'Accented' Music Video: Animating Memories of Migration in 'Rocket Man'

By Perrott, Lisa | Music, Sound and the Moving Image, Autumn 2019 | Go to article overview

'Accented' Music Video: Animating Memories of Migration in 'Rocket Man'


Perrott, Lisa, Music, Sound and the Moving Image


Introduction

In the age of cyberspace, a diaspora can, to some degree, be held together or re-created through the mind, through cultural artefacts and through a shared imagination.

(Robin Cohen, 1997, p. 26)

Elton John and Bernie Taupin's song 'Rocket Man' has undergone a fascinating journey since its initial release in 1972. Apart from speculation about the origins of the lyrics, there has also been debate over the song's implied meanings. 'Rocket Man' has been covered by Kate Bush (1990),1 sampled and remixed by Young Thug in 'High' (2018),2 and re-contextualised in the form of playful tributes, such as William Shatner's famous spoken performance of the song at the 1978 Science Fiction Awards.3 Through these various reinterpretations, the song has accrued associations with science fiction, space travel, alienation, and drug use. Despite the song's potential for vivid visual responses, it had never been accompanied by an official music video.4 However, in May 2017 an official music video titled 'Elton John: Rocket Man' premiered at the Cannes Film Festival as a winner of the competition Elton John: The Cut.5 While marking the fiftieth anniversary of the song-writing relationship between Elton John and Bernie Taupin, the competition, organised by the partnership of YouTube, Pulse Films and AKQA,6 added another limb to the recent spate of competitions generating experimentation with new approaches to music video authorship.

Directed by Majid Adin and Stephen McNally, this animated music video reimagines the lyrics to the song 'Rocket Man' by visually telling the story of Adin's migration from Iran to the United Kingdom during the 2015 refugee crisis in Europe. John and Taupin's song once spoke to the late 1960s and early 1970s Zeitgeist in which alienation was expressed within the context of space travel and science fiction aesthetics, as depicted in Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the original music video for David Bowie's song 'Space Oddity' (1969), and the BBC's use of this song to accompany their coverage for the Apollo 11 landing on 20 July 1969.7 Adin and McNally's music video builds upon these accrued associations with space travel and alienation, which are interlaced with the cultural memory of 'Rocket Man'. As an act of sonic-linguistic-visual time travel, their video palimpsestuously adds further layers that speak to the current moment in which alienation, migration, exilic, and diasporic cultural identity are simultaneously ubiquitous, yet not easily understood outside subjective experience. Alienation serves as a universally accessible theme, bringing together two distinct moments in time, whilst also intertwining music video aesthetics with the emergent codes of animated documentary. Integrating analogue and digital animation techniques, the music video incorporates an artisanal 'drawn from memory' aesthetic similar to the animated representation of traumatic memory described by Robert Peaslee as 'dream-memory' (2011, p.229).

Offering a useful intertext for audiovisual and intermedial analysis, this video also serves as a case study for examining the transformation of music video due to experimental collaborative approaches enabled by new technologies, internet platforms and converging media. Situated within a historical and cultural context in which exilic and diasporic negotiations of identity are considered vital, my examination of 'Rocket Man' draws upon Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of dialogism as a theoretical frame for my examination of the intertextual construction of the video (Bakhtin & Holquist, 1981). Along with the concepts of dialogism and intertextuality, relevant literature on transmedia, intermediality and remediation informs my discussion about the transformation of music video (Bolter & Grusin, 1999; Jenkins, 2003; Jenkins, 2007; Korsgaard, 2017; Perrott, 2019b).

Music Video in Transformation

Music video's forms and functions have diversified in many ways since the birth of MTV. …

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