On March 30, Kendrick Lamar unveiled his new track "Humble" and created an instant media frenzy. Everyone was praising the man behind it, Dave Meyers, and his ingenious filmmaking. The music video business seems to have become more 'hyped' than ever, with music magazine Pitchfork creating a special tribute video music directors.
Go big or go home. This expression perfectly describes today's music videos. Unlike before, where music videos were mostly a companion piece, nowadays, they constitute a separate entity showing meticulous filmmaking skills. Over the past few years, music videos have become the most malleable medium of cinematography. Even though exceptional video clips existed before, primarily owing to MTV ( i.e., Michael Jackson, Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Björk - voted as the greatest of all time) recently, artists like Beyoncé changed previous notions of them.
From experimental visual effects to immersive realism, music videos could last for a few minutes to an hour or longer. They explore a whole range of issues, from race to identity, through narration or just riveting dance moves. Additionally, current directors seem to focus on aesthetic and visual perfection, while music videos constitute a veritable art form on their own. At the same time, taking advantage of new visual technological innovations, they redefine the relationship between the audience and the medium.
Let me introduce you to the 5 groundbreaking directors I think you should know.
Romain Gavras is a Greek-French director, best known for directing M.I.A.'s controversial video for "Born Free", which was banned from YouTube due to its brutal content and provocative images. His films and music videos often portray a highly realistic dystopian universe, juxtaposed with high energy and often political content. In 2012 he won two MTV Video Music Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Direction, both for the "Bad Girls" video he directed for M.I.A. In 2016, he directed the music video of Jamie xx - Gosh, filming a fake version of Paris with 300 Chinese school children performing perfectly synchronised movements. He usually portrays marginalised groups in their natural element, challenging the cliché images of American pop icons and contradicting the western take on ‘coolness’ pictured in music videos.
As careers go, Sophie Muller has been one of the most well-established music video directors in the business, working with A-list artists for three decades in a row, while filming more than 200 music videos. The English director has collaborated with the biggest names in the pop scene, such as Beyoncé, Coldplay and Blur, establishing a long-term relationship with them. Recently she directed The Kills' video clip for Whirling Eye. For this video she collaborated with GoPro, using the company's six-camera Omni-rig exclusively. The uniqueness of the music video lies in the fact that it was filmed, directed and edited almost solely by Muller. New technology enables visual artists to produce exceptional work, with the lowest budget possible and without needing any help.
"Never Catch Me" was directed by Hiro Murai, an L.A.-based artist, and one of the most promising artists in the business, right now. Murai, in the "Never Catch Me" video, directs 'dead kids', who are dancing endlessly at the experimental electronic beats of Flying Lotus. By doing this he has made one of the best videos of 2014. He's best known for his work with vanguard artists like Earl Sweatshirt and St. Vincent, as well as his various collaborations with Childish Gambino. He has also followed Childish Gambino (a.k.a. Donald Glover) to television, directing the series Atlanta (2016 - ). Murai's music videos often incorporate elements of post-apocalyptic horror and science fiction, which are always perfectly balanced and well thought out. His aesthetic projection is unique, drawing inspiration from films like 'Touch of Evil' (Orson Welles, 1958) in terms of lighting, while mastering slow-motion film takes.
David Wilson is an English music video director and animator, who was nominated for the 2015 Grammy Award Best Music Video and the Music Video Award for Director of the Year. He has directed music videos for Arcade Fire, The Maccabees, Arctic Monkeys and Tame Impala. When youtube was founded in 2005, Wilson started posting videos illustrating his work, which soon began to pick up admirers. His style ofdirecting is based on merging digital visual effects with physical effects, like drawings, resulting in exceptionally striking pictures.
Last but not least, David Mayers, who recently came to the fore when directing the much-discussed music video for Kendrick Lamar's 'Humble'. The legendary director collaborated with Lamar and 'The Little Homies', producing an impressive and highly innovative music video. With a series of striking images, ranging from a depiction of the ‘Last Supper’ to a ‘Grey Poupon’ snack break, Lamar is seen in scenes that portray him as both a biblical messiah and a street philosopher. Mayers masterfully manages to incorporate a range of meticulous shots in 3.03 minutes, while being in harmony with current filmmaking trends.