How Beyoncé Became The New Wagner



Faculty Mentor

Keith Hatschek

Document Type

Conference Presentation

Conference Title

31st Annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research


Council on Undergraduate Research


University of Memphis, Memphis, TN

Conference Dates

April 6-8, 2017

Date of Presentation



In today’s music industry, when streaming and free access services are becoming the industry standard and album sales are steadily decreasing, artists have been searching for ways to encourage people to buy their music. In the case of pop artists like Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, this has taken the form of innovative video content that strays from the traditional music video. These more elaborate and creative videos call to mind the works of Richard Wagner, an influential 19th century composer of opera. His idea, which he called Gesamtkunstwerk (translated as Total Artwork) stated that opera was the highest of all art forms because it combined narrative, visual, and musical arts into one perfect art that could not exist without all components carrying equal importance. By exploring the history of Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk as well as the evolution of the popular music video, combined with an in-depth analysis of the video content of Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, one can trace the increasing importance of narrative and visual components in traditionally music-dominated videos, with meanings and associations separate from the song itself, thus epitomizing Wagner’s ideas. By creating video content exclusive to paid subscribers of particular services, (as Beyoncé did with her visual album Lemonade on the subscription streaming service Tidal), there becomes new incentive for fans to pay for music. In the short time since Beyoncé’s Lemonade was released, a number of artists, such as Drake and Frank Ocean have followed suit, forgoing traditional music videos for longer, more theatrical productions that are exclusive to paid subscribers of specific services, such as Tidal and Apple Music. Nearly 200 years after Wagner published his idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, today’s artists are able to use these ideas to further monetize their work in an otherwise struggling market.

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