Transmedia + Music

OK Go’s “All is Not Lost” and HTML5 Music Videos

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Last week, OK Go released their newest innovative music video. They continued their DIY trend with using only dancers’ bodies to create shapes and letters, but chose to distribute an HTML5 version of the video for added interaction. This new style of music video has been slowly emerging, but the few examples available have easily shown the added benefits for artistic expression and emotional connection.

OK Go, famous for their inventive music videos, partnered with the Pilobolus dance company for the video of their new single, “All is Not Lost.” Watching the band and the dancers create letters with their bodies would have been interesting enough, but OK Go decided to take it a step further. By working with Google, the footage was adapted into an HTML5 video best playable through Google’s browser Chrome.

This allowed the video to come alive and create multiple windows, move them around, and split them apart. The user is encouraged to enter a message before the video loads, and their words are spelled out in the dancers’ feet during the finale. Their message can then be saved to a Global Gallery, or saved as an image to be shared online with friends. The customization and interaction of the video gives the viewer a taste of what the future will hold for artistic distribution.

So what is HTML5? It is a new programming language for presenting interactive content online. The reason most HTML5 videos produced so far have been through a partnership with Google is because the user does not need to download any plug-ins. The ability to fully interact with HTML5 is built straight into the Chrome browser. This has made it easier for music video creators to produce without worrying about browser compatibility issues and for users to watch the videos without having to download anything extra. In short, click and play!

The transmedia application of these enhanced music videos is effective and exciting. The different benefits can be seen in the few HTML5 videos that have been produced so far:

Arcade Fire “We Used to Wait”

The first and arguably most famous HTML5 music video was Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait,” produced by The Wilderness Machine and directed by Chris Milk. The user enters their childhood address and Google Maps satellite and Street View images are incorporated into the video of a faceless person running through the streets of the suburbs. The video was one of three Grand Prix winners at the 2011 Cannes advertising awards in the Cyber category.

The video succeeds at cultivating emotional resonance. It is imbued with the nostalgic themes of childhood innocence and suburban safety that are present in the album The Suburbs. The use of the childhood address and its images immediately pulls the user into the experience. The user is encouraged to write a postcard to their childhood self, with birds flying in to perch on the branched lettering. In the end, trees break through the pavement and a forest takes back the land where the user grew up. It is both compelling and touching.

Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi “3 Dreams of Black”

Another HTML5 video directed by Chris Milk is “3 Dreams of Black” from Danger Mouse’s side project Rome. The user is taken on a ride through a seemingly post-apocalyptic land, where strange mutations of nature are taking over. The user can adjust their first-person viewpoint, which changes the scenery they pass by. The video ends in a desert wasteland beneath large hanging constructions, the landscape reminiscent of the Spaghetti Western feel of the music.

This video allows for replayability, encouraging the user to watch it multiple times to have different experiences. They are also given other options on the website, such as “Continue to Explore” which lets them fly through the skies of the desert without a time limit. They can also “Add to the Dream” and create new structures in the sky or on the ground with cubes, a program similar to the game Minecraft. Given the amount of effort and money put into creating these videos, it is important to craft a high level of replayability so users will return over and over again.

The Gamits “This Shell”

HTML5 videos do not have to be incredibly large and expensive productions. A small punk band called The Gamits worked with Legwork Studio to create a puzzle of their music video for “This Shell.” The user has until the end of the song to put the pieces together, informed by the moving images on the pieces to understand where they go.

The video incorporates the reward factor of HTML5 videos. If the user places the pieces in time, they are given a free download of the song. The prize validates the user’s effort and use of time, and gives them a sense of accomplishment that a traditional one-way music video does not allow for.

Sour “Mirror”

Non-Western musicians are beginning to use them as well. The Japanese band Sour created an HTML5 music video for their song “Mirror” that actively incorporates the user’s social media presence. While not required, the video works best if the user allows the video to access their Twitter account, Facebook profile, and webcam. The video then constructs a walking amalgamation of Google images of the user that wanders through the social media landscape, playing with fake versions of their Twitter feeds and Facebook walls.

The level of immersion in the video is remarkable. The user feels as though they are wandering through the Internet on a personal journey, with the video portraying their social media accounts as part of the experience. The physical movement of the image-creature from one window to the next adds to the sensation of being immersed in another world.


This style of music extension is new, and not without imperfections. The Gamits video feels single note; once you have completed the puzzle, you don’t need to revisit it. Sour’s video had latency issues, and I was never able to get the web cam component to work. Even the Arcade Fire video is dependent on Google Maps, and was unable to use my childhood address as there were not Street View images of it. I instead had to use a common Manhattan address, which took away from the emotional connection I could have had with it.

Flaws aside, these videos are paving the way for a new kind of platform extension for musicians. Musicians can expand on themes or messages that are not as apparent in the music. Almost all of the videos featured above incorporated artistic elements into the technical construction and lay out of the videos, telling the messages in a different way than the driving platform of audio recording.

Instead of a one-way interaction, fans are able to play with the music and its visual representation, and form new and personal bonds that would otherwise not be possible. When describing his approach to creating these videos, Chris Milk explained:

Music scores your life. You interact with it. It becomes the soundtrack to that one summer with that one girl. [Traditional] music videos are very concrete and rigid because they rely on someone else’s vision.

By allowing fans to help craft their own experiences, it binds them more tightly to the music. This is a powerful act that lends itself to the building of a long-term fanbase that can support a musician’s career for many years.

As HTML5 videos become more easily produced and music videos are permanently pushed off of television, I believe this will become the standard visual extension for musicians. The future holds exciting prospects for music creators and listeners alike.

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