Bob Dylan’s new interactive video for “Like A Rolling Stone” is an exciting look at where music videos may be headed

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Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” is one of the most critically acclaimed songs of all time, so it might be surprising to know that it’s never had an official music video. Until now. Dylan’s new interactive video dropped out of the sky today and it’s a lot of things at once: a savvy marketing move, a technological challenge from an artist in his 70’s, and an extremely intelligent illustration of how thoroughly “Like A Rolling Stone” has permeated our culture (reminiscent of Pepsi’s excellent Super Bowl commercial from back in 2009).

The interactive video was created by digital agency Interlude to promote Dylan’s new 43-disc box set The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1 and features 16 different “television channels” that can be flipped through at will. It’s more entertaining to surf between the different scenes yourself and find out what surprises are in store, but they feature cameos from dozens of different personalities, including The Price Is Right host Drew Carey, ESPN Sportcenter anchor Steve Levy, and ravenous rapper Danny Brown. Even Bob Dylan shows up on the VH1 channel, with a 60’s clip of him playing with The Band from Scorsese’s No Direction Home documentary. The video currently airs 16 channels, but Interlude says they plan on adding more and more variations as time goes on.

Interactive music videos have been steadily gaining popularity in recent years as artists try to make their art more indelible in an increasingly throwaway digital age. So much content is pushed through the Internet every day, and it becomes harder to grab attention when there’s always another clip to watch or song to listen to. The main way that artists choose to make an impression (which I’ve written about in previous posts) is to overload the senses with different clips, colors, and attention-grabbing moments. Interactive videos take a more personal approach, usually allowing the viewer to have some modicum of control over the proceedings. John Mayer’s video for “Shadow Days” makes you an extra in the background, while clips from Arcade Fire’s album The Suburbs uses your images childhood home as a setting. This is a more subtle way to connect with viewers, etching their personal experience directly into the art and creating a unique aesthetic experience every time.

There are definite drawbacks to the interactive video approach, mostly the sacrifice of easy online compatibility and usability.  Due to its specialized content, Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” video—like most interactive music clips—does not exist on recognized video outlets like YouTube or Vimeo. Ignoring these media channels forces viewers to adapt to an entirely new media platform when they interact with and share your video. For example, I don’t know how to embed Dylan’s video in this post, making it harder for me to assume you’ll see it. Interactive videos also tend to eschew online video mainstays like rewind and fast forward options. If you actually want to see every part of the 16 videos (and as mundane as some of the channels might seem, there is actually a coherent storyline through each individual vignette), you’ll have to watch them in real time, investing an inordinately large amount of time to an art project that may have been glossed over had it been, say, a montage that incorporated the different channels into one 6-minute clip.

Overall, it’s an exciting step back towards the music video as a fully immersive experience, and it will be interesting to see how long it takes for film and television to catch up to this new mixed medium. Imagine cereal commercials that take place in your kitchen or Law & Order episodes that include people you know from high school—with the way interactive music videos are changing content creation, these scenarios are not outrageously far away. With interactive and personalized content, viewers may never feel “like a complete unknown” ever again.

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Unfortunately, the interactive nature of the video means it isn’t embeddable in this post, but you can check out the video here.

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