Popular Music


Structural relationships of music and images in music video1

Alf Björnberg

In the course of the last decade, the body of writing on music video has grown to sizeable proportions. The reason for the present addition to this bulk of literature, in spite of the subject seemingly approaching the state of exhaustion, is that musical semiotics are still rarely applied to the field. It is a fact that pop and rock music have always been heavily infused with socially determined meaning such that an autonomous musical aesthetics appears clearly insufficient to explain their significance; however, to what extent and how this significance is linked in with particular musical structures as such is still largely uninvestigated. In my view, music video may perhaps be less interesting as a phenomenon in itself than as source material for an ‘empirical semiotics’ of popular music, shedding light on signification processes of a more general applicability. Furthermore, the distinctive features of music video may arguably be better explained on the basis of an understanding of the syntactical characteristics of popular music than by prevalent theories of postmodernism; the latter appear problematic not only due to their speculative and unsubstantiated nature with regard to media reception processes (cf. Frith and Horne 1987, p. 11), but their explanatory value as regards syntactic features of music video also seems to be limited (cf. Frith 1988, p. 207).


1 An earlier version of this paper has appeared in the Working Paper Series of the Department of Music and Theatre, University of Oslo. Parts of the theoretical discussion are derived from Björnberg (1992b).