Selena Gomez and Marshmello recently released a visualizer for the song “Wolves.” The video clip shows the same visuals—Gomez sitting on top of a diving board, with the image of moving water and then her face superimposed on top of it—on loop for the entire audio track.

Fall Out Boy released a visualizer for “Champion” earlier this year which showed Pete Wentz, Post Malone, and some llamas on skateboards. 

Fall Out Boy later released an official music video for the same track.

A visualizer seems to be a simplistic visual intended to accompany a song, much like a music video or lyric video, and it’s a new trend. They tend to be less developed and fully–fledged than music videos, which often have more complicated visuals or a plot and characters. This term could come from music visualizers, software which produce graphics in response to audio, like Windows Media Player. This means that by calling their video clips “visualizers,” artists are arguing that this is the visual representation of their audio pieces.

Artists such as Mansell, The Neighbourhood, and PVRIS have released “visualettes,” a similar concept. PVRIS frontwoman, Lynn Gunn, introduced the first one for the song “Half” with a post on Twitter that read the song had been “leaked yesterday by sneaky internet fairies.” The band didn’t have time to make a fully–fledged music video and had to make a simpler visual representation instead.  

The idea of a visualizer or visualette puts more pressure on the artists to make more complex and realized music videos. If your visualizer is Pete Wentz on a skateboard, you’re going to need a better concept for a music video. There is a lot of similarity between PVRIS’ music video for “Smoke” and their visualette for “Winter” with both revolving around the use of a similar single visual effect. What used to pass for PVRIS music videos—experimentations with a single special effect—are now deemed placeholders. This could be a response to the demand of having to create visuals for every single song on the album, as PVRIS tries to do. PVRIS is a visual band, and the band has often spoken about the importance of the visual and aesthetic aspects of PVRIS’ work, so even simplistic visuals accomplish their goal of representing their music in different ways.

In many ways, visualizers are the new lyric videos. When artists started releasing lyric videos, they were informative and useful. Now you know what the singer is saying and eventually sing along. This was a straight–forward way of releasing a song or making it available for streaming pre–Spotify. It was unclear whether this meant the track would eventually get a music video. Some lyric videos were placeholders and the artists would release the actual music video later, but in some cases the release of a lyric video meant that song wouldn’t get a music video. Some lyric videos were just colorful moving words but some were almost as developed as actual music videos, with lyrics placed on top of footage and stories. 

In today’s streaming culture, we don’t need visuals to accompany tracks. And in the past, artists would release track streams with a single static visual—the album artwork. This still succeeds in getting the music out and letting people access it, without having to go through the trouble of video treatments and shoots.

So why even release a placeholder video at all? If an artist plans to eventually release a music video, then there’s no need to put out a second–rate video in the meantime.  And if it’s the only video that track gets, there’s a wide range of what passes for a music video and a less complex music video is still a music video.

Visualizers could just be another weird new trend in music. They could be a way for artists to experiment with different concepts without having to develop them into a plot. They allow artists to make a less realized visual without the pressure or constraints of a full–blown music video. Or, visualizers could just be a new way to entice fans to listen to and consume their work. They could even be a response to the lack of visuals in streaming culture, a way to slowly bring them back in or a result of the de–emphasis on visuals. In any case, they do allow artists to expand their creative vision, and the llamas were pretty entertaining.