This week I've chosen lyrics and our relationship to them as vidders as the topic, partly because it's come up several times in the comments of previous posts, and partly because it's a topic I'm personally very interested in.
For many of us, lyrics can be one of the strongest reasons for choosing to vid a particular track. As viewers, lyrics help us navigate through vids, as we absorb the images that the vidder has chosen to pair them with. In comments about planning vids, many people mentioned lyrics as determining the structure of a vid. They're certainly very hard to ignore! But it also seems like there are degrees to which different vidders, or different vids, rely on lyrics. Do some vidders ignore them completely? (I'm cheating, because I know of some instances where the answer is yes.) If so, feel free to leap in and talk about that--or talk about what it's like to work with a track without lyrics.
Lyrics can be our friends and our foes. We've probably all seen vids where the juxtaposition of a particular lyric with a particular image makes our jaw drop or gives us shivers. Pull it off and the use of lyrics can be incredibly powerful. What are your favourite lyric + image combinations, either in your own vids or others'?
The flipside of the power of lyrics is that I'm pretty sure most vidders will also be familiar with the phenomenon of being stuck with a bitch of a lyric within an otherwise perfect track. A lyric that doesn't aid, or perhaps even actively works against, the rest of the vid. How do we deal with this? What 'difficult' lyrics have you had to work with/around? How did you handle them?
The interpretation of lyrics can be very complex. With the purely aural version of a track, the listener is free to make all sorts of associations of their own. However, once we marry lyrics with visuals, we direct the viewer's focus for interpretation in a certain direction. I think good vidders still allow space for audience interpretation--they suggest rather than tell. And when a vid really 'sings', for me personally, the combination of lyrics and images sparks associations that I might otherwise not have formed on my own. That's magic!
This brings us to: literalism. Much discussed, much abhorred literalism. In heaps of vid meta, especially advice to newbies, you will read 'avoid literalism!' But what does this mean?
Let's take U2's overblown lyrics as an example:
'I have climbed the highest mountain' (Vidder vids protagonist climbing a mountain to this line)
'I have run through the fields' (Vidder vids same character running through fields)
'Only to be with you' (Character canons into the arms of lover)
The vidder is interpreting the lyrics literally (and we can imagine that the vid will become more and more absurd as they vid the lyrics 'I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls' in the same way). The poor old protagonist (who may well have done all those things, though not necessarily 'only to be with' the person the vidder is shipping them with) becomes more and more absurd and comical in the eyes of a viewer. Awww.
Why doesn't it work? Partly simply because it seems 'obvious'. Partly because the lyrics themselves were intended as metaphor. The message is that the lover has struggled and overcome obstacles--those could be internal, emotional obstacles. Or they could be external ones. But the 'mountains' are a metaphor. This is GOOD news for the vidder. It frees them up to use them creatively. Instead of having to find a shot of a character climbing a mountain, they can think about what the greatest achievements of their character have been, what the biggest obstacles are that they have overcome, and then how those could be represented visually. They are then expressing the intention and message of the lyrics truthfully.
As a beginner vidder I struggle(d) with literalism, and I believe many newbie vidders do. Although the example above may seem clear, and although we may have ourselves seen vids where the literal interpretation of lyrics felt 'clunky' to us as viewers, it's not as easy as all that once we start making our own vids, for a number of reasons. It's amazing how easy it is to start justifying literalism, thinking things like 'but this line is UNCANNILY perfect for my ship/character/subject' or 'but they actually do CLIMB A MOUNTAIN'. Since lyrics are often the reason we've chosen a song in the first place, it can feel like a betrayal to ignore the most obvious associations with the source.
On the other side of the equation, we may also find that what we think of as very obvious doesn't come across to our viewer at all. The association we made/saw between a lyric and an image hasn't translated the same way for our audience. Often literalism can feel like a bit of a security blanket in comparison.
One of my most memorable beta moments was when I asked my friend supacat if a draft of 'Middleman' was 'too literal'. She laughed and said 'no, not even slightly', and then explained that what *I* thought of as literal was actually not obvious at all. It's true. So in fear was I of the 'no literalism' rule, that I think for a while I interpreted it as going further than pure literalism and meaning also 'no obviousness'. (Yes, feel free to laugh at me!) So, for instance, in Middleman I vidded Lee in Black Market to 'the grey areas are mine'. I worried terribly that this was too obvious a choice. And hey, maybe it was. Maybe I could have chosen some other, less obvious, example of Lee making morally grey choices. But the reason I chose it (and ended up sticking with it) is because it is the clearest instance of him doing so. Because this point was important for the argument of my vid it stayed. Was it literal? Well it was in the sense that the lyrics described someone in 'grey' areas and I showed someone making 'grey' choices: but thankfully I didn't turn the footage grey. :p
- How do you feel about literalism? Do you struggle with it?
- Do you even, sometimes, like it (I do!)?
- Do you feel your vids are too obvious or too obscure?
- Do you feel the vids you watch are too obvious or too obscure?
Advice for the literalism-challenged
Do you have advice for those of us challenged by literalism? How do you use lyrics in a sophisticated way? What tricks have you learnt or seen for using lyrics effectively?
I don't often offer advice in these posts, but I'm going to do so here because this is stuff I've wanted to articulate for some time. It's based on my own learning experiences and those of other beginner vidders. Feel free to disagree or add to these point, but this is what I've learnt so far:
- We can be blind to the literalism in our own vids. If in doubt, ask a beta! And believe them if they say that the shot of your character getting 'knocked down', when clipped exactly to the lyric 'knocked down' is too literal.
- Make the association between lyric and image around the lyric, not 'on' it. This is best demonstrated with an example. Lithiumdoll's Big City Life contains the line 'all lined in a row' which is connected with the idea of the clones in Dark Angel. Jut before the lyric, they are shown in rows in a classroom, on the lyric 'lined' the vid hones in on an individual clone, and on the lyric 'row' it shows a barcode on the neck. That's much more sophisticated than just showing the image of them in rows in the classroom exactly on the lyric. It means by the time the lyric comes, the viewer is able to *instantly* make the connection with what they've just seen and then rapidly move past/through that concept back to the idea of identity and what it means to be one of many.
- If you are struggling with how to interpret a lyric non-literally, ask yourself: what is the emotional content of the lyric? what is it 'saying'? where is that emotional point made in the source (if vidding in canon)?
- Choose tone over lyric. There are lots of 'tricks' for difficult lyrics, but I've not found anything that can 'fix' the tone of a song (or line) if it doesn't work for your message. I personally find the tone of the music very important to me--if it doesn't resonate with my subject matter, I find the vid will only be partially successful no matter what I do. And I've found that if you vid to the tone of a track, viewers will often 'go with you' even if meaning is not immediately obvious. Whereas, one misplaced bit of literalism can throw them out.
- If a lyric is really 'bad' and doesn't work for you at all, see if you can cut it out of the audio track entirely. If you can't do that then try clipping something with a strong visual message of its own to the lyric (distract!). Chances are people will glide on by. Or just forcefully use it to progress your story regardless. If the lyric before it and the lyric after it require a 'middle' transition to link them--then feel confident to put it there. Again, if the surrounding material is strong and the narrative feels continuous, people won't care too much that the lyric doesn't ping perfectly with the subject matter of the clips.
- Alternatively, BE PATIENT. At the start of vidding projects I often find there are one or two lyrics that I really can't 'place', can't find clips for. But they usually come good eventually and since I vid organically, I'm a big believer in letting them come in their own time.
- In some circumstances, you can choose irony. :) Someone mentioned in comments a song that mentioned eating burgers that they wanted to vid to BSG (a show in which everyone seems to eat either algae or noodles!). If it fits the overall vid to make that ironical point (that food treats are rare or non-existent, life hard, pleasure fleeting), then clipping a shot of them eating for that lyric could work well.
- Related to that point: literalism works well for humour. See for instance deirdre_c's 'Things that make you go hmm'. The vidder twists the meaning of some lyrics deliberately (Sam is the 'girlfriend'), but grounds the vid by using literalism (a doorbell being pressed on 'the doorbell rang', etc).
- There are other instances in which a little bit of literalism can 'anchor' a vid, or help keep the sense of connection between lyric and image, especially when the vidder is doing something tricksy with them. The best recent example I can think of is in bradcpu's 'Tear You Apart'. The vid involves a 'reveal' in terms of point-of-view, and its visual associations are complex and disturbing. Within this context a couple of pieces of literalism ('her hand brushed up against his', 'they took a step back') really worked for the vid--they draw us back into the 'ship' plot after a moment of confronting violence, and they add to the uneasy tone because we are wondering where it's all leading--the link between lyric and image is tonally appropriate.
- Match metaphor with metaphor. This may not always be possible, but I was able to do it at least once, I think effectively (though it could be argued that it is still 'too literal'). In 'Paranoid Android' the lyric 'rain down' is repeated several times. Within Smallville, the show I was vidding, the blood rain is used as a metaphor for Lex's future. I matched the metaphor in the lyrics with the metaphor in the show, and added in some other forms of 'raining down'--the meteors falling on Smallville, and other events that Lex views as 'happening' to him ('raining down' on him) which lead him to the future, where he 'rains down' on others in the form of nuclear weapons. Yup, I milked that lyric's metaphor for all it was worth. Perhaps if I'd only done one thing to that lyric it would have got boring fast, but thankfully Smallville is rich in visual metaphor. :) Yes, the 'rain' was literal--but since it's a metaphor on the show, it works. I hope. ;)
I've littered questions for discussion throughout this post but basically this is an open invitation to discuss the use of lyrics in vids in any way you wish. Tell us what you like, what you hate, what frustrates you--either as a vidder or as a viewer.
ETA: This post got long. Feel free to just chat without reading all of it! *headdesk*