Narrative music videos are those that tell a story. There are many different ways a story can be told in a music video. A narrative can be edited alongside the performance of the artist so that the video cuts back and forth between elements of performance and narrative. Sometimes the artist can be involved in the narrative in some way and can even be lip synching as they act in the narrative. In other examples the artist can be performing in the same location as the narrative is occurring. Having a narrative generally means there is a clear beginning, middle and end but sometimes narratives can be a bit more abstract and actually the narrative progresses very little from the start to the finish.
Narrative music videos often help to tell the story that is already present in the lyrics of the song and other times the narrative is more of an open interpretation of the lyrics or seems almost completely unrelated. Narratives engage the audience by providing enigmas and mystery. Audience will want to see how the stories will end because they will have questions they want answering.
An example of a very cinematic narrative music video is Eminem’s Stan, featuring the actor Devon Sawa playing an obsessed fan and also Dido and Eminem who sing and rap in the song. The video follows the story present in the lyrics of the song from Stan writing letters to Eminem to eventually killing himself and his girlfriend. Devon Sawa plays Stan and he lip synch’s Eminem’s lyrics until the last verse where Eminem is writing a letter back and then he appears in the video. It references Eminem’s fame and his problems with obsessive fans and the lighting makes and subject matter make it feel almost like a horror film. This video even has some of the sound effects from the narrative audible in the song such as the car splashing into the river.
The music video for Just by Radiohead sets up a very big enigma. A man lies in the street but will not tell anyone why. Throughout the video the audience will be questioning what the problem is with the man and what will happen. The performance of Radiohead is intercut between the narrative scenes and it also becomes clear that the room that Radiohead are performing in overlooks the street where the man is lying. It has a kind of twist ending that will hopefully surprise the audience. This sense of surprise will also likely be present by the end of The Scientist by Coldplay which all plays out in reverse.