Recently, Jenny Hval released the video for the first track from her awaited upcoming LP, Blood Bitch. The video — for first single “Female Vampire” — was a feat, in that it was a new enough way of presenting imagery we’ve seen so repeatedly in music videos that it risks being entirely hackneyed. But it’s Jenny Hval, who’s great, and whose video was thematically substantial and self-consciously rooted in past traditions — and lo and behold, it wasn’t hackneyed! But the release of “Female Vampire” did serve as a reminder of just how many videos feature artists — or whatever characters, figurines, blobs, etc. represent them in these clips — partaking in vaguely mystical rituals. Put together, it’s almost comical thinking about the rainbow of often desperately surrealist occult rituals that exist across the spectrum of musical dramas.
Because music videos are obviously too short to get particularly in-depth as far as plots go, and because they often are highly aestheticized in order to grab people’s attention over the course of four-or-so-minutes, musicians and directors seem to almost default to the easy bizarrerie of occult rituals as an immediate way of hitting three important music video notes: a) people who’re strikingly dressed, b) people who are doing something physically, and c) a requisite overwrought weirdness. But there may be some other reasons for the trend other than mere convenience: subconscious — or, let’s give people credit — conscious reincorporation of religious ritual into the artform that was once a byproduct of it.
Any shallow dive into music history or the Pope’s recent prog rock album Wake Up will tell you, the ties between music and religious ritual run deep and long and probably other penis words. Despite the bulk of popular music now existing as secular art/entertainment, though, religious ritualism still plays a huge part in the imagery surrounding music, perhaps because of this historic formal entwinement. Particularly for women artists, the incorporation of ritual often seems a feminist gesture — playing into and then twisting age-old patriarchal myths of deviant femininity to find agency, camaraderie and power in the present.
Below is a list of videos that’ve imagined occult rituals to match their music — to ends beautiful, haunting, and occasionally utterly stupid.