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RENEE MONTAGNE, co-host:

The "MTV Movie Awards" air tonight. Lest we forget, when MTV first started in 1981, the network broadcast wall-to-wall music videos. Now MTV is better known for reality shows and awards programs. It's pushed many of its music videos onto its secondary channels. A few competitors do show music videos, but they don't claim the clout MTV once enjoyed. Still, music videos are still being made, and NPR's Neda Ulaby wondered why.

(Soundbite of music)

NEDA ULABY reporting:

Some bands have a visual element. Take Devo, five guys in black turtlenecks and distinctively terist(ph) red hats. Gerald Casale was one of Devo's founders.

Mr. GERALD CASALE (Founder, Devo): Videos were so integrated with how people knew us and how people talked about us that I would say it was essential to our sales, because we didn't have the benefit of radio until into our third record when we finally had a hit with "Whip It."

(Soundbite of "Whip It")

DEVO: (Singing) When a problem comes along, you must whip it. Before the cream sits out too long, you must whip it. When something's going wrong, you must whip it.

ULABY: "Whip It" was a network staple in what was perhaps MTV's golden age. But Casale insists back in the 1980s, music videos were about more than selling records.

Mr. CASALE: Well, I think it was a new dimension to an artist having a voice in the marketplace. And I think even what we did on our little budgets and do-it-yourself esthetic I think proved that things can matter. People still talk about them and people still like them, and it wasn't just us parading around, you know, egotistically going, `Look at me. Look at me.'

(Soundbite of "Whip It")

DEVO: (Singing) I say whip it. Whip it good.

ULABY: Casale directed all of Devo's videos. He went onto make videos for other bands and TV commercials. Today he views them as pretty much the same thing except, he says, commercials are more honest.

Mr. CASALE: Because, I mean, commerce and industry takes over, you know, and it's just reality.

(Soundbite from "Hollaback Girl")

Ms. GWEN STEFANI: (Singing) A few times I've been around that track. So it's not just gonna happen like that. Because I ain't no hollaback girl. I ain't no hollaback girl.

ULABY: Gwen Stefani's video for her latest single, "Hollaback Girl," begins with the singer snapping a picture of her backup dancers with a limited edition digital camera she's credited with designing for HP. This goes beyond mere product placement. The buzzword now is co-branding.

(Soundbite from a McDonald's commercial)

Mr. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: (Singing) I'm lovin' it.

BACKUP SINGERS: (Singing) Ba, da, ba, ba ba.

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: (Singing) I'm lovin' it.

ULABY: This Justin Timberlake song, a collaboration with McDonald's. The fast-food company sponsored his last tour and refers to their association in its press release as a, quote, "multidimensional global relationship." The music video also fluttered through one of the chain's commercials.

(Soundbite of a McDonald's commercial)

Mr. TIMBERLAKE: (Singing) I'm not here to waste your time.

ULABY: Pam Tarr is president of the Music Video Production Association.

Ms. PAM TARR (President, Music Video Production Association): There are many examples now of music videos and commercials being shot in the same production scenario where either an advertiser or an ad agency and a record label get together and they pool their budget and basically know they're going to come out of the shoot with a commercial and with a music video.

ULABY: At a time when name brands have become an omnipresent part of the culture, it's hardly surprising when they turn up in songs on their own.

(Soundbite from a Busta Rhymes and P. Diddy song)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Pass the Courvoisier.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Everybody sing it now.

Unidentified Man #1 and BACKUP SINGERS: (Singing) Pass the Courvoisier.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Everybody sing it now.

Unidentified Man #1 and BACKUP SINGERS: (Singing) Pass the Courvoisier.

Unidentified Man #2: Whoa!

ULABY: This wasn't co-branding. It seems Busta Rhymes and P. Diddy just liked the liquor, and Courvoisier sales spiked 30 percent when the song came out two years ago. Of course, pop music and products have been linked since the beginning of pop music. This Pepsi jingle was in the late 1930s a jukebox hit.

(Soundbite from a 1930s Pepsi commercial)

Unidentified Singers: (Singing) Ba, do, di, do, dat, dat. Ba, do, di, do, dat, dat. Pepsi-Cola hits the spot. Twelve full ounces, that's a lot. Twice as much for a nickel, too. Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you. Ah!

ULABY: Today, Pam Tarr says overt links between products and songs are not anomalies, they're expected.

Ms. TARR: Especially, younger viewers have absolutely no problem with branding. In fact, often branding enhances content because it makes it more realistic.

ULABY: This synergy between advertising and music exists, in part, because it's one of the few ways bands can afford to make videos. Musicians like doing them, but the market has changed. Witness MTV. This week, the network's flagship basic cable channel programmed less than 37 hours of music videos out of a hundred and sixty-eight-hour week. And with most powerhouse radio outlets reluctant to try new music, bands now look to break in commercials or TV shows like "The O.C."

(Soundbite from "The O.C.")

Unidentified Man #3: If anybody's going to be putting him into handcuffs, it's going to be me.

ULABY: This band, Nada Surf, got its first break in the 1990s on MTV when its videos played alongside Nirvana's. Ben Webber is Nada Surf's manager. He says now the band's music videos largely serve to decorate its Web site, the label's Web site and, if the musicians are lucky, MTV.com.

Mr. BEN WEBBER (Manager, Nada Surf): The video for the lead single, "Inside of Love," was actually made by a college student as a project for one of her classes. And this woman made a video for them for no money that got played all over the world.

(Soundbite of "Inside of Love")

Unidentified Man #4: (Singing) Watching terrible TV, it kills all fun.

ULABY: Besides the challenge of just getting music videos made, bands now face another hurdle: making videos that look good on computers or cell phones, which, according to tech buzz, are the next frontier for entertainment. Videos with interactive hot spots are already online. Gerald Casale made one for Perfect Circle's cover of "Imagine."

(Soundbite from "Imagine")

Unidentified Man #5: (Singing) Imagine there's no heaven, and it's easy if you try.

Mr. CASALE: So as you're watching the video on the Internet, you follow like some of the archival footage of Air Force planes bombing Iraq. And you click on it, and it goes to a completely different menu, a different screen, with information and with related other facts and other images. In other words, you know, you can have a deeper, more involved experience.

ULABY: Casale acknowledges that interactive hot spots will probably be used to sell the clothing or cell phones seen in the videos. And he admits if Devo had the option, it would have sold stuff through its music videos, too.

Mr. CASALE: Only our own. And if we do ever make a new record and we do make videos, I guarantee you, you will be able to click and get something as cool as the red hat.

ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of "Whip It")

DEVO: (Singing) Go forward, move ahead, try to detect it, it's not too late to whip it into shape, shape it up, get straight, go forward, move ahead, try to detect it, it's not too late to whip it.

MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP (Co-host): I'm Steve Inskeep.

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