“Scrolling text lyric videos are really beautiful,” said no one ever at Karaoke Night.
In the case of karaoke, teleprompters, or movie subtitles, you want type that’s easy to read, neutral, and by extension, boring. Imagine for a second you’re trying to watch a foreign film, and the subtitles are set in Curlz MT. Now quick, get out of that scary theater in your mind and get yourself a refund. If you have an internet connection and want animated type that’s cast as the lead instead of as a tree, first watch Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” video and then search lyric music videos on Youtube.
The coolest lyric videos animate type in ways that correspond with the meaning of the lyrics. Remember, typography: starring role, extended family in the audience, name super big in the program. In Elvis Costello and The Root’s “Walk Us Uptown,” the lyrics are laid out on cut-out bits of paper and vibrate about on screen. The effect is eclectic and jittery and fits the feel of the song.
The best lyric videos also use typefaces that mimic the song’s mood and genre. A great example is Fun’s “One Foot.” The song talks about moving on and putting “one foot in front of the other one.” As a nice tie-in, the camera follows a well-worn pair of Converse kicks. The song lyrics are hand-drawn and graffitied on the ground so that the shoes tromp along beside. Jenny Lewis’s lyric video for “Just One of the Guys” uses actual handwriting instead of a typeface. It’s very personal and feels like we’re getting a peek into the scribbled notes of initially writing the song.
Even the most basic lyric videos have a great return on investment. The potential to reach 100 million views on Youtube for under $1,000 bucks? Done. Record companies also began posting official lyric videos to replace fan-made videos that sometimes had misspellings or inaccuracies.
The more elaborate sets of lyric videos like Avicii’s “The Days” and Katy Perry’s “Birthday” come with a heftier price tag, but they resonate with viewers because you can read along and also watch a beautiful video. “The Days” uses stencils and spray paint to bring the song lyrics to life, and the video culminates in a massive piece of wall art. You shouldn’t watch “Birthday” if you’re hungry because it contains every kind of sugary, delicious treat imaginable. The song lyrics are written on cake, cupcakes, ribbons, the table, with candles; if it’s birthday related, it’s in there and it’s got some song lyrics on it.
Speaking of parties, if you asked Bob Dylan, he’d say everybody else is fashionably late to the lyric video one. He did one with cue cards for “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in 1965. Everybody else found their invites in 2010 after Cee Lo made it cool. Nowadays, MTV has capitalized on the trend with a VMA category, and record companies are raking in millions of Youtube views at a bargain price. Keep ‘em coming.