Welcome to German Bold Italic, a new mini-series on Digital Arts exploring the intersection between audio and art.
For the Spotify Enhanced Album version of Halsey's latest record Manic, the streaming service released two videos showcasing the artist's very different facets.
Brief vignettes that use the pop talent's real words and images as a message to fans, the challenge was to create two distinct looks for each video that perfectly captured the artist in two contrasting lights, communicating a powerful message about her identity to fans and giving listeners the chance to feel closer to her.
In the two short videos, creative production studio And/Or captures both the singer’s public persona and her private, inner world, using their expertise in graphic design and animation to create something that channels a balance of their own aesthetic with Halsey’s art and personality.
With similar Enhanced experiences for new releases by the likes of Tame Impala, this approach from Spotify represents a step forward for the medium of the music video.
"The platform to experience your favourite artist’s new album has shifted, and so has the content," writer and creative director at And/Or Kendra Eash tells us. "It’s not just a music video for the first single: it’s a lyrics video, the number of streams of the first single, the personalised experience and excitement of sitting and clicking on the song to stream it for the first time.
"Because most people are on their phone or sitting at their desk when an album drops, there’s a screen already connected to the sound, and the enhanced album content is a way to optimise that screen when you listen for the first time."
Rather than being classified as a music video, Kendra describes the spots as a "visual amuse-bouche" to the experience of the album.
The first one, Ashley, was inspired by Halsey’s real name and her inner world. The video uses line illustrations, a muted colour palette, and hand drawn type, almost as if a page from Halsey's diary came to life. The second, Halsey, was inspired by Halsey’s public persona, and uses a brighter colour palette, eye-catching type treatments, and modern collage elements.
"It perhaps gives someone who is coming to Halsey’s music for the first time a glimpse of who she is if they didn’t know," Kendra explains. "It says she’s artistic, a bit of a poet, and a visual artist as well as a musician."
"With records and CDs, a similar intimacy came through things like reading liner notes, looking at cover art, flipping through the material you had that brought you closer to the artist. But with streaming, those tactile objects no longer exist, so I think pieces like these are meant to bring you closer, to give you that little extra insight into the artist and her creative process."
For Kendra – whose favourite music ever is Missy Elliot's exquisite The Rain (below) – the Spotify experience is proof that everything is screen based nowadays, and not a warning bell for the existence of music promos.
"We’re doing the same things to enjoy music, but creating more content along the way. Instead of memorising the lyrics at home, you have a piece of content that does it for you. Instead of huddling with your friends to riff on the dance moves, you’re posting it on TikTok.
"Before, a music video was the only visual you could consume around a song; now it’s like the 'mother' visual, with a bunch of baby content spawning off of it – lyrics videos, fan videos, ephemera videos like the Halsey ones.
Indeed, what Spotify is doing isn't a million miles away from a certain Music Television station.
"I think MTV has always had a bold energy and willingness to be punk, rebellious, and in your face with design, and that has definitely carried over to Spotify.
"Music makes your heart beat faster; it does things to your senses; Halsey is literally talking to you, omgeeeeeee. That’s a feeling that can be reflected in design, animation, audio design. I think that’s why our aesthetic as a studio – bold, clever, culturally-relevant, a little bit punk – fits really well with both brands. We’re willing to mess around with trends and get our hands dirty."
Arguably, that punk spirit is the lifeblood of social media, all its Tik Toks and Vine loops. But not everything can be shared on social, as Kendra reveals with amusement.
"When the work was first posted on Spotify, we were trying to find a way to post about it on social media, but we couldn’t screen capture it on our phones because of some special blocking technology, and it was kind of silly to post it to video in the 9:16 format just to share it, when that wasn’t the format it was being consumed in.
"As a workaround, we ended up filming one of our designers watching it on her phone - and that’s how most people will see it (should see it, really.)
"I think it’s tough for motion graphics and design studios to think about social formats first because they feel so ephemeral, so quickly digested and spat out, and we all put time and effort into perfecting the work, so we want it to be seen in the best light. But of course the reality is that’s not always how people are consuming it.
"While our peers may see a perfect finished piece posted to Vimeo for example, the audience is watching it in all kinds of different places. So the challenge is how to make something quality and memorable with a shorter attention span. How do we augment songs and music artists with clever visuals that enhance the experience rather than feeling like an add-on, however beautiful or cool?"
That's the question creatives and the music industry should consider when wanting to make music visuals as resonant as other And/Or video faves like Cibo Matto's Sugar Water, directed by Michel Gondry, and Spike Jonze's classic Praise You promo for Fatboy Slim.
You can last decade's best music videos here, along with Gondry and Jonze delights amongst our top favourite Björk and Chemical Brothers MVs ever made.
Stay tuned for more entries in German Bold Italic, our new mini-series exploring the intersection between art and audio.
The series comes named after the best song ever made about a typeface, as performed by Towa Tei with Kylie Minogue.