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Music Videos Analysis: Michael Jackson and Taylor Swift

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Throughout history, music has been part of everyone’s life whether it's pop, rock, hip-hop, classical, al or jazz. They each made us feel connected to the singer or relate to them. This case study will focus on and analyze music videos throughout history starting way back Before MTV was ever created. Before MTV was ever created people in the 1970s needed to have a cable tv first to watch music videos then maybe if they were lucky enough, they could catch a daytime tv show that played a music video since they weren’t any music video channels. Caring on we went into the 80s, 80s was such a magnificent era for music videos. It was the first time MTV was launched on August 1st, 1981 in New York and the United States with the idea to be music television playing music 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Artists like Michael Jackson came out with music videos on MTV such as Billie Jean, Beat it, and Thriller. Madonna released hit music video songs like, like a virgin, into the groove and dress you up. These artists and many more Gained massive recognition across the boards through their expressive and storytelling videos. Helping MTV to become the multi-billion industry that it is today.


In the era 1980 music videos were just starting to come out and weren’t a big thing back then. This was because a lot of artists weren’t fond of making music videos as they felt like a music video will distract the listener from the meaning and story behind the lyrics. This however changed when artists like Michael Jackson saw music videos as a way to express their individuality and style. Releasing ‘Thriller’ (1982) the music video making it one of his most recognizable songs to this day. Throughout this case study ‘Thriller’ will be analyzed Through its use of mise en scene and symbolic codes.


Michael Jackson's Thriller ‘was the ever first music video that went for 14 minutes. The video was filmed in downtown Los Angeles in the middle of the night and was directed by John Landis. ‘Thriller’ the music video uses technical and symbolic codes such as camera angles, mise en scene, and sound. Michael Jackson uses a lot of Foley sound to create a spooky atmosphere. This is heard in ‘Thriller’ when Michael Jackson sings the lyrics “You hear the door slam and realize there’s nowhere else to run” On the word “slam” Michael Jackson uses the Foley sound of a door slamming shut to create the atmosphere that the viewer is the one in the ‘Thriller video. The film also uses mise en scene to create a stereotypical American horror film style. Where Michael Jackson is seen wearing a baseball jacket and the girl is dressed as a typical cheerleader

in a flowy skirt, pink blouse, and a bow tie. In music, video camera angles like close-ups are used in a lot of different ways. ‘Thriller’ uses close-ups to emphasize different meanings. The first close-up of Michael Jackson and his girlfriend is used when he sings “ For you and me to cuddle close together” the shot shows a close-up of him and his girlfriend cuddling close together smiling as they walk. This close-up shot shows the audience the emotional bond between the two lovers. Another different close-up shot that can bring different meanings was when the two couples were slowly being surrounded by zombies and Michael’s girlfriend turns around to find a zombie, Michael. The close-up shot of Michael Jackson as a zombie was put there to create shock and a sense of danger for the girlfriend.


When ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ (2017) by Taylor swift directed by Joseph Kahn and filmed in London was released, seeing a music video was already normal. People could now watch music videos on their phones, YouTube, tv, and laptops whenever they want. It was easier now to have excess to watch whatever you want whenever you want. People could now do what people 20 years ago could not do. Such as skipping a music video to what you want, changing the tv channel to watch another music video and you could now share a music video with people without it being illegal.

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‘Look What You Made Me Do’ was Taylor swift lead single from her reputation album which talks about Taylor swift various issues that build up her reputation. Her ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ broke the most viewed YouTube video in under 24 hours and topped the most played song on Spotify. ‘look what you made me do’ uses shots like birds eye of view and close-up shots to build up the spooky elements of the film. The first shot as the viewer is a shot of a bird's eye view moving through what looks like a city that we later found out are graveyards. Mise en scene is seen throughout the film the first being the graves and the second, being Taylor swift as a rotten zombie coming out of the grave. This scene is a use of mise en scene as it is very common in American horror films to see a zombie come out with one of their hand first. This kind of shot shares a similarity with Michael Jackson's Thriller ‘ as in the music video on the graveyard screen we also see a zombie coming out of the grave with their hand up first. Taylor Swift's ‘Look what you made me do’ brings a lot of mise en scene to communicate and spook the viewers this is seen when the zombie Taylor swift is baring Taylor swift corps in the grave. Giving the viewer a familiar screen where the zombies take over and try to kill you.


Throughout this case study the goal was to identify and describe the visuals, Mise en screen, and their storytelling music videos as well as praise them in the prosses. Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ does a good job in using mise en screen, foley sound, lighting and to create a storytelling music video. ‘thriller’ uses a lot of low-key lighting to get the lighting and shadows they need in order to make the music video horror theme. This is first seen when Michael Jackson first turned into a zombie. The film uses low-key lighting to create a suspenseful mood and get a dramatic effect on the audience. The low-key lighting works at that moment because of the surprise we feel when realizing he has turned into a zombie and the foley sound used a classic horror sound. The color was also used a lot in this music video to set the theme and mood. In the music video, everyone and everything aspect Michael Jackson who was wearing red was either in black or dark blue clothes. This choice of color was successfully used to put Michael Jackson as the center of attention as well as denote the danger he is to his girlfriend.

Taylor Swift uses costumes and colors to create and communicate with the audience. The first thing we see is her costume in which she is wearing a ripped blue dress in a graveyard using low-key lighting emphasizing dark tones and shadows to give us an idea the music video is going to be based on a horror genre. The costumes and colors successfully create a suspenseful feeling that keeps the viewers on their sit. Taylor Swift uses props and lyrics to communicate and create a memorable screen in which she uses the lyrics “Don’t like your tilted stage” while making all the graveyards tilt as she sings the lyrics.

Both films do a great job of this by using their own way of telling a story. Michael Jackson's music video relies on audio and mise en screen and dancing while Taylor swift video relies on visuals, mise en scene, and a lot of dolly shots. However, both films have a similarity in using stereotypical horror film elements to get their point across. Both films also use low-key lighting to create a thriller atmosphere.


As expressed, both Music videos have come a long way with technology being advanced and making it much easier for music videos to be viewed around the world. Although music videos have advanced, we still see a similarity in music videos either it’s through visual codes or the camera techniques music videos have involved each passing era and are still enjoyed all around the world.


Michael Jackson


Taylor swift

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Music Videos Analysis: Michael Jackson and Taylor Swift. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
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