Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Apr 22nd 2010 5:30PM by Shelley White
"The Muppets singing 'Bohemian Rhapsody -- it doesn't get better than that," Kulash tells Spinner enthusiastically. "One, it's obviously a great song, and two, the Muppets are one of the things that make me proudest to be a human. They make me amazed by what humans can create, and they are also incredibly able to make fun of their own process. Almost no one can shine the light back on themselves in this amazing way, without seeming overly self-deprecating or annoying or insincere."
Kulash also points out that the Muppets video was made specifically for the Internet, a "new world" he feels has opened up endless possibilities for creating art.
"There is a certain beauty to people who are specifically making art for the internet," Kulash muses. "Obviously [YouTube sensation]'Charlie Bit My Finger' is compelling, but it's also just America's Funniest Home Videos -- someone had the wisdom to put it online, but that's about it. But when someone sits down and says, 'How do I use this medium to create something?' and then the world really loves it, it's a really satisfying thing to watch. We're not in a crass marketing stage anymore. It's not true that only someone getting kicked in the balls goes viral. If you make something compelling, people will want to see it."
Music videos also had a lot to do with why OK Go split with EMI to form their own independent label, Paracadute. Kulash wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times protesting EMI's policy of refusing to allow fans to embed OK Go's videos, and the two sides parted ways shortly thereafter.
"Our project is a much wider creative project than what they are set up to promote," Kulash says. "It was a pretty mutual understanding. They basically only judge success by record sales and we judge success in a much broader umbrella."
Two of OK Go's latest videos, both for 'This Too Shall Pass' (from their 2010 album 'Of the Blue Colour of the Sky'), continue their unique approach. One is a charming, low-tech affair with a marching band. The other is a you-gotta-see-it mindblower featuring a complex Rube Goldberg contraption, which has thus far garnered close to 12 million views on YouTube. Kulash says the videos his band creates have little in common with the traditional music videos of the past.
"There was this huge arms race for those 20 slots on MTV, and to win that you had to be more like the thing that came before you than anyone else. More glamourous and glossy and more assured of keeping 16-year-old eyeballs stuck to their TVs so they could sell tennis shoes," he says. "The purpose of our videos is not to advertise our record, it's a thing in and of itself. I mean, you almost want to come up with a new word for it, because when people think of a video, they think of something that is advertising a song. And when we think of what we do with online video or YouTube or digital space in general, it's a much broader artistic project. It has very little to do with this sort of Machiavellian marketing."
Kulash also enjoys the fact that "going viral" has opened up a whole new audience for them, and that the people who watch their videos online aren't necessarily the same demographic as the kids who buy rock records.
"We did a show a month ago in England and two 70-year-olds were in the front row," he says. "It was great, they told us they saw our video on the Internet and said, 'Let's go to a rock concert.' That's not going to become the norm, but the [group of] people who watch our videos is much more broad than the demographic that is marketed to by Clear Channel radio stations and MTV and major labels."
But then one starts to wonder -- if there's no record label footing the bill, who's paying for all these marvelous works of art? Insurance firm State Farm sponsored one of OK Go's 'This Too Shall Pass' videos and only asked for a logo at the end. But what about product placement, like the brands sprinkled throughout the madcap Lady Gaga/Beyonce opus 'Telephone?'
"I don't have a set of rules for what is OK and what's not OK," Kulash says after some hemming and hawing. "But I do know that what we want and what most video directors want is creative freedom."
"I would love to be in a world where product placement didn't exist, but it is likely that you can work with a corporate sponsor who will have some humility about what their role in the creative process is, in a way that would be impossible with a major record label.
"Major labels are like, "We're paying for it, we'll tell you exactly what we want.'"