Where Did All These Lyric Videos Come From, and Why Are We Giving Them Awards?

Today in Inevitability: the MTV VMAs add a new category for lyric videos. But why are these videos so popular?

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Because MTV couldn't leave well enough alone, the Video Music Awards have added yet another category to August 24's ceremony: Best Lyric Video. Yes, MTV is putting the power of picking which artist's team made best use of iMovie's text-on-video function in your hands, America!

Using a hashtag created for each nominee, like #votearianagrande for Ariana Grande's "Problem," fans can vote on Twitter for whichever lyric video they enjoyed best while waiting for the actual video to come out later. (Other nominees who aren't Ariana Grande: Austin Mahone, Demi Lovato, 5 Seconds of Summer, and Katy Perry.)

How did we get here? Why is the lyric video A Thing? And what can we do to stop them? We've got all your answers below.

What was the first lyric video?

Depends on what you're talking about. The idea of song lyrics appearing in a music video is almost as old as the form itself, appearing in R.E.M.'s 1986 song "Fall On Me." But that's more of a traditional music video, simply with lyrics inside.

In 1990, George Michael released a video for his song "Praying for Time" that was simply lyrics on a black background – not unlike what you might see a fan create on YouTube. But again, this wasn't a pre-video. This was the only version he made.

So we turn to 2010, when the first true lyric videos began to appear. The first – and arguably, most iconic – lyric video? CeeLo Green, "F*ck You."

That's cute – but what's the point?

CeeLo hadn't had the chance to film a full video for "F*ck You," but the song was absolutely exploding on the viral web. To take advantage of that heat before they could get the real video produced, CeeLo's team came up with this delightful bit of typography. It caught fire, racking up 11 million views independently. The full video, released about a month later, went on to earn 23 million views.

So CeeLo's experiment showed that YouTube could push even just words on a screen to a giant number of eyeballs. Not long after, artists like Katy Perry took note, releasing lyric videos to tide audiences over until they could get their hands on the real thing.

But why can't people just wait for the full video?

In early 2013, Billboard changed its rules for what can fuel a song's run up the charts. In addition to sales and radio play, online streaming came into the picture. YouTube plays directly impacted how well a song would chart – leading to Baauer's "Harlem Shake," of all things, taking the top spot thanks to being a viral hit.

Lyric videos give artists another bit of fuel to get their song to the top. Plus, it's something extra for fans as they wait for the full video.

Okay, I get it – but why is MTV giving one of them an award?

Quoth Amy Doyle, executive vice president of music and talent programming strategy for MTV, to Mashable: "Lyrics are as important to music fans as ever, and the evolution of lyric videos is evidence of that."

Translated: "If you get a chance to give Katy Perry another VMA nomination, you take it."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.