In the past there has been a rise in artists, such as Machine Gun Kelly, Denzel Curry, and Taylor Swift, creating short or feature length films that correspond with their albums. Could this be a return to the visual artistic expression possessed by older artists, such as Prince, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles?
Before the popularization of MTV showing videos of popular bands of the time and sources like YouTube and VEVO allowing easy access to music videos, visualizers for music came from live performances and, in a few special cases, the early form of music videos. Artists chose to tackle this gap in visual representation for their musical work by creating whole films that went along with the albums they released.
Prince’s album Purple Rain is considered a soundtrack for the subsequent film with the same title. The film follows an artist referred to as “The Kid,” who is trying to make it big by performing at a nightclub. The tunes he plays at the club are the contents of the Purple Rain album. While the film is a little corny, it was the number-one grossing movie for the week of July 29, 1984. The film also broke the eight-week streak held by Ghostbusters and won an Academy Award.
The Beatles also had success with creating films to promote their albums. The band made films for the A Hard Day's Night, Help!, Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine, and Let It Be albums. The films were primarily satirical, with A Hard Day’s Night being a mockumentary and Help! having aspects that spoofed aspects from the James Bond franchise. The films had different levels of success. They were most popular as television specials in the UK, but they also capitalized off of the band’s popularity and were important marketing tools that created a visualization from the band in regards to its songs.
While The Beatles and Prince created light and easy viewing experiences, Pink Floyd's film was heavier. The film, titled The Wall, challenged viewers to think about the effects that life in show business and in general have on those involved. The film addresses this idea with the character Pink, who is rumored to represent the band's former frontman Syd Barrett. The movie displays themes of depression, fascism, and obsessive relations with fans. While it didn’t receive much critical success, as an art piece it is thought-provoking and shines a light on the mental health struggles that plague people everywhere.
Between 2020 and 2021, Denzel Curry, Taylor Swift, and Machine Gun Kelly adopted this technique to promote their works. Denzel Curry created a Yellow Submarine and Help!-esque short film that featured him and producer Kenny Beats as cartoon characters, chasing down evil versions of themselves who have stolen the project files for his song “Unlocked.”
Taylor Swift followed in creating a short film for her song "All Too Well." The film starred A-List actors Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien and won the Best Music Video Award at the 2023 Grammy Awards. The film's winning an award like that shows that fans support and are dedicated enough to devote the time to consume these larger forms of media. This is something that now seems a stark feat, considering the media format most popular for promoting new songs is now TikTok videos, which typically last 30 seconds.
At the beginning of 2021, Machine Gun Kelly released Downfalls High. While the film was not well-received, it was a vessel for a connected visualization of a story that he felt represented his new works and style. This was another star-studded cast, featuring rising star Sydney Sweeney, drummer for Blink-182 Travis Barker, and rappers Trippie Redd, Blackbear, and Iann Dior.
With this new rise of films, hopefully we can see a return of movie promotions for albums as a popular marketing tool.