In the post-MTV era, music videos came to be seen almost as afterthoughts to the original songs.
Nowadays, people find new music through streaming services, not from watching video-based content. As such, why bother wasting oodles of money on productions that won’t indoctrinate new listeners to the artist at hand?
But given how often image-based content now goes viral thanks to social media, the importance of music videos are on the rise again, from Lemonade to Donald Glover’s/Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” only a few weeks ago (though the latter technically premiered on SNL — a quasi-throwback to MTV’s heyday! — it only gained notoriety from being copiously shared online). The music videos that garnered ratings back in the day and tend to trend today don’t merely complement their songs; they elevate them by adding meaningful elements to deepen the work, furthering the possible conversations to be had about them.
John Mayer’s “New Light” might fail to achieve that lofty goal, but it also doesn’t seem to strive for it.
Upon my first listen, I thought it was yet another mindlessly breezy tune from our foremost beach crooner, with lyrics like “Take a ride up to Malibu / I just wanna stay to look at you, look at you.” At this point, he must be able to churn out these sorts of tracks in his sleep, right? And unless he’s aware of that possible perception, it all feels kind of cheap? Especially because his naturally-smooth voice will always be associated with assumed sincerity, uncomplicated by the casual, shallow, pop-romance of the words. Jaded cynics like myself might even roll our eyes at the inevitability of Mayer succumbing yet again to his usual formula of releasing yet another sufficiently-enjoyable but mostly-forgettable creation.
But it’s hard to roll your eyes at someone who’s rolling their eyes at themselves, and that’s what the music video strives to achieve:
Right on down to the parenthetical “(Premium Content!)” header, its ironically laidback vibe — is there anything more ironic than that exclamation point? — emphasizes the song’s laissez-faire quality more than the song itself when heard alone. Mayer might sound as earnest as ever — does he possess another musical register? — but the video is anything but; it all but winks at us, almost like a flashing neon sign ensuring no one takes such a transparent summer jam too seriously. It’s a rather deft way for Mayer to communicate how his music should be received. If you’re expecting genius, best not to look for it in a video with this origin story:
Even if that whole spiel is just an elaborate marketing ploy — you can’t fool me, mad men! — it will now forever be embedded into the song’s story.
By seeing Mayer’s affably self-deprecating approach, the song becomes that much more endearing. “New Light” won’t be winning any Pulitzers any time soon, but knowing Mayer is well-aware of that fact makes the song, well, better.
To borrow its self-aware wry tone, you could almost say the video sheds…NEW LIGHT on the song.
In other words, it lets us see “New Light” in a better light.
In an ideal light.
In the intended light.
I’ll stop now.