The history of music videos is fascinating. The surest way to promote a hit new single, viewers watching closely will notice that music videos have specific tropes within various genres.
Pop music videos tend to be the most avant garde, featuring scenes that literally make no sense or have nothing to do with the song itself (think Britney Spears’s space-Titanic themed “Oops!...I Did It Again” or Lady Gaga’s poolside Dalmatians in “Poker Face”). Hip-hop is littered with voluptuous ladies in sexy, barely-there outfits and over-the-top markers of wealth.
And of course, rock and metal have their own music video clichés seen in plenty of popular music videos. Now, just because a music video depicts some type of cliché doesn't mean it's bad. In fact, there are some straight-up classics in the list below.
From vixens on cars to sad rain, here are the rock and metal music video tropes we’re used to (and very often tired of) seeing.
Performance Videos in Stereotypical Locales
Performance videos are essential to rock, metal, punk and hardcore bands — everyone knows it’s all about the live show. Yet, for all the creativity that abounds in these genres, bands automatically default to the same locations: abandoned houses or warehouses, open fields, churches (ironically, of course) and empty swimming pools.
The common denominator here is that rock and metal bands show up to locations where they’re not wanted. The type of location varies depending on the message: a church for the wicked, an empty pool for the Venice Beach-born skater punks and empty homes that signify a broken family or shattered self.
Examples: Bring Me The Horizon - “Go To Hell, For Heaven’s Sake”; August Burns Red - “Composure”; Attack! Attack! - “Stick Stickly”
Bands Walking Down the Street Like It’s West Side Story
They’re comin’ for a rumble! Sporting leather jackets and a don’t-mess-with-me attitude, bands enjoy walking side-by-side down streets, heading directly toward the camera like they’re on a mission.
They own this town, and everyone should know it. Sometimes they even come face-to-face with a rival street gang, and then it’s a battle of intense facial expressions — winner takes all. Also common is the band leading an army of fans.
Examples: Motionless In White - “Devil’s Night”; Vanna - “Toxic Pretender”; Michael Jackson “Beat It” complete with knife fight during Eddie Van Halen solo
The breakdowns may sound brutal, but in the end the band is most likely singing a love song. Even big, burly metal dudes get their hearts broken (and, of course, the skinny emo ones). Whether it’s in a motel room or over the phone, yelling at your lover and storming out in a huff or breaking bottles is a rock music video trademark.
Example: Pierce the Veil - “Caraphernalia”; Nickelback - “Someday”; Bon Jovi “Always”; Guns N’ Roses - “Don’t Cry”
One of the oldest rock and metal music video clichés in the book is as old as rock music itself: crazy, sexy parties. Whether they’re in Hollywood or some random person’s apartment, they give meaning to the phrase “party like a rockstar.” Totally ill-advised and 1000 percent fun, these music videos usually involve Strip Poker, aggressive makeout sessions and drunken hijinks. It’s an extension of tour life and the devil-may-care philosophy that comes with it.
Examples: Bring Me The Horizon - “Chelsea Smile”; Every Time I Die - “Decayin’ With The Boys”; Beastie Boys - “Fight for Your Right”; Jimmy Eat World - “The Middle”
Metalcore and post-hardcore bands tend to get trapped in literal glass cases of emotion. The metaphor here is obvious; the quick cuts between camera angles amplify the feelings of claustrophobia and panic.
In some instances, the imaginary box merely serves to emphasize that the sheer power of the music cannot be contained!
Regardless of the scenario that inexplicably stuck these musicians in a cube, the lighting is actually what ends up being the most important aesthetic factor in these cramped spaces.
Examples: Silverstein - “Infinite”; Paramore - “Ignorance”; Wage War - “Low”
Pop punk, emo, and rock bands often fall into the trope of exaggerated normalcy in their music videos. These geeky caricatures of the average Joe working a typical 9 to 5 provide clear foils to rock musicians’ rebellious lifestyle. It’s the most obvious declaration of individuality, juxtaposing the headbanger’s life with that of a pencil pusher.
Examples: Pierce the Veil - “King For A Day”; Halestorm, “Amen”; The All-American Rejects - “Gives You Hell”
This metal music video cliché is so tired and misogynistic, it should’ve completely died out after the 1980s. Alas, the tradition has carried on up to the present day, largely because of musicians desperate to portray the classic rock ’n’ roll image of success. They have money and they’re in the fast lane, but apparently that leaves no room for originality.
Examples: Falling In Reverse - “Good Girls Bad Guys”; Bowling For Soup - “1985”; Whitesnake - “Here I Go Again”
Satanic or Occult Ritual (Usually Involves Fire)
Metal bands of all types embrace the weird, the supernatural and the demonic. Satanic and occult rituals are ubiquitous in these music videos, usually featuring hooded figures, altars, and enough wax candles to warrant calling the local fire department. Metal music is all about what is forbidden and the imagery that comes with it, which is why metal bands have some of the most cinematic music videos.
Examples: Behemoth - “O Father O Satan O Sun!”; Mayhem - “Falsified And Hated”; “Atreyu - Long Live”
Odds are most of the rock and metal bands you listen to got started in high school. They’re also likely the bands that you listened to in high school, which sets the stage for an incredibly nostalgic experience. These are usually songs about feeling like an outsider or being bullied. This music video trope lends itself to being either really dramatic or really funny, as we remember that high school, for better or worse, was a time of extremes.
Examples: My Chemical Romance - “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”; Motley Crue “Smokin’ in the Boys Room”; Pearl Jam “Jeremy”; Blink-182 “Josie”; Simple Plan “I’m Just a Kid”; Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit”; Van Halen - “Hot for Teacher”
First and foremost, mirroring is originally a horror trope, both in literature and in film. Mirroring or doubling works to throw the viewer’s sense of reality off balance. It’s also a way of getting into the protagonist’s frame of mind. The mirror — or a split screen that acts like a mirror — provides a look into an alternate, imaginary landscape, as well as the musician’s innermost feelings.
Examples: Motionless In White - “Voices”; Megadeth “Sweating Bullets”; The Used - “The Bird And The Worm”
Another horror trope that extends to the rock and metal world is that of the woods. In literature, from medieval times up to the present, the woods represent a certain lawlessness and mystery. Likewise, bands wishing to evoke that kind of mood tend to find themselves performing in the woods, which is made all the more strange by the fact that they should have nothing to plug their electric instruments into.
Examples: Harm’s Way “Mind Control”; Paramore - “Decode”; Weezer - “Lost in the Woods”
Water is one of the most ancient themes in storytelling of any kind, often connoting a sense of sadness and heaviness. Water can also represent purification, which is also common in music, often washing away sadness and pain.
Examples: Asking Alexandria - “A Prophecy”; As I Lay Dying - “Confined”; Architects - “Downfall”; Guns N’ Roses - “November Rain”; Bullet For My Valentine - “Tears Don’t Fall”
Often a band’s first music video is the found-footage of van trips past, travelling between last night’s show in North Carolina and the day’s show in Tennessee. These are youthful, innocent, and adventurous scenes about experiencing freedom for the first time. Conversely, van and tour footage can also be used in montage videos.
Examples: Journey - “Faithfully”; Motley Crue - “Home Sweet Home”; FFDP - “Battle Born”; Wage War - “Surrounded”; All-American Rejects - “Top Of The World”
Every music genre is accompanied by a certain type of posturing: hip-hop slouches, pop seduces and metalcore flexes. In the case of the last, it is such a popular trope that YouTubers have made names for themselves imitating them. One metalcore posture is for the vocalist to have their arms stretched out and open wide. This is basically an invitation for a challenge: “I know I can take whatever you’ve got, so come at me.” Another metalcore vocalist habit is taking an open palm to the chest, indicating that they’re in this with all of their being.
Examples: Basically every metalcore music video ever.
Some bands take metal posturing to the next level and get down right ferocious, snarling and spitting into the camera. There are also music videos that attempt to do this but fail, and end up being unintentionally hilarious. Either way, the close-up is standard in genres that love to get in peoples’ faces.
Examples: Parkway Drive - “Shadow Boxing”; Guns N’ Roses - “Garden of Eden”; The Acacia Strain - “Cauterizer”