YouTube is the world’s most popular music site. It’s a great way to share music with your friends on Facebook or post songs to your blog. The problem is that not every song has a video, and often you find homemade videos featuring a montage of photos, a scroll of lyrics or a simple image of the album cover.
A couple years ago, artists discovered a happy medium: the official lyric video. It offers some stylized text to accompany the song — sometimes it’s just that simple; sometimes they’re so much more. It’s a new medium and some artists take it more seriously than others. There’s a disconnect about how these videos are meant to be enjoyed. Are they an alternative to a blank screen or are they an art form unto themselves?
I don’t have a great eye for typography or design, and I’m not sure I can tell a good lyric video from a bad lyric video, so I’ve enlisted some help. I invited two of CBC Music’s graphic designers, Ben Didier and Samantha Smith, for a miniature film festival. Ben and Sam work with type all day and they have strong opinions about the most minor font details. Hopefully they can help me figure out what differentiates a good lyric video from a bad one.
Cee Lo Green, 'F--k You'
This 2010 lyric video caused a stir and inspired a parade of wannabes. There's no denying the impact of huge swear words across your screen.
Ben: I like it! Very nice attention to detail. Nice use of Knockout.
Sam: These type of videos have a name, like “kinetic typography.” It’s a project that design students do when they’re learning AfterEffects [Adobe’s animation software].
Ben: It’s like karaoke 2.0.
Adele’s highly anticipated James Bond theme premiered in October and won its share of fans. The then extremely pregnant singer didn’t make a video, offering up this smoky lyric video. I will not include Sam and Ben’s discussion of whether the font used is Gotham or Verlag, though the jury is still out.
Ben: I hate this. This just literally feels like karaoke. The other one felt like karaoke 2.0; this is shitty karaoke. I’d rather yellow subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Cringe-worthy.
Sam: It takes a lot of time to move things around. This is just the same placing.
Ben: I’d say this took like 20 per cent of the time to make [as Cee Lo’s video].
Sam: I could see for the demographic of older people that like James Bond, this would be easier for them to read.
Maroon 5, 'Payphone'
Unlike the previous videos, Maroon 5’s offers more graphic intrigue in the form of comic-style panels. The lyrics appear in speech bubbles, though Ben and Sam agree it falls flat.
Sam: It’s just too bad someone took all the time to draw this.
Ben: Bad illustration. Also it’s poorly lettered.
Sam: That’s stock comic book font.
Ben: Yeah, but in comic books they actual hand letter it. These aren’t hand-lettered.
Sam: No, this is like what they use in Archie.
Ben: I’m gonna say this video succeeds beautifully at matching the song: they’re both terrible.
The Rolling Stones, 'Doom and Gloom'
The new Rolling Stones track has way more action than a lyric video needs, and this was the only video that really impressed Ben and Sam.
Ben: This feels like Ralph Steadman a little bit. This is great, it’s clever.
Sam: It’s dynamic.
Ben: They’re actually trying to communicate the meaning of the words with the type, and we haven’t seen that yet. To me, this is why you went to art school in the first place, to be able to throw paint at stuff and watch it move. Whoever did this is realizing their dream.
Ke$ha, 'Die Young'
Ke$ha’s entry features actual video of her, but that doesn’t distract from the text, which our designers find underwhelming.
Sam: It’s hard to read.
Ben: They’re trying to do something interesting. I wish they’d just stuck to the writing on objects instead of trying to do the fonts ‘cause the fonts are bad. I mean, it’s intentionally cheesy.
Sam: This kind of stuff is popular right now. I get that if you’re 13, you’d love this. I could judge it but I’m not the demographic.
Ben: This style is a direct ripoff of the opening credits for Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void. I feel like you could do this correctly because I’ve seen it done correctly.
Major Lazer, 'Jah No Partial'
This video leaves out about 90 per cent of the words, which kind of defeats the entire purpose. But who am I to say what are the rules of lyric videos? It does feature a repetitive animation of a chromed-out version of Major Lazer’s Jamaican commando mascot.
Ben: What’s with the Terminator 2 stuff? How did James Cameron do this better 20 years ago?
Sam: Whoa. I don’t know about this. I could see the type working but the chrome man isn’t working for me.
Sam: I guess it’s hard with music like this because lyrics aren’t really the emphasis.
Ben: Which kind of begs the question, “Why bother?”
Tegan and Sara, 'Closer'
Tegan and Sara’s poppy new song scores a minor win from our designers with its cohesive type and old stock photos that contribute to an '80s vibe.
Ben: This is pretty good. It’s got a good retro feel.
Sam: Nice use of stock photos. [It’s a good strategy because] you probably don’t have a lot of time, the designer’s not gonna get paid a lotta money.
Ben: Good colour palette. It’s got that '80s seafoam thing going on.
For her extremely repetitive song “Diamonds,” Rihanna has an extremely repetitive lyric video. And you don’t need a design background to notice that the lyrics appear about a second before you hear them. It’s jarring.
Sam: It’s shocking because when you’re in AfterEffects, a second is a really long time.
Ben: How come the “shine bright” is darker? That’s what the Rolling Stones video was really good at — illustrating what they were saying.
Sam: Why are clouds ecstasy?
Ben: There’s not enough time in the day to tell you how bad it is.
Sam: It may not even be worth our time to talk about how bad it is.
Ben: We’ve got to the point where every computer can make these videos now. You used to have a special editing suite. Now you just get the program, press a couple buttons and it looks terrible.
Sam: That was a long three minutes.
Ellie Goulding, 'Anything Could Happen'
Ellie Goulding’s lyric video has a cool idea behind it: she asked her fans to send in Instagram photos of the song’s lyrics. The result isn’t great, however, especially considering Instagram photos are square and HD video is widescreen.
Sam: I like the idea of getting your fans to participate.
Ben: Yeah, it’s fairly harmless. Typographically it’s pretty weak but that’s kind of the point, right? When you hire people who aren’t typographers, this is what you get.
Sam: Yeah, you’re definitely doing this for the fan experience and there are some nice photos there.
Ben: Yeah, some of the photos are great but it’s like “Why do they have ugly type on them?”
Madonna, 'Girl Gone Wild'
Madonna’s lyric video may be the worst of the bunch. It basically looks like the kind of fan-made project that lyric videos are trying to replace.
Ben: Hairline fonts look like garbage on compressed videos. It’s almost illegible.
Sam: Yeah, it looks terrible. Is it just one picture of Madonna that they’re showing different parts of?
Ben: I’ve seen good Girls Gone Wild videos, and this isn’t one of them.
Sam: I’m so bored of seeing the same two pictures of Madonna.
Ben: It’s hard to believe this is legit. Do you know how many people would want to work with Madonna?
Sam: I’m sure there’s some great designers that would do this for cheap just to do it for Madonna.
Ben: It just boils down to people not having good taste.
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on Nov 08, 2012