Patterned wallpaper, shirtless rock dudes, scenic summers and shouty electronica - it's been a long journey.
In 2011, writer Robyn Gallagher came up with “the diabolical idea” to watch every NZ On Air-funded music video ever made. She’d been inspired by a suggestion that the funder should engage more with “new media” by starting a YouTube channel, setting in motion a personal project that would chronicle and review two decades worth of cultural taonga.
5000 Ways to Love You starts with the very first videos funded in 1991, all the way to 2011 when the funding scheme was significantly overhauled. Approximately 2000 videos and six years later, the project has drawn to a tenuous close.
Gallagher shared her takes on the trends, topics and trivialities that make up NZ On Air’s illustrious first decades of music video funding.
What’s the story behind the name of the project 5000 Ways to Love You?
I decided I was going to host it on a separate website rather than my own website, so I needed a name for it. I thought about how it's $5000 for the video grant and I somehow came up with 5000 Ways to Love You, which I liked it because it kind of sounds like an old fashioned pop song from the 1960s.
Reflecting on 20 years of music videos, what sort of trends or themes have you noticed?
In the early ‘90s, the new cutting edge fad was green screen. It was pretty cheap since you just put a band in a studio and put some cool graphics behind them later. But sometimes it felt like green screen for the sake of it, just because it was this cool new technology. Whereas if you did a video now, you might not even be aware of it. It's just a feature that was used in the production that no one makes a big deal about.
There are always trends that come around internationally as well. That was kind of a surprise to me because I had this idea that New Zealand music videos were really innovative and original. For instance, during the early-to-mid ‘90s, bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers were doing a lot of things without their shirts on. So suddenly, all these New Zealand music videos would have these shirtless guys show up. But whereas the Red Hot Chili Peppers were quite built, the bands in New Zealand had all these skinny guys and it's like “No, please don’t. Put a shirt on!”
There were also a lot of electronic pop videos from the late 2000s. It was very fashionable at that period because that genre of music has quite an edgy, sophisticated sound, and it suggests a video made with a similar kind of aesthetic, which is kind of hard to do on a low budget.
There were a lot of videos that were trying to be really cool and edgy, but it never quite came across that way. It always looked a bit cheap. The bands would make a cool-sounding song, but when you looked at them, it would just be a bunch of music nerds trying to be cool dudes.
It’s kind of interesting how sometimes, videos just don't live up to the songs they're associated with.
Do you have any personal favourites that stand out to you after having gone through so many hours of video footage?
One that's an enduring favourite for me is this 2001 song called 'Into The Grain' by Augustino. The video just shows the band being cool rock dudes and all of the sudden, these flies start to invade the video and it gets taken over as the song gets more intense. It's quite gothic and it’s set in one of those dark, edgy, mysterious rooms with a curly patterned wallpaper in the background. At the time, patterned wallpaper was a big trend, which I think Blur started from the late ‘90s.
Fur Patrol's ‘Lydia’ is another favourite because what they've done is quite clever. You see the band playing in a bar and there's a guy at a table on a date with Lydia. Then at the end, you realise that Julia Deans - the lead singer of the band - is also playing Lydia, which I never noticed! I must have seen that video so many times when it came out, but it was only when I watched it again that I thought “Oh my god, it's her with a wig on!”
I like a video that can tell a story. Some videos can get very complicated and it can be very difficult to follow what's happening. With others, there's nothing. It's just a band playing a song.
‘Models’ by The Fanatics was a song used on a promo for New Zealand's Next Top Model which is how everyone knows it. The song is kind of shouty electronic and the video just has these models walking through an old factory looking very mysterious. Like I said, the problem with videos for electronic songs is that sometimes they're not as good as the song itself. But for this one, it works. You can kind of tell its low budget but the way it's all put together doesn't feel cheap.
It’s quite interesting to see how some songs are videos are embedded into the country’s cultural mind-set, like how everyone knows ‘Models’ because it was used for a TV promo.
With some of the videos on YouTube, there's actually a funny thing that happens in the comments. It seems there are certain types of videos that seem to make expat New Zealanders incredibly homesick, and they're usually ones that show the band going to the beach or on the road on the summer festival circuit.
There’d be all these comments on YouTube from people going: “Oh my god, I feel so homesick. I wish I was back in New Zealand. It's the best country in the world!”
I guess it’s that unique Kiwi aesthetic and how it refers back to childhood nostalgia.
It's like a summer holiday. There's a golden weather feeling where everything's perfect. It's hot, the sun’s shining, it's never raining, and everyone's having a good time. There’s a Black Seeds video where they're having a barbecue and all the comments are going “Oh my god, that barbecue looks so good!”
Having worked on 5000 Ways for the past six years, have you found that you’ve changed at all personally?
One of the reasons I started the project was that I had a web-based job that I wasn't really enjoying. I needed something to do that I was going to like. Otherwise, it was just going to drive me crazy. It felt good to have this regular thing to work on that I could always come back to.
I don't know if it's really changed me, but I did kind of get sick of it a lot. But whenever that happened, I would just put it aside and come back to it later. Although I did accidentally take a year off which I didn't intend on doing! But I guess I've only worked on it when I've wanted to work on it, so it's never gotten to the point where I felt like I was forcing myself to do it. And because it's just my site and I'm not writing for anyone else, I have the freedom to do that.
Were you ever tempted to abandon the project?
When I started doing it, I was doing one video per day. Then when I got to around 2003, I realised that I wasn't as familiar with the music from that era, so it was requiring a bit more work to familiarise myself with the songs.
I switched from doing one video per day to looking at each funding round instead, which would have around 30 videos that I would split over the course of a week which worked out to about six videos a day. And instead of writing a full post, I would just write a paragraph.
That saved it for me and made it a lot easier to do. If I was still doing it at the old rate of one per day, I would still be doing it now. It gave me a chance to finish it a few years earlier, so that's a relief.
Did you get any outside help sourcing these videos out from the bands themselves, or groups like NZ On Air or NZ On Screen?
Just casually. People would contact me and say “Hey I've just put this video online” or “I've just discovered this video” and then I'd do catch-up posts. For example, there was a guy at NZ On Air that I knew who was doing some contract work, and he messaged me and asked if I had any videos missing and that he could look at putting those online.
NZ On Screen have also been really helpful. They only want to put up videos that have some sort of cultural significance, like if it was nominated for a NZ Music Award for Best Video, so if there's some interesting cultural quality about the video, they would be more interested in tracking those down.
Also a friend of mine, Peter McLennan, who's a musician and writer, had a friend with a whole lot of tapes of an old TV3 music video show called Frenzy. He sent me a list of all the New Zealand clips on it and asked what I was missing, which he then digitised and put online. So just little things like that have been really helpful.
The project has come to a close, but I understand you’re also considering with the idea of starting it up again?
Obviously there are still NZ On Air-funded music videos, but I didn't want to be reviewing stuff quite close to when it was first released. It would be hard to review something that was only a couple of years old.
What I was thinking of doing was once a year, catching up on all the funded videos. I haven't quite figured out what I'm going to do, but I'm hoping it won't totally be the end of it.
The funding structure changed since 2011 as well, so it’ll be interesting to see if anything's changed in the quality of videos produced.
Last year, [NZ On Air] pretty much acknowledged that music videos aren't the be-all-end-all way of promoting songs. You can get funding now for other types of promotion. I'm not sure exactly what they have in mind, but it'll be interesting to see what comes out of it.
The obvious idea might be an app. Shapeshifter released an app in 2012 that would play their song ‘Monarch’, and if you pointed your smartphone at an image of a butterfly, there'd be this 3D thing coming out of the butterfly.
Shihad also did a video a few years ago for ‘Sleepeater’ where they got fans of the band, put them in a studio on a chair, and hurled wind, water, all sorts of crazy things at them and filmed it in slow motion. Then you go to this webpage and there's this grid of footage showing the same thing happening to different people. Then the broadcast version was just clips from that put together.
I think of Shihad as a band that looks after their fans and likes doing stuff like that. That's the sort of interesting way of doing a video that has a web presence that's doing something a bit different.
I understand what you mean when you say time needs to pass to review things properly. Like with the Shapeshifter app, I'm still not sure if it’s genuinely cool or just gimmicky fad.
I think when the Shapeshifter thing came out, it was like “You gotta have an app!” but that feels a bit like doing it for the sake of doing it, like how green screens were in the early ‘90s. But now, I might be inclined to look at that and go 'How does it relate to the song? What do I get out of it as a viewer?' And maybe the answer is nothing.