In The Age of Lyric Videos

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It’s late at night and you’re either drunk with your friends or drunk alone with yourself and you’re in the mood for some music. Thankfully, most of us are fortunate enough to have access to YouTube, where you can listen to almost every song ever made AND listen to it while watching cat videos on mute. For a more visceral, engaging experience you can put on a lyric video and have the words of your favorite pop song spelled out for you as you listen.

Or maybe it’s early morning, and the crushing weight of the day ahead, like most days, is too much for you to bear on your own, so you pull your laptop out from under your bed and throw on some lyrical inspiration via Katy Perry. No matter your reasons for adding “lyric video” at the end of your YouTube search, most can agree that lyric videos have become one of the most valuable services that YouTube provides.

Speaking of Katy Perry, she has probably utilized the art of the lyric video more than any other pop star, producing her own official lyric videos for each single. A standout of the lyric video art form is her official video for “Roar,” which offers some insightful commentary on the way the brevity of instant messaging has impacted the way we express ourselves through language:

But Katy Perry, as a professional music artist, is an outlier in the lyric video business. Most of these lyric videos are actually being produced by young fans from around the globe. Despite some of their videos reaching multi-million view counts, due to copyright laws lyric video uploaders are ineligible to receive payments from YouTube’s Partner Program, which pays the uploaders of popular videos in exchange for ad space. So I messaged some YouTube users to find out why they put their time and effort into creating these lyric videos.

Most of the respondents were from foreign countries, and all of them were under the age of 18. In order to work around copyright laws, a lot of lyric video creators slightly pitch, slow down, or speed up the tune of the original song. For example HockeyGirl786, a 14 year-old Canadian Belieber and uploader of the second most watched “Wrecking Ball” lyric video (nearly 7 million views at time of publication), says she does worry about copyright censors, but as a precaution she purchases her songs on iTunes and then pitches the audio for the video.

Lyric video uploaders aren’t in it for the money. A lot of them seem to find the fame aspect, scoring a bunch of new subscribers for having a YouTube video with hundreds of thousands or even millions of views, attractive enough on its own. Most of them are just kids who find it fun to learn how to edit and upload videos. And others who aren’t very proficient at English make lyric videos to help themselves and other non-English speaking YouTube users understand the lyrics to American pop songs.


I interviewed some lyric video creators to learn more about them and their art:

xUnicornHOOKERx is, according to his “About Me,” a 14 year old, male, straight, Italian “LittleMonster” and member of the “BritneyArmy” and “RihannaNavy.”

WRGW: Why did you first start making videos for YouTube?

xUnicornHOOKERx: I start making videos in 2009. I was just a 10 years old kid and it was my hobby! I started making Unofficial music video of Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Kesha so yeah i really had good times and i was proud and happy to see that people start like my videos and comment too!

I noticed you uploaded a lyric video for Lady Gaga’s “Applause.” What do you think about the song?

xUnicornHOOKERx: Yes! Honestly i was expecting a little bit more as a comeback single but i like it! When i listened to it for the very first time it sound a little bit weird but now i love it and i can’t stop singing ”I LIVE FOR THIS APPLAUSE APPLAUSE APPLAUSE” hahaha 🙂

How excited are you for the upcoming album ARTPOP?

xUnicornHOOKERx: I really CAN’T WAIT! I’m soo excited after Applause and BurqaAwrah!

You pitched the audio to work around the copyright censors. Do you think the song still sounds good with pitched audio?

xUnicornHOOKERx: Yes i pitched the song but unfortunately UMG (Universal Music Group) blocked the video worldwide and maybe the video with be Online but without the track!…I’ll reupload it when it will be up on iTunes! And yes i think that the song still sounds good with pitch!

How do you think your lyric video serves the YouTube community?
xUnicornHOOKERx: Well i dunno i think that we have to ask to the Youtube community but i think that Lyrics video help people to sing and store the song 🙂

I really liked your “Britney Spears – We’re Gonna Die Young” video. What was your inspiration for making it?

xUnicornHOOKERx: Thank you so much! Well i see a lot of fan made videos made by my subscribers everyday so i can found inspiration in other videos but everytime i give my own touch to my videos:)

Do you think Britney would do a good cover of “Die Young”?
xUnicornHOOKERx: Yes of course i think Britney version will be greeat!

What do you like better “Till The World Ends” or “Die Young”?
xUnicornHOOKERx: Well i think that are 2 different type of song! But i honestly prefer Till The World Ends 🙂

If we lived in a Mad Max-esque world where we made celebrities fight each other to the death, who do you think would win in a deathmatch, Britney or Ke$ha?

xUnicornHOOKERx: Britney of course!

Alex B, 15, is a big Matty B fan from Denmark who specializes in Matty B lyric videos.

WRGW: What originally inspired you to make Matty B lyric videos?

Alex B: it was Matty B’s cover of “someone like you” that inspired me. I saw the video with someone else’s lyrics and didn’t think it made sense. I wanted to understand what he is singing, so I decided to make my own lyrics.

What is it about Matty B’s lyrics that you like so much?

Alex B: All what he say about his live and his girlfriend

What’s your favorite Matty B video?

Alex B: That’s “Back In Time” so AMAZING

Have you ever run into trouble for using Matty B’s music in your videos?

Alex B: No not with MattyB but with Justin Timberlake and One Direction.

Have you ever considered making lyric videos to songs by other artists?

Alex B: I already did that but I deleted them all because copyright deleted two of my videos.

What do you think lyric videos contribute to the YouTube community?

Alex B: Help people to get lyrics and to help young people in other countries to learn and understand English.

-Jim Walls

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