Soundgarden - Black Hole Sun
by Jessica Ann Klatt
The term music videos is used to describe short clips (short films) or videos that accompany a song. Although, music videos are not a new invention, the term became more popular when MTV was launched in 1981 and aired its first music video “Video killed the Radio Star” by the band Buggles. Since then, music videos became more sophisticated in terms of visual effects, and earn a lot of attention. Therefore, the claim that music videos were primarily made and used to promote marketing strategies and to encourage the sale of music records seems logical. Concerning this subject matter, the purpose of this paper is the analyzes of the music video to the song Black Hole Sun by the American rock band Soundgarden, in terms of visual effects, the artists values and promotion strategies.
In the following, the first step will be to explain facts about the music video. After that I will analyze its content and message, as well as comparing it to the lyrics of the song. Due to this, in regard to the question, if music videos are solely a tool of promoting a song or if they function as a statement of esthetic art that sends messages that underline the lyrics of the song, is discussed. In the last point of the paper I will conclude the results and offer an outcome.
The following part of the paper will explain some facts about the music video. The reason I choose this particular music video was the fact that there exist various different interpretations of the message of the music video. This issue is interesting to analyze in order to compare the message with the visualization of the video.
The music video depicts an apocalyptic event in which a suburban neighborhood is swallowed up by a black hole, while the band performs their song. The video aired in June 1994 on MTV and was directed by Howard Greenhalgh who also directed music videos for Muse, Faithless, Iron Maiden and even the Spice Girls. After several weeks of airplay more sophisticated visual effects were added to the music video. In 1995 he won the Clio Award for best Alternative Music Video.
Despite the fact that the front man of the band Chris Cornell wrote the entire lyrics of the song the band stated that the idea of the content of the music video was entirely Greenhalgh’s idea. Cornell stated that:
“We should just be there and not emote, not pretend to be excited to play the song, deadpan, stand there, and do absolutely nothing. I told him on the phone, 'We're not going to do anything. You're not going to get anything out of us. We're just going to stand there' ... It just happened to be a guy with a great idea who happened to believe in our notion that we're reluctant video stars who are going to give you nothing…” (rock.genius.com/Soundgarden-black-hole-sun-lyrics#note-3690551 latest update 10/31/14).
Hence, this indicates the promotion strategies behind the marketing of the song and music video.
Atmosphere and Lyrics
The atmosphere of the music video is contrastive. On the one hand by bright light imagery and on the other hand by the portrayal of negativity. The depiction of a dream landscape, surreal world, bright colors and the dark lyrics create a sarcastic tone that ties in with the ideology of the Grunge Rock era. Grunge Rock originated in Seattle in the mid-1980s and was similar to Punk Rock, about the idea of rebellion and against mainstream.
Anyhow, as already mentioned above, the song was entirely written by the front man of the band Chris Cornell. He describes the lyrics as:
“It's just sort of a surreal dreamscape, a weird, play-with-the-title kind of song… lyrically it's probably the closest to me just playing with words for words' sake, of anything I've written. I guess it worked for a lot of people who heard it, but I have no idea how you'd begin to take that one literally” (rock.genius.com/Soundgarden-black-hole-sun-lyrics#note-3690551 latest update 10/31/14).
Cornell is pointing out, that there can be no definite answer of what the lyrics convey. When comparing the lyrics of the song to the music video, the themes of the lyrics appear as visualizations:
“In my eyes, indisposed
In disguises no one knows
Hides the face, lies the snake
The sun in my disgrace
Boiling heat, summer stench
'Neath the black the sky looks dead
Call my name through the cream
And I'll hear you scream again
Black hole sun
Won't you come
And wash away the rain
Black hole sun
Won't you come
Won't you come (Won't you come) […]”
(rock.genius.com/Soundgarden-black-hole-sun-lyrics#note-3690551 latest update 10/31/14).
It appears that, the visualizations match the lyrics partly but leaves it open for the viewer to interpret its meaning. Although, the lyrics do not tell a particular story, the display with the visual effects create an effective opportunity of interpreting parts of the music video on many different levels. The combination of lyrical symbolism and visual symbolism creates a strong connection that seems to be circling around one another, and linking both together.
Other Stuff I Found
My interpretation of the symbolism and message of the music video is that, the video portrays a society that lives in abundance and is not aware of its sickness and downfall. Furthermore, as the suburban area stands for a typical American middle class and is known for its low rate of crime and considered to be a safe place to live compared to big cities, the video depicts that nobody is without failure, and that the ambition of perfection and consequently denying imperfection is eventually toxic for oneself and society. The burning and torturing of insects is a comparison of society’s ruthlessness and maybe the foreshadowing of the apocalypse? The exaggerated distorted faces may be an indication of the sickness of society or even humanity itself.
The people holding up the “The End Nigh‘” sign appear like a religious group of some sort, which also brings in the element of religion, or believing and can be viewed as a religious criticism. Although, Cornell states that he did not convey a certain message with the lyrics of his song and that he wrote it for “just playing with words for words' sake” without any distinct religious criticism, the video clearly portrays this issue.
In conclusion, the message and content of the music video was created by the director and not the by band itself. According to this, it appears to confirm the theory of music videos being used for promotion and to influence (or manipulate) the image of the band. To be precise, the video can be seen as a successful promotion for the band and the image of grunge rock at that time. The management successfully combined the despising and the critical view of the Generation X era, on society.
Put together, the evidence about how the music industry promoted the song with a “fitting” music video is not deniable. Nevertheless, one cannot deny the esthetic effect the music video creates with the combination of visual effects and music. Therefore, although music videos are planned and elaborate promotion strategies, the artistic value of this creation must not be underestimated and should be the target matter of further analyzes.
· www.rock.genius.com/Soundgarden-black-hole-sun-lyrics#note-3690551 (latest update 10/31/14)
· www.mvdbase.com/person.php?id=C588 (latest update 19/31/14)