One of my biggest regrets about being born after 1989 is that I’ve never seen a Prince video. I will probably never see a Prince video. There are few other humans on earth who care as much about intellectual property rights as Prince, and his lawyers have made it almost impossible for anyone to post his videos on the internet.
Are Prince’s videos any good? I’m going to have to assume yes. He made Purple Rain; he reached his peak of creativity at the height of the MTV era; he’s Prince. Maybe his videos totally suck, somewhere between Go Set a Watchman and the identity of Deep Throat in revelatory disappointment. But I can’t imagine that they’re anything less than amazing. They have a mystique. They’re the Holy Grail of promotional clips.
We can forgive Prince for his cruelty. He’s from another time, and he has built his career on alienation and allusiveness. I’d think less of him if the 1999 clip was on YouTube; it wouldn’t make sense. Because in the end I can rest easy knowing that no one has seen 1999 in over twenty years.
One of the most talked about music videos of 2015 is Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj’s Feeling Myself video. I’ve been told by multiple news sources that it’s wonderful. It’s chill; they eat hamburgers; they’re best friends. There’s a think piece industry about it’s particular brand of feminism. I’ve seen the GIFs. They look great.
But I’ve never seen Feeling Myself, because it was released through Jay Z’s nightmare Illuminati project TIDAL, exclusively for paying subscribers. Who include, if news reports are to be believed, almost no one. TIDAL sucks, and it’s expensive. Literally the only reason I would subscribe to TIDAL would be to watch this music video. Beyoncé is effectively charging me $20 a month to watch her music video.
I take this as a personal affront every time I think about it. Not so much against me, but against the people who treat Beyoncé fandom as a life-and-death operation. She has some of the most obsessively devoted fans in the world. Almost none of them have seen Feeling Myself.
I have no particular love for Beyoncé, but I do for M.I.A. When I heard she’d put out a «mind-blowing» short film this July I was ready for my mind to be blown. I’ve tried to watch Matahdatah Scroll 01 Broader Than a Border over twenty times. Every time I’ve even clicked on a post with a link to the video, my computer has crashed.
I thought this was hacker magic at first, but I’ve realized that it’s something infinitely less exciting but no less insidious. M.I.A. released her video exclusively through Apple Music’s new video format. It’s been scrubbed off YouTube; I can only watch it on a webpage that imbeds an Apple Music player. With which my computer -an Apple product with up-to-date Apple software- is for some reason incompatible. Am I doing something wrong? Would this keep happening to me if I started paying Apple Music $9.99 a month? Am I being absurdly conspiratorial right now? I don’t care. I can’t watch something I want to watch, and it’s because of a clunky video format that exists only because of a major corporate deal. Which is weird to think about, when everything I’ve read says that Scrolls is all about highlighting (or exploiting) third-world revolutionary art.
No one is going to create much shock and awe by calling M.I.A. a hypocrite. No one is going to create much controversy by saying that TIDAL sucks. But there’s something uniquely 21st-century awful to me about being forced to pay a monthly fee to watch promotional clips. To be told by one artist who has built a career on relatability and another who has built her career on guerrilla visuals that I need to pay a media corporation to learn what they’re all about; it makes a very particular kind of not-sense. It’s not brutal or cruel to force someone to pay to watch a music video. But it is stupid. It’s not the world we live in anymore. Ariana Grande would never do this. Taylor Swift would never do this.
Prince wouldn’t even do this. Prince is an asshole who thinks that his music videos are too good for literally everyone on earth. No one gets to watch Prince videos except Prince and the lucky bastards who taped them onto VHS when they were still on MTV. But Beyoncé and M.I.A. are telling me that the full experience of their fandom is reserved for the suckers who are willing to buy into exclusive copyright enterprises vying for industry monopoly. There’s no mystique, there’s no excellence. There’s just outdated shittiness. If this is the future then I’m done. There are better idols to idolize.