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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On YouTube, ‘Lyrics Videos’ Mark a New Genre

Maroon 5’s lyric video for their song, “Payphone,” is one of the most popular examples of a new, emerging genre on YouTube.

If you had searched for a “lyrics video” on YouTube in 2008, you might have found a touching homegrown tribute from a fan who urgently wanted to share the poetical lyricism of their favorite song with the world.

In one instance, a Guns N’ Roses fan lovingly presented the lyrics to the power ballad, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” over a montage of images of their family dogs.

Now, these handcrafted homages have evolved into more formal offerings from name-brand musicians, who see them as an additional source of views, and revenue.

Since 2011, the number of views for lyrics videos have increased seven times, according to YouTube.  The top 500 lyrics videos pulled in 624 million views this year, compared with 84 million in 2011. Also, the number of lyric videos uploaded to the site have doubled over last year.

“We’ve seen them getting more creative and sort of becoming this other art form,” said Kevin Allocca, YouTube’s head of culture and trends. “It offers artists a lot of things you can take advantage of before you have an official video.”

Lyrics videos are faster and cheaper to produce than standard music videos. They require no sets, costumes, lighting, production design or directors. And they can be made available early in a song’s release cycle to pique the interest of fans.

Lady Gaga, Vampire Weekend, One Direction and even the Rolling Stones are all pumping out official lyrics videos to pair with (or preview) a song’s release.

When Cee Lo Green’s popular song, the sometimes politely titled “Forget You,” was first released as a lyrics video in October 2010, it was an early, bold entrant in the genre. Sharp fluorescent backgrounds and moving block type emphasized the song’s frank dismissal of a former loved one and helped catapult the song on YouTube.

Since then, official lyrics videos have grown as creative exercises in using animated text effects and clever conceits to share a song’s meaning with its fans.

Katy Perry has been a leader in inventively toying with lyrics videos, Mr. Allocca said. When she released the lyrics video for her new summer single, “Roar,” the screen displayed a scroll of animated text-messages matching both words and text-messaging icons to her verses.

The video received 45 million views since it was uploaded, many before her “official” video for the same song was made available. That presented the singer leaping through a faux Technicolor jungle in Tarzanesque drapery, with no lyrics to be seen.

Searches for lyrics videos have also peaked in the last few months, spiking higher along with major song releases, according to YouTube.

Even smaller bands, like the Sydney-based group, “For All Eternity,” are putting out lyrics videos. Some of them have outperformed the band’s traditional music videos, said the band’s lead vocalist, Shane Carroll.

Part of this may be because the band’s songs carry Christian themes that are nearly impossible to decipher over their music, which Mr. Carroll describes as, “a hybrid between post-hardcore and melodic metal-core.” But also, lyrics videos simply make it easier for fans to connect with the music, he said.

“CD sales have declined dramatically,” Mr. Carroll said. “Kids can’t open a physical booklet and read the lyrics anymore.”

“It’s a lot easier to share our music with people that may not listen to our style of music,” he said, “if we can link them up to something like a lyric video.”