In all honesty, at the inception of this article I wanted to pick out the best crop of new music video directors to keep an eye out for. However, after researching further into it, I didn’t come up with much. There are two main reasons for this:
- There isn’t much money in music videos any more. Equipment and editing have improved rapidly to the point where anyone can create a crisp, clean image on their desktop. Gone are the days of several million dollar music videos. Even music channels are starting to replace music videos with original programming (or, in some cases, re-runs of kitsch sitcoms) in order to draw in audiences.
- Music videos are no longer seen as a viable platform to showcase talent. The '80s were experimental. The '90s understood the importance of cult material with alternative consumers, which allowed directors to show off their film knowledge. The '00s had Web 2.0. There is now an industry encouragement to create and publish your own material on the internet because it is much more accessible.
One More Time by Daft Punk
(2003, directed by Kazuhisa Takenouchi)
This is less so for the music video alone, more for the film it’s attached to called Interstella 5555, about an alien band being kidnapped and brainwashed by an evil manager to perform on earth, told through the songs of Daft Punk’s album Discovery. Daft Punk had grown up as fans of Captain Harlock, a fictional badass space pirate created by Leiji Matsumoto, and whilst recording Discovery they developed a plot for a film they wanted to make in a similar style. Upon completion of their album they approached Matsumoto, who agreed to make the film acting as visual supervisor and bringing on Takenouchi of Dragonball fame to direct. It’s a really fun film that is a product of talented artists collaborating with a childhood hero. It’s just adorable.
Tonight, Tonight by Smashing Pumpkins
(1996, directed by Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris)
This video introduced me to Smashing Pumpkins as a kid and I have been in love with them ever since. The video is an homage to Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon; the directors decided upon this idea after realising that the album cover of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness drew from the film’s aesthetic. Supposedly the costumes for the video were difficult to come by because it was made during the same shooting period as Titanic. Dayton and Farris later went on to direct Little Miss Sunshine.
All is Full of Love by Björk
(1999, directed by Chris Cunningham)
Chris Cunningham is an incredibly talented concept artist, video artist, model maker, animatronics supervisor – just a general magician of design and practical effects. His work has been massively influential on the aesthetic of robots both in film and in real life. All is Full of Love was miles ahead of digital effects at the time of its release, and despite the awkward Björk faces, it still holds up today. The video won a Grammy for the Best Short Form Music Video and has been installed in The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The Wild Boys by Duran Duran
(1984, directed by Russel Mulcahy)
Think of any music video from the '80s that gave you mild nightmares. Do not be surprised if Mulcahy directed that video. Actually, think of any music video from the '80s and he most likely directed it. '80s nightmares just spring to mind when I think of Mulcahy in particular because, as a director, he kind of has a thing for human transmorphia. The extras in this video look like the dancers from the latter half of Queen’s I Want to Break Free have mutated into demonic fish people. His feature film back catalogue contains several occasions of mummies transforming into varying degrees of nightmare fuel. Most recently, he has worked on the latest series of Teen Wolf.
All of this in mind, he is an experimental pioneer of music video. His works include Video Killed the Radio Star (The Buggles), Rio (Duran Duran), I’m Still Standing (Elton John), Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler) and Vienna (Ultravox), just to name a few. And most impressive of all, he was just making up the rules as he went. The health and safety on this video was just ridiculous. So much fire and flipping! You know when Simon Le Bon is strapped to the windmill and his head keeps dipping in the water? That was a mistake! But they just kept going with it because Simon Le Bon didn’t complain. Mulcahy’s work is impressively chaotic yet epic and all distinctly his own.
On Your Mark by Chage and Aska
(1995, directed by Hayao Miyazaki [Studio Ghibli])
You can probably see a pattern emerging from my choices. I like creepy sci-fi, and hey, if it’s animated, that’s all the better.
Miyazaki decided to write and direct a plot for Chage and Aska’s B-side (which had been out for over a year), taking the lyrics literally as opposed to metaphorically, creating a world where humans were driven underground after destroying the atmosphere with nuclear experimentation. He started the project as a distraction from his writer's block while working on Princess Mononoke and, during the production of On Your Mark, he developed a CG department that would later be used to create the visuals of Princess Mononoke.
I just love this video because in a way, it’s sort of a revealing, absent-minded doodle. Many comparisons have been made between On Your Mark and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind; factoring in that Miyazaki began working on this video just after the last instalment of the Nausicaä manga was released, On Your Mark appears to be a farewell to his fictional character.