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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Michael Jackson epitomized them with a slew of his songs; Lady Gaga has been known to frequent them as well, most notably through the likes of “Telephone." And Kanye West is no stranger to them either, with his 34-minute film “Runaway."

They’re the long music video. Some revere them, while some aren’t so keen on their length and just want to get to the actual song.

But there is a rich story behind some of these long music videos – short films, if you will. These aren’t your typical music videos for the obvious reason– they’re considerably longer – and because they arguably allow for more artistic license, offering a little bit more meat behind the song or perhaps a different angle to it. 

The long music video allows musicians to do what they do best and what is at the very foundation of their work – art. All the while, we get to explore another side of the musician’s psyche.

Jay Z recently released a performance art film for his song “Picasso Baby”.  The piece was filmed in July at Pace Gallery in New York City. Jay Z presented himself among an intimate yet interactive gallery audience, serenading “Picasso Baby” to a member of an audience that sat square in front of him.

What’s interesting about the performance is that it’s much like the performance art piece "The Artist Is Present," by Marina Ambramovic (who was also in attendance at the Jay Z performance) in the sense that the audience gets to sit directly in front of the artist and experience his or her art. For Ambramovic, she sat silent; For Jay Z, he moved around, rapped and elicited lots of energy in a small space. Both performances are obviously very different but both share an inevitable common thread – they’re both pieces of art.

This says a lot about how music works as art in general. Music is art after all. You can’t separate the two. Though “Picasso Baby” doesn’t exactly follow the same dichotomy as other long videos as Kanye West’s “Runaway” or Lady Gaga’s “Telephone”, it bares the same essential thread that many other long music videos share – their creativity and the story to be conveyed. In “Telephone”, we follow the story of two outlaws as they commit a reprehensible crime. “Runaway” follows the story of a fallen Phoenix, who West discovers and introduces to the world. “Picasso Baby” helps emphasize the clear connection between hip-hop and art. 

Art tells a story in many forms. In the case of music, and in particular, long music videos, it’s just through word, sounds and visuals.

What “Picasso Baby” tries to emphasize is the fundamental connection between hip-hop music and art that many choose to segregate. Jay-Z himself describes in the “Picasso Baby” film that artists and hip-hop musicians are very much like “cousins.”

So are an artist and a musician two separate figures? No. A musician is an artist. Music is a form of art, and music videos merely paint this notion in a visual and auditory form. Longer music videos only allow this notion to further flourish. 

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