What is innovation? That was the question facing a panel of experts Monday (April 25) during the O Music Awards' Most Innovative Music Video live debate presented by FUZE®, in which the merits of the five finalists were debated and such icons as music-video director Wayne Isham ('NSYNC, Metallica) and music executive/ Global14.com founder Jermaine Dupri attempted to pick a winner.
Among the nominees were video mavens OK Go's "Back From Kathmandu," a flash-mob-style piece in which the band led a parade through the streets of Los Angeles. "That's what's nice about videos today period, they don't have to be traditional videos. ... They can be hybrids of a couple of different things if you want them to be," said bandmember Tim Nordwind. The video was a mash-up documentary of OK Go getting together with friends to play their songs as they walked down the streets (and are tracked by a GPS system that followed them for eight hours as they spelled out the band's name) as well as a traditional clip with a narrative.
For Isham, who traveled around Los Angeles himself for Mötley Crüe's "Girls, Girls, Girls" clip, the OK Go effort didn't feel so innovative, while Mashable's Brenna Ehrlich said it wasn't memorable enough to warrant the prize, admitting she didn't even remember what song it was for.
Au Revoir Simone's interactive coloring-book effort for the $500 "Knight of Wands" clip took a simplistic approach, with an unseen hand moving a cursor to add color to a simple image of three women standing inside a mansion. Fans could make their own version and a Flickr page allowed them to upload their own takes on the effort.
Isham was shocked to hear that the band was able to pull off such a low-dough video, but he did like that they could do it on a shoestring and appreciated the ability of fans to get involved. "What's innovative: the budget, the film technique, the thought process?" asked Isham, speaking on behalf of directors, while Dupri said if you can make something for three figures that is seen as much as a video made for seven figures, that's innovative. Ehrlich loved that the video was made in flash and went viral, judging it to be innovative for that reason. "It didn't get popular because it cost $500," she said.
"It's not the price, it's the name. His videos mean something," Dupri said about the enduring mystique of having someone like fellow panelist Isham or Hype Williams helm your video.
When it came to the Arcade Fire's "We Used to Wait," a Chris Milk joint that was filmed and edited over three months, the director used a series of Google maps, satellite images and HTML videos to create what Google's Aaron Koblin called "an interactive HTML short." Because it uses the Google Maps app, the video is personalized for each user, bringing their location into the mix. Ehrlich said the clip was the epitome of using a new technology to create something fresh. "It's beyond a music video; it's an interactive music experience," she said.
Isham loved the imagery in the video, but would have been more immersed in the emotion of the music if he'd been able to find a Google spot near his hometown that was more resonant than a local gas station. "If it can only be seen and appreciated by techno nerds, is it art for art's sake?," Isham asked, after discussing with Dupri what the point was of a clip that looks great but is hard to find or you might not be able to watch on your computer if you don't have the technology.
"I think this is the future of the world," Dupri said. "This is what people actually want. The world wants to be involved in the things that we do ... all of these videos have that type of interaction."
When it came to the choose-your-own-adventure video for "Keep Your Head Up" from Andy Grammer, the most traditional performance-based "story" clip featuring the ability to customize by picking one of two choices on the screen, the panel was split. Dupri loved the song and felt the video was "crazy" creative but once again lamented that you can't "play" with it when it's on TV, which for decades was the traditional place to see videos.
Ehrlich didn't love the song, so it was hard for her to click through multiple times to see all the iterations. Isham said he's been intrigued by the idea of choose-your-own for years, having tried it with Metallica's live show with the San Francisco Symphony but was impressed with how seamless Grammer's effort video was.
Via Skype, Grammer explained that a company in Israel called Interlude came up with the technology that allows you to change direction based on what story line you want to go with. "It's just never been done before to this degree," Grammer said of why he thought his video belonged in the mix with the other artists.
Finally, they took on Robyn's "Killing Me," a 3-D, text-driven assault of words, phrases and geometric shapes that used Twitter to encourage fans to provide their own commentary. The singer said her idea with the album was to use her website to communicate in an interactive way with her fans. "We wanted to do something that felt real," she said of the decision to give the video (in which she doesn't appear) its own Twitter feed. "I wanted to invite people into this complaining orgy that I'm doing."
Moderator and MTV News rock editor James Montgomery wondered if this one was Robyn's most innovative video or even a video at all. Caryn Ganz from Yahoo!'s The Amplifier loved that you can still tweet in text to the clip all these months later, which to her made it feel very contemporary. Isham, though smitten with Robyn, said the tension in the video got to him, while Ehrlich said she was over 3-D effects and didn't think the concept was that special.
"It's repetitive. ... I wouldn't watch this over and over again just to watch different hashtags," she said. Dupri was concerned about whether "Killing Me" is global enough and can reach people all over the world and not just those who have access to the technology.
The fans voted for Robyn, and the panel picked Grammer and Robyn as their other top two finalists. "I like both of the videos as far as innovation and the concept of what they were trying to bring to light," said Dupri, with Montgomery noting that they couldn't be more different, though both used the Internet to achieve their end goal.
In the end, Isham, Dupri and Ehrlich went with Grammer, while the fans and Ganz chose Robyn, giving the award to Grammer, who will pick up his magical cube during Thursday night's inaugural O Music Awards event.
The inaugural O Music Awards will stream live from Las Vegas on Thursday at 11 p.m. ET/ 8 p.m. PT on OMusicAwards.com. Tune in to see who will reign supreme in categories like Most Viral Dance, Funniest Music Short and NSFW Music Video!