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Washed Out Made an AI Music Video. The Backlash Was Swift

When Washed Out frontman Ernest Greene agreed to collaborate with filmmaker Paul Trillo on the world’s first music video to be made entirely using OpenAI‘s video-generation tool Sora, he didn’t quite know what he was getting himself into. “To me, this is just a brand-new tool to explore,” Greene tells Rolling Stone. In his mind, the video — a dizzying, surreal, uncanny valley-ish tour through the life of a couple — was simply the boundary-pushing modern equivalent of, say, the early computer animation in Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” video. 

The video, for “The Hardest Part,” the first single from Washed Out’s strong new album, Notes From a Quiet Life, dropped last week. The reaction was immediate, and notably negative. “This Washed Out AI vid is the best case for blatant artlessness I’ve ever seen,” Youth Lagoon‘s Trevor Powers wrote online. “It says nothing, does nothing, is nothing. Ugly slog too.” One of the top YouTube comments for the song reads: “The future is digital diarrhea.”

Greene soon learned that he had stepped into the middle of a growing backlash against AI-generated art across every medium, which has been evident even in the social media response to Rolling Stone‘s coverage of music-generating tools Suno and Udio. “There’s definitely a large selection of people who just flat-out don’t like anything AI-art-related,” he says. 

Trillo — a longtime director who had already been granted early access to Sora, which is still unavailable to the public, for other projects — was less surprised by the backlash. He understands concerns that Sora, which generates video clips from text prompts, may have been trained on copyrighted human filmmaking. “Could there be more transparency in how these models are created? Absolutely,” he says. “Was there going to be someone else that makes the first Sora music video, if we didn’t? That would have happened. I see every technology as an opportunity to do something that is unique to the piece of tech and to open up new kinds of visual modes.”

A common critique of the video, and of AI art in general, is that its reliance on training data makes it a glorified form of plagiarism, but both Greene and Trillo reject that argument.  “I haven’t seen one comparison of the look of the video to any other work, whether that’s in film or animation or whatever,” Greene says.  “I think Paul’s been able to do something here that feels super unique. And yeah, I think that’s an amazing skill.”

Greene didn’t have AI in mind when he sought out Trillo, whose work in animation he’d particularly admired. Trillo didn’t have time in his schedule for a video shoot, but when OpenAI happened to ask if there was any possibility of using Sora for a music video, he saw an opportunity. Trillo created the video with prompts that were at least 1,000 words each, and tried endless variations before settling on the final shots. “Whatever time you save generating the shots,” he says, “you end up putting that time elsewhere. You can explore a multiverse of what this video could look like, which is unlike any other kind of type of creation. I wanted to really lean into that aspect of the process of exploration. There were about 700 clips generated in the process of this video.”

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Trillio acknowledges it would be “problematic” if well-funded studios used AI to reduce human labor costs, but says that wasn’t the case here.. “The deal with music videos is they’ve always been these things where I’m not employing tons of people anyways,” he says, noting that he’s always lost money making them. “I’m not giving people their full day rates anyways. They’ve always been these things you do out of passion…  But the other reality is like, this stuff isn’t going away.”

No AI was used in the creation of Washed Out’s new album — far from it. Notes From a Quiet Life is Greene’s first self-produced album, so it’s even more hands-on than anything else in his catalog. The next couple Washed Out videos will be human-made and performance-based, but the frontman w

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