Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Look at Editing in a Contemporary Music Video

Jay-Z’s new music video “Empire State of Mind” says just as much with its editing the song does with its lyrics. It opens with a series of still photos form various New York Neighborhoods rapidly flashing across the screen. We get glimpses of street signs in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and various views Manhattan streets. These shots are cut in a precise, yet frenetic way to match exactly on beat as the bass drops before the rest of the audio track.

As the video goes on, there’s a sharp contrast between gracefully moving helicopter and crane shots and statically-framed shots of Jay-Z rapping in various locales throughout the city. The diversity of the city is among the things highlighted by the various sides of the city that we see and the contrast between night and day, motion and stillness, close-ups and wide shots.

The shots also often synch up with shots of part of the city that Jay-Z raps about. At one point, he talks about being in Tribeca at a moment when someone who knows New York well, would recognize that he’s in Tribeca.

This video is a particularly meaningful, dynamic and living example of an editing convention that has risen to prominence in the modern music video: you can be anywhere. Continuity is deliberately done away with and throughout the course of one song whose audio track plays seamlessly throughout the video, the performer (who we maintain an illusion of as performing while we watch) appears in five different outfits, and in at least eight different parts of the city.

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