What The VMAs' Exciting New Category Means For The Future Of Music Videos

There are many ways of telling stories.

MTV announced the 2016 Video Music Award nominees on Tuesday, and it should come as no surprise that Beyoncé led the pack with 11 nominations. What probably will come as a surprise is one of the categories for which she was nominated. That's because it's new this year.

Breakthrough Long Form Video recognizes the recent efforts of five artists to visualize their music for longer than your standard three- or four-minute video. 

The following are this year's long-form video nominees:

Florence + The Machine – The Odyssey
Beyoncé – Lemonade
Justin Bieber – PURPOSE: The Movement
Chris Brown – Royalty
Troye Sivan – Blue Neighbourhood Trilogy

Whether you call these music films, collections, trilogies or visual albums, one thing is clear — artists are evolving in the way they tell stories.

The extended music video is by no means a new concept, but it's been some time since it's seen quite so much popularity. MEL magazine recently outlined a history of the format, "the likes of which hadn't been attempted by anyone not named Beyoncé since the late 1980s."


Everything old is new again, as they say. Today's artists are taking this renewed trend as an opportunity to tell more complex stories, enrich the listening experience, and send powerful social messages. The complex and connected themes of an album can be presented in one cohesive work instead of being broken up and released months apart.

Beyoncé's Lemonade, her second project of the kind, is the ultimate example of this. Rebecca Ruiz of Mashable sums it up:

A fearless story about infidelity and the inner lives of black American women, Lemonade is so many things at once: a plea to a wayward lover; a painful personal transformation; the conjuring of "black girl magic"; a political statement about racism, police violence and black motherhood.

Airing the project on HBO, thereby turning it into a major television event, helped to launch widespread discussion of these ideas.

For Troye Sivan's Blue Neighbourhood Trilogy, the three songs and their corresponding videos serve each other in telling the emotional story of a young gay couple. As Sivan told Idolator, "Essentially, I came up with one message that I wanted to get across. Then it was just about breaking it down into these three videos that had one overarching narrative."

Florence + The Machine's The Odyssey does something similar, albeit in a much more abstract manner. The cinematic quality of the band's music certainly lends itself to such a grand, visually poetic way of storytelling.

These videos don't always have an overriding narrative, however. Sometimes they're just a collection of clips with a connecting motif. For Justin Bieber's PURPOSE: The Movement, that motif is dance. The videos, most of which don't even feature Bieber, showcase an array of talented dancers who bring the album's various moods to life through mesmerizing choreography.

It's also clear that the artists play a hands-on role in the creation of these videos, from the concept to the execution. They're much more than just onscreen talent acting out someone else's vision. Chris Brown, for example, directed all eight videos in his Royalty series. He told VIBE, "I think creative control is kind of like the total opposite from me. It's just freedom."

The VMAs' recognition of the long-form video's resurgence is a sign that we're probably going to see a lot more artists pursue the format in the future. And with so many meaningful and artistic stories being told already, that's definitely something to look forward to.


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