Good Charlotte - I Just Wanna Live
by Suzanne Cadiou
When they first started off on TV, music videos were rather frowned upon by intellectuals and artistic critics. Film had already had difficulties being perceived as a form of art, worthy enough to become part of culture. Linking it so tightly to music had to find its way into society as well. Not so long ago, it was a common conception that music in film had to interrupt the plot only when it made sense to transform the person watching into the person listening in order to discern those elements that could not be delivered to the audience by mere images. Today, however, the borders between film and music are fading. Film productions without music are hardly imaginable and music videos are not only accepted in the society, but evolving to an art form of their own. Karnik goes further in his argumentation, stating that clips function within the music, but do not limit themselves to that anymore. On the contrary, the music video, the former “minor work", has become the major thing within the past four to five years, overtaking the actual music. Admittedly, music video directors nowadays often make long and short movies as well as clips, having big budgets for most of their projects. This obviously leads to more possibilities and creative freedom when it comes to plot and realisation. The take on the videos often is a more artistic one and interacts with the artistic conception the musicians, sometimes giving a song a whole new dimension and more depth.
Considering the fact that clips are growing more important and play a bigger role for musical careers, the analysis of music videos could be seen as normal and necessary. As explained by Leo Dorner, it is, however, a rather complex exercise:
“Die Schwierigkeit, das Musikvideo ästhetisch, kulturgeschichtlich und gesellschaftlich zu begreifen, hat drei Gründe: einmal explodiert in ihm die technologische Entwicklung des bewegtes Bildes als ästhetische: das Zusammenspiel der digitalisierten Film- und Videotechnik mit der gleichfalls industriell verfügbaren Computeranimation löst die Utopien der Avantgarde ein, aber anders als diese dachte. Zum anderen ist das Musikvideo das erste ästhetische Produkt, das der Markt für Unterhaltungsgüter in seiner Marketingabteilung geboren hat; es ist der geglückte Versuch, die anfangs fernsehuntaugliche Pop-Musik fernsehfilmtauglich zu machen, selbstverständlich unter ökonomischem Zweck und Zwang: es gilt die enormen Produktionskosten durch den Verkauf der Alben und Singles wieder einzuspielen. Es ist ein Produkt der Werbung, aber zugleich auch ein eigenes Produkt, Werbung und wofür geworben wird, ist ununterscheidbar. Und zum dritten fressen im Musikvideo die Geister der Unterhaltung jene der ästhetischen Moderne, beide rasen im Whirlpool des technologischen Bildersturzes ineinander.”
In his opinion, technical and aesthetic issues of film come together in a way that is not compatible with the avant-garde conception. However, I think that this is no longer relevant to the understanding of clips and film in general. He also considers the music video to be a product of the entertainment industry that is used to make music suitable for television for an economic purpose.
In this essay, I am therefore taking a closer look to the video of the song “I just wanna live” by the American band Good Charlotte. It is a clip situated in the aforementioned construct, but is nonetheless very self reflective about it, and helps to understand the link between music/entertainment industry and music videos.
In the first years, Good Charlotte is referred to as a punk-rock band, later as a more pop-punk, and now often as a pop band. The release of the third studio album led to the appellation of “emo” band, which commonly has a pejorative connotation. The interesting fact about this musical development throughout the albums is that, at the same time, the band members changed physically. Their clothing style, hair colour and haircuts always more or less matched what supposedly is the style of a punk-rocker, an emo, or a pop-rocker.
“You can often tell more about an artist from the first ten seconds of a music video than you can from listening through the entire song for the first time. The saying: “a picture is worth a thousand words” certainly applies to music videos. Upon seeing an artist: how they portray themselves, how they walk, and what they wear, you can gain immediate insight into what they are all about. The success of an artist’s brand depends a great deal on the visuals they attach to themselves.”
The first ten seconds of “I just wanna live” (clip released in 2004) portray the band just finishing playing a song in a small bar or club, with almost no audience. The bad lightening reinforces the depressing first impression we get from the band in this beginning: we think we see an unsuccessful, ordinary emo-core band. As the plot continues, the image of the unsuccessful band is confirmed: the young men cannot make a living out of their music and therefore have to distribute flyers, disguised as giant vegetables and junk food items. In these costumes they are “discovered” and start a music career as “The Food Group”. They are however directed by a producer who is only interested in a constructed band and the profit he makes of it.
In later viewings of the clip, the costumes that first come across as the trade mark of “The Food Group” can be perceived as the element of standardisation of the musician. In theatre, wearing it is the colour black that has this function: it enables the actors to take on any role, different roles and keeping a distance to themselves. The food clothing works the same way: it is a creative representation of the “role” that musicians and singer often play nowadays. The five band members in the clip could all have been wearing the same colour, or an accessory, or suits; it would have had this standardisation function as well. The costumes however add an absurd effect which helps the audience understand the concept, and reflect about musicians through the portrait painted in the clip. Karnik highlights that images have their own impact regardless of whether they are conveying music, or not. That is the reason why people remember specific scenes in music videos of long-forgotten songs. The pizza-slice front man, for instance, is an image to keep in mind.
The music video definitely does not only criticise the way musicians behave these days. Even if just to a little extend, but it also tries to show that there is an industry behind every “constructed” artist, having primarily economic and not artistic interests [see the dollar sings in the eyes of the man from the limousine when he discovers the band members]. The critic towards singers and industry is primarily formulated via parody, depicting typical scandals they are mired in, flaws, and stereotypes in an exaggerated way to make them obvious [wild parties, relations with fan girls, peculiar “artistic” behaviour (see the cat-loving strawberry), playback...]. The use of fake newspaper covers and the subtle allusions to existing bands in the headlines [“food fight”/FOO FIGHTERS, “lip-sync”/N-SYNC, “corned”/KORN, “burger busted”/Busted] make the parody and the actual criticism even more obvious.
It could be perceived as hypocritical of Good Charlotte to paint such a portrait because it can easily make the band appear as the one exception to said portrait. This is not the case in “I just wanna live” because the lyrics as well as the video also contain an important part of self-reflection (and probably even of self-criticism). Especially the lyrics reflect on how the band changed musically and how it evolved economically, they show Good Charlotte was confronted to criticism concerning their career and labelling of the different styles both musical and clothes-wise. The clip emphasises this changes by showing a supposedly passionate band succumb to parties and success, but it also displays how Good Charlotte seem to have coped with this. The majority of the music video shows a band that lives the crazy life of success, but the end and so to say conclusion of the career is very clear: the band members are no longer loved because the fans realise they are not “real”, they stripe off their costumes, throw them in the rubbish bin and go back to playing in a little room. Actually, they go back to doing music for the love of it, for themselves. As Karnik states it, music videos are more than just the representation of a song. They intensify the topic of a song and sometimes even add new dimensions to it so that the “look of sound” itself becomes the attraction. A music video is not just about lyrics, notes, or film, it’s a combination. Just like a band or an artist is not just tied to one single genre. I think this is an important message that Good Charlotte wanted to share. The fact that the whole video constantly broaches the issue of itself by showing a song in a song [in the ten first seconds of the video we can hear the last notes of another Good Charlotte song], a music video in a music video [“All U Can Eat” by The Food Group within the “I just wanna live” clip] and the band in the band [the “real” Good Charlotte or Food Group that’s inside the costume], emphasises the importance of variety for the band.
The self-reflection and criticism in this video could be discussed further by using more examples and a more detailed analysis of the images in the music video and the lyrics. However, I think it would be even more interesting to discuss this topic by using clips from other bands or artists, who have done similar works.
I also recommend watching other Good Charlotte videos such as “The River”, “Predictable”, “The Anthem”, and “1979” to analyse morphing, intertextual references with comics, stereotypes and so on.
Dorner, Leo. “Musikvideo: Thesen zu Film, Kunst und Unterhaltung.” www.leo- dorner.net. Online source. 26-10-14.
Karnik, Olaf. “Musikvideo – Hybrid im Spannungsfeld von Popmusik und Kurzfilm, Musikindustrie und Musikfernsehen.” (Originalfassung). www.olafkarnik.com. Online source. 27-10-14. http://olafkarnik.com/journalismus/print/freiberuflich/musikvideo- hybrid-im-spannungsfeld-von-popmusik-und-kurzfilm-musikindustrie- und-musikfernsehen-originalfassung/.
Petchers, Brian. “The Collision of Music and Video.” www.forbes.com. Online source. 27-10-14. http://www.forbes.com/sites/brianpetchers/2012/08/01/the-collision- of-music-and-video/.