Because uncovering a video’s formal design piece by piece can obscure the smoother flow of time we experience in a music video, it will be helpful for readers to watch the entirety of
Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” to get a sense of the song’s form—the way it organizes time—as part of my analysis. As I go through the smaller sections that make this video work, try not to lose the sense of perpetual flow that makes Houston’s video so enjoyable.
The video begins with an introductory section, often shortened as intro
. Like the layers of a cake, the various instruments are added one at a time: percussion, then the bass (0:30), and finally the main riff played by keyboards and horns. This technique is called a buildup
, and it’s common in
Adding these layers one at a time keeps the listener’s interest before Houston’s vocals even enter.
Houston begins the verse
(0:57) wondering how she’ll chase her blues away. The mood is rather somber. She seems a bit more optimistic in the prechorus
(1:14). Her higher vocal range complements the lyrics that state how fine the daytime hours are. But what she’s really looking forward to is dancing this evening. The chorus
(1:28) is the highlight of standard verse/chorus songs. Houston belts out the memorable melody in her highest register yet, beginning immediately on the title lyric. She only sings higher than this once in the song. Listening to chorus two (2:04) and chorus three (3:37) back to back reveals that everything—not just her vocals but also the instrumental tracks—has been shifted up in pitch. Pitching the final chorus up is a special technique called the pump-up chorus
and it’s especially common in 1980s songs.
This overall formal shape is called verse/chorus form
. It’s one of two standard song forms that make up the majority of music videos. Lyrically, verses typically set up and advance a narrative, while the chorus either reflects on that narrative or drives home its main message. Notice how the
chorus contains the song’s title, and its lyrics are the same every time. By contrast, the verse’s lyrics are different each time, even though they appear over the same backing music.
Music videos respond visually to musical sections in nuanced ways. Just like the lyrics change from verse one to verse two, so does the cinematography between these two verses (Figure 1.2
). Comparing the camera’s point...