OK Go: The birth of the Youtube band

We deconstruct 3 videos by this band and YouTube sensation

There are many ways in which the advent of the internet has irrevocably changed both the production and consumption of music, which is not to say that things are better or worse but rather just very different from how things were, say, 20 years ago. Now of course, some things haven´t changed that radically at all. For example, most bands and artists still now, as they have done since at least the early 80´s, make videos for their singles (and thus is borne a website like this to discuss it all), but whereas in the past you would make it primarily for use by MTV and the like, these days artists are in no doubt that the main channel of consumption is the internet, and more specifically Youtube. A poll last year discovered that 64% of teenagers in the US discover new music through the world´s most ubiquitous video sharing site, a far bigger percentage than any other (although in a sign that things maybe haven´t completely changed Radio came in second with well over half of all teenagers still listening).

The point I´m trying to make is that Youtube is now a very big player in the music industry and bands, artists and labels alike are all well aware of the power of a medium which can make a star out of the likes of Rebecca Black and turn ´Gangnam Style´ in to a global phenomenon. Not only does it make sense to put a bit of thought and effort in to a video – and let´s face it, Gangnam Style needed the video and those dance moves to really make sense – it´s actually kind of necessary. One band who have proved very adept at harnessing the power of a striking and memorable promo are Chicago´s OK Go (although they are actually LA-based, they consider themselves a Chicago band) and a few years ago they made a run of clever, brilliantly designed videos that in a bigger way than any of their actual records gained them enormous recognition worldwide.

A Million Ways:

Having released their critically acclaimed eponymous debut album in 2002 the band began to build a reputation on the festival circuit. However, it wasn´t until this video was leaked to the internet in 2004, initially drawing reservations from the band themselves, that people really started to take notice. Filmed in singer/guitarist Damian Kulash´s backyard, with choreography by his sister, the video rapidly went viral taking the band themselves (and no doubt their label, Capitol records too) by surprise. The video is a triumph of creativity over any kind of lavish budget and is quite simply enormous fun to watch. It would later go on to be screened at the 2006 Edinburgh Film Festival and to date has almost 2 million hits on YT.

Here It Goes Again:

With the success of ´A Million Ways´ behind them the band obviously realized that there was something to latch on to and in July 2006 they released this ever-so-slightly more expensively shot and not entirely dissimilar video. Shot in the home of director/choreographer Trish Sie, the band practiced the routine for a week before shooting the final version. When it was released on YT it clocked up over a million hits in the first week, and would eventually achieve over 52 million. At one time it was the most favorited music video in YT´s history. The band would go on to perform the routine live at that years MTV music video awards and would also win them a Grammy for best short film. Once again, the marvel of the video is in a relatively simple idea pulled off with entertaining aplomb and deftness. Put simply, it´s enormously watchable, great fun, and helped by a rather nifty song (yes, there´s a song too!).

This Too Shall Pass:

Maybe the band´s most ambitious releases, two entirely separate videos were shot for this single. The first, featuring marching bands, some in camouflage, is a wonderful film and can be viewed here, however it´s the second video that we here at MVD really love! Shot in an LA warehouse, the video of what is known as a Rude Goldberg machine took six months to plan and a further two months to construct before any actual filming could take place. Shot using a single hand-held camera, it took 60 takes before getting a complete usable take with the machine being reset by a large production team every time. Main problems seemed to stem from the rolling tire only 30 or so seconds in to the video, plus others relating to a set of overly sensitive mousetraps and various timing issues which had to be ironed out with each successive attempt at a final take. One can only imagine the enormous amount of patience required by everyone involved! The end product is well worth it though and has to be one of the most brilliant music videos ever created. When it was released on YT the response was incredible and it achieved over 10 million hits in the first month alone.

Despite this, and the success of the previous videos, sales for the accompanying album Of The Blue Color Of The Sky were modest to say the least and the band themselves have never been able to turn their talents as video artists in to an equal reputation as musical artists. At least part of this would appear to be because the music itself, whilst perfectly respectable and often very catchy, maybe doesn´t match up to the creative brilliance of the accompanying films. And of course, they exist in an age where record sales have become increasingly hard to achieve in the face of the facility for free music offered not just by legal sites such as YT and Vimeo but also the appetite for illegal downloading, and more recently the loss of the necessity for any kind of ownership at all with streaming now having become the norm.

Does this matter though? Sure, the band themselves would probably swap millions of hits for millions of sales, but the other way of looking at it is that without the videos they maybe, almost certainly in fact, would not have sold as many records as they have. In the internet age having a viral video is a surefire way of at the very least making sure that plenty of people at least know who you are. If nothing else it spared OK Go from the ignominy of anonymity, and whilst most bands would be happy to have one viral video they can at least feel proud of the fact that they managed to create a string of them.

Their fourth studio album is due sometime later this year and whilst they will probably be hoping it will be their big breakthrough from respected Indie artists in to the big league a lot of their fans and many others besides will be looking forward to the videos as much if not more than the music. It´s a curious position for a band to be in when your videos are more hotly anticipated than the records, but at least they have managed to create a sense of expectation which is more than they would have had without them. Let´s hope they don´t disappoint.

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