering the respect and interest of their contemporaries, it is clear that the group’s utilization of digital media is exciting and important. Ultimately, with mainstream artists dropping the ball artistically, it is up to groups like Die Antwoord to keep showcasing a strong, albeit strange, musical presence and voice.