You'd be raising exactly zero eyebrows if you suggested that music videos went through a rough patch for a few years there. As music TV outlets like MuchMusic and MTV ceded airtime to a host of increasingly un-music-related reality programs in the early 2000s, videos migrated online where, at the time, really low quality bandwidth made the viewing experience akin to looking at a Picasso through a pixel-compressed viewfinder. For musicians, directors and fans, it was a pretty sordid scene.
Musicians continued making music, of course, and directors still found ways to add picture to sound, but the trickle-down effect on budgets was significant. With no mass TV audience, the mass money for music videos shriveled away.
But as with so much filmmaking, technology has made the future much rosier. Posting gorgeous high-definition videos online is no big thing, and the tools to tell fantastical stories are as accessible as they've ever been. In their new incarnation, music videos have more of a DIY vibe. Bands, labels and video commissioners can reach out directly to willing filmmakers through sites like Genero.tv or Radar Music Videos. Artists themselves can grab a camera, a few fabulous friends and whip together a video. Videos can be crowdsourced. Or photosharing technologies, such as Instagram, can provide moody montage-fodder (though please don't let this become a trend). It's all a little Wild West once again, save for the inevitable big-budget star vehicles (we're looking at you, Kanye), and the fortunate directors (and production companies) that score decent budgets from established artists.
The other piece of this puzzle of accessible filmmaking is animation. With software kits available from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars (which is miniscule in the grand scheme of things), directors both upstart and established are able to create whatever worlds their imagination (and technical know-how) can conjure. To wit, German film student Kaleb Lechowski recently made waves in Hollywood for making this mind-boggling student film for... wait for it... zero dollars. And quite frankly, when it comes to music videos it's the animated ones that are often more story-rich - not to mention pretty or hallucinatory or just in glorious defiance of the laws of physics.
With animation on the mind - I curate Packaged Goods, a bimonthly screening series featuring short form filmmaking at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and the next one is dedicated to the art - it seemed fitting to share some of the most beautiful, bizarre, nightmarish, whimsical, and otherwise impossible to create IRL animated worlds I've found recently that were created without Kanye-sized bags of cash. Not only are these videos creatively and technically great (IMHO), they're also a bellwether for the possibilities of a creative video format that's returned from the brink only to find itself culturally relevant once again.
Watch 7 Best Animated Music Videos
Packaged Goods: Artful Animation plays on Wed. Feb. 20 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.