Byline: Ramin Setoodeh
The music industry had given up on videos. Then Lady Gaga came calling.
Many of us keep track of what tops the box-office and iTunes charts, but can anybody even guess what's the most-viewed YouTube video of all time? No, it doesn't involve a baby or a kid doing something hilarious. The answer is "Bad Romance," the music video starring Lady Gaga shimmying in what looks like an underground brothel. As of press time it had been viewed 244,529,375 times. The runner-up, and catching up fast, is the music video for Justin Bieber's song "Baby," with 243,479,950 views. No. 3 features a real baby ("Charlie Bit My Finger--Again"), though there's another video, Miley Cyrus's "Party in the U.S.A.," at No. 5, with 138 million views. Of course, music videos make up only a fraction of YouTube's audience as the second-largest search engine after Google, but the Web site has singlehandedly revived the genre--with a little help from a woman who wears soda cans in her hair.
Once upon a time, when people purchased their favorite songs on records and cassettes, the music video was a touchstone of popular culture. MTV launched in 1981 as a network devoted to airing them 24 hours a day--remember the rise of the VJ? But just like video killed the radio star, reality TV killed the music video. In the late '90s, music channels stopped being synonymous with music--and started airing washed-up music stars, such as the Osbournes and the Lachey-Simpsons, bickering in the comfort of their own McMansions. Not long after TRL was axed in 2008, music videos were relegated to the graveyard shift; even now, they air on MTV only between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m. As the music business imploded on the back of illegal downloads, videos--once seen as the best promotion to help boost albums--were a luxury that didn't make sense.
And then came music to record executives' ears: YouTube, which has partnered with a company named Vevo to monetize a medium that was as dated as a pair of disco shoes. Every time YouTube broadcasts a video through Vevo online, it is accompanied by a brief ad, and for every 1,000 such "impressions," Vevo earns at least $25. The reason music videos have come back from the dead is simple. They are the perfect length--three to five minutes--for abbreviated online attention spans. They are easy to share, tweet, Facebook, and comment on. You can watch them from the comfort of your own home (or cubicle, when you're procrastinating at work). Some videos are now so high in demand, they even have their own trailers. …