Music videos are one of the few topics in music that seem universal. Everyone has seen many in their life, and everyone remembers at least one that left a mark. Like short films that try to translate the content of a song into an image, there are different styles and forms. A form of artistic expression in itself, the music video leaves great freedom to those who know how to use it to tell a story. This is why many young filmmakers are embarking on this field. Spike Jonze is perhaps one of the best examples, first making a name for himself as a major music video director and then transitioning to the big screen. But once in a while, even seasoned directors want to try their hand at music videos, like Steven Spielberg recently done in Marcus MumfordIt’s “Cannibal”. So here are some iconic clips you might recognize, all made by great directors.
Weapon of Choice – Fatboy Slim (dir. Spike Jonze)
Anyone growing up at the turn of the millennium has Christopher Walken marked not only for his accomplished career in Hollywood but also for his iconic performance in Fatboy Slim’s music video for “Weapon of Choice.” The image of him dancing through the halls of an empty hotel is for sure one of the most iconic in music video history.
Walken is a Washington Dance Studio-trained dancer, and he explained in a talk about theater interview that he was a chorus boy who shot musicals such as West Side Story, all this before making a name for himself in the cinema . The opportunity arose when he expressed his desire to film his dance, as Spike Jonze was looking for someone to do the music video. The idea itself came from Jonze, who revealed that his dad used to stay at a Marriott hotel when he visited: “I just imagined my dad in those hotels, traveling across the country , the banal, repetitive, numbing quality of it. The idea was like the fantasy that came out of it,” he told The Nine Club in 2018.
This video is also one of the best music videos directed by Spike Jonze and won numerous awards at the 2001 MTV VMAs, as well as the Grammy for Best Music Video in 2002. Jonze is a master at it and has many other hits iconic. videos, such as beast boys“Sabotage”, Weezeris “Buddy Holly” and Bjorkis “Oh so calm”.
I don’t know what to do with myself – The White Stripes (dir. Sofia Coppola)
Very rarely do we get such a perfect combination of choices as with the 2003 music video for “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”, the white stripes‘heavier version of the Burt Bacharach classic. As the song plays, Kate Mossanother iconic name from the 2000s, from pole dancing to screen, it’s all set for Sophie Coppoladirected. The seductive vibe of the video makes it one of the best and sexiest of this decade, and uniquely captures Coppola’s style and expression. Known for classics like virgins who committed suicide and lost in translation, she’s also an accomplished music video director, which isn’t surprising since music is often one of the key elements in her movies. Among his other emblematic works are Phoenix‘s “Chloroform” and Air“Playground Love” from – two bands that figure prominently in his work.
Below Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers (dir. Gus Van Sant)
The video for the Hot red peppers song “Under The Bridge” is a piece that perfectly captures the essence of the 1990s. The saturated colors, layered images of the band playing and many other effects are typical of this period. It won two awards at the 1992 VMAs and was a constant on MTV’s lineup throughout the decade. Realized by Gus Van Sant, the music video’s theme echoes that of the song itself. In the lyrics, the singer Anthony Kiedis talks about loneliness and solace “in the city where he lives” – Los Angeles. To make that feeling explicit, he walks the streets of LA, sings to the people he passes by, and visits other iconic places in the city, like the LA River Canal. More than an ode to the city itself, the song is about the feeling of community and being part of a whole, even in the darkest times.
Vogue – Madonna (dir. David Fincher)
Strike a pose! This line alone is sufficient to describe the influence Madonna“Vogue” was in the 1990s, because it became something of a catchphrase at the time. He was inspired by – beware of – vogueing, a style of dance created by New York’s queer community that adapts poses for fashion shows and editorials. The song itself is about enjoying the dance floor for what it is, no matter who you are, while insulting many old Hollywood stars. The video was produced by David Fincher and remains one of Madonna’s most iconic music videos to this day. The video takes place in a studio decorated with sculptures, photos of famous photographers and many Art Deco references. That, lined up with Madonna herself performing routines with dancers and fashion legends from the House of Xtravaganza, is a perfect translation of the song to the screen.
Bad – Michael Jackson (dir. Martin Scorsese)
Martin Scorsese do a play about street gangs and a young man who changes his mind? This is its typical (and very successful) formula and, associated with michael jacksonis the music, it couldn’t go wrong. The result is the music video for “Bad”, which turned into a short film written by Richard Price. The video shows young Darryl (Jackson) leaving his beloved private school at the end of the semester and riding the subway home to a neglected New York neighborhood. He finds his old gang, led by Mini Max (Wesley Snipes), but relations become strained when they notice that Darryl has changed his mind during his absence and is no longer “bad”. Although simple, the video has an almost educational tone – which doesn’t make it any less good. Fewer people cruise filming the streets like Scorsese, and music videos are no different for the acclaimed actor.
Here With Me – The Killers (dir. Tim Burton)
A dark theatre. Too romantic song. winona ryder. Obsession. If you haven’t already guessed, we’re talking about Tim Burton, but not on his films. He has only directed two music videos, both for The killers: “Bones” and “Here With Me”, the latter being the best work to capture his essence as a music video director. Imagine something like Lars and the real girl made by Burton. In the video, Craig Robert (from the independent film Submarine fame) is obsessed with a performer played by Ryder. He goes to see her every day but doesn’t dare approach her. To fill this void, he steals a wax dummy from him which he dances with through many places until it becomes the very thing he is obsessed with, as the dummy comes to life and they all have dinner every day. two with a lit candle wick above their heads.
Magazine Man – HAIM (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Another Hollywood household name, Paul Thomas Anderson is also an accomplished music video director. He has 21 credits to his credit in the field, with strong partnerships with influential artists like Radiohead and Fiona Apple. His greatest working partners, however, are HAIIM, of which he made eight videos. It’s got a little bit of everything from choreographed dance routines (as in “Little of Your Love”) to studio performances (as in “Valentine”), but his best work with the LA sisters is “Man From the Magazine”. The song features Danielle Haim singing about instances of sexism that she and her sisters have gone through. It looks like a start Bob Dylan song, with just the voice and the acoustic guitar serving as the background to the lyrics to address an important subject of our time. In the video, Danielle tends to customers at Canter’s Deli, Los Angeles, while glancing at the camera between one customer and another, all of whom are male – an obvious metaphor for how the music industry works.
The Blue Song – Mint Royale (dir. Edgar Wright)
If you watched baby driver, you know how it goes. A runaway driver sets the exact length of a song for his gang to perform a robbery and then drive off. In the movie, the scene happens to “Bellbottoms”, by John Spencer’s Blues Explosion. Here is the music video for “The Blue Song” by Royal mintdirected by the same filmmaker as the film, Edgar Wright. By analyzing the two pieces, we realize that even the mannerisms of the conductor – played here by Christmas Fielding – are the same. The song was released in 2002, and Wright began writing a script based on the same premise. Around 2010, he even received a suggestion from JJ Abrams to turn the clip into a movie, to which Wright replied, “Right ahead of you!”. He also has a decent track record in music videos, having directed “Gust of Wind” by Pharrell Williamsand “Colors” by beck.
Around the world – Daft Punk (dir. Michel Gondry)
Michael Gondry is another case of an awesome filmmaker with a long career in music videos. He has 27 credits, including collaborations with artists such as the rolling stones, Bjork, foo fightersand The White Stripes. His best work, however, is his unique work with the French duo daft-punk in “Around the world”. Filmed with a slow-motion mix of the song, the image is then sped up to match the usual rotation. The dancers spin around a round track with a texture that resembles a vinyl record, and each group of dancers represents one of the instruments in the song. A few months ago, Daft Punk released an official making-of video, giving us an amazing insight into Gondry’s process and the impeccable work of the dancers.
Losing My Religion – REM (dir. Tarsem Singh)
Another gem of the 1990s, the music video for “Losing My Religion” by REM, was another pioneer in the field. Director Tarsem Singh worked closely with the band, especially the lead singer, Michael Stipe, to create a dreamlike atmosphere, strongly reminiscent of Baroque art and biblical imagery. The video won six awards at the 1991 MTV VMAs, including Video of the Year and Best Direction. While REM would further establish themselves as one of the most influential bands of the time, Singh would become one of the key business executives of the decade, moving into feature territory in the 2000s, with films such as The fall and Immortals.
Lighthouses – Eminem (dir. Spike Lee)
Say that EminemHis relationship with his mother, Debbie, is troubled would be an understatement. During his career, he rejected her in several of his most successful songs, a fact for which he came to apologize in “Headlights”, also stating that all he wanted to say about his mother “is on this disc”. To illustrate this sentiment, Spike Lee made a video that emphasizes Debbie’s point of view. The video follows her revisiting their relationship through a picture book, while Eminem reflects on his behavior towards her in the lyrics. Just as heartbreaking as the song itself, the video is enough to bring anyone to tears.