Of course I can never talk about game changing music videos without mentioning ‘Take on me’ (A-ha) Dir. Steve Barron, ‘All the Single Ladies’ (Beyoncé) Dir. Jake Nava, ‘Once in a Lifetime’ (Talking Heads) Dir. Toni Basil & David Byrne and the landmark ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Queen) Directed by Bruce Gowers.
The criteria for the three I have chosen, however, are based on innovation, creativity and WOW! factor. So are you ready? Drum roll please…
My three game changers are ‘Thriller’ (Michael Jackson) Directed by John Landis, ‘Imitation of Life’ (R.E.M) Directed by Garth Jennings and ‘Suit & Tie’ Lyric Video (Justin Timberlake ft. Jay Z) Directed By Laban Pheidias.
‘Thriller’ (Michael Jackson) Directed by John Landis
THRILLER! Legendary, landmark, unprecedented, scary. These are just a few words to describe this music video. “So what’s so special about it?” What’s so special about it?!! It wasn’t just a music video; it was an event and at 13minutes 43seconds it was also short film.
Directed by John Landis director of ‘An American Werewolf in London’ we have a movie inside a movie, both horror, both brought me to tears as a child.
The first being a werewolf movie (big surprise) which turns out to be a movie the characters are watching (actual surprise) starring the characters who are watching it (biggest surprise).
What follows is what can only be described as a slow descent into hell with awesome dance moves and a badass beat.
What stood out immediately was the quality of and contemporary approach to make-up, costume and design. Until 1981 a transformation from photogenic young man to werewolf had never been seen to be a painful transformation which is a trend John Landis continued in his second werewolf outing.
The zombies looked, well, dead. Played by carefully selected dancers and physical actors who realistically portrayed the living dead (I counted three oxymorons how about you?).
One Zombie is bad enough but a whole “herd” of them is terrifying, and then they start to dance. Already the video contains two visual elements in the field of prosthetics and make-up that are still used today; ‘The Walking Dead’ being the one that immediately springs to mind.
Suspense and horror had never been incorporated into a music video before, which was aided by the short film format allowing breaks in the song for dramatic effect and exposition.
Who can forget the famous reveal of Zombie Michael? The camera spinning around finding him to the sound of high pitch strings followed by one of the most iconic dance routines in history.
Of course I can’t mention breaks without the haunting voice over of the legendary Vincent Price acting as an ominous prelude to the zombies’ arrival on the scene.
Upon its release Thriller was the most ambitious music video ever made and to date arguably still is. For the single, Thriller became a super hit. For the album; Thriller became the biggest selling album of all time.
‘Imitation of Life’ (R.E.M) Directed by Garth Jennings
Imitation of Life is, for me, a little under the radar and isn’t raved about and celebrated nearly enough. This is one of the most original music videos ever made and Director Garth Jennings is a true innovator.
Impressive point 1: It looks great.
Impressive point 2: It’s all done in one take.
Impressive point 3: there’s only 20 seconds of footage! That’s right 20 seconds.
So how can 20 seconds stretch to fit a 3minute 58 second video?
Well; the video takes place at a garden party that has a beautiful water feature with a mini waterfall. The fore, mid and background is packed with intriguing guests consisting of secret lovers, snooty rich people, plate spinners, singers, elderly couples, guitar playing monkeys and a man on fire to name a few.
The shot zooms in and out, panning across to find people in their own personal moments at the perfect moment. But wait, there’s more.
Not only do we find moments that occur within 20 seconds of footage that are in the fore, mid and background but they are also occurring simultaneously meaning that the video has to rewind to catch another exciting event.
But wait, yep you’ve guessed it, there’s more! Some moments are backwards! Actions in reverse and song lyrics sang backwards with pin point timing choreographed along with everything and everyone else, meaning that when one event is over the “camera” finds a sole person who sings part of the song while the entire video is being rewound so that there are no wasted moments.
The intricacies amaze me and the logistics are mind boggling but what blows my mind most of all is the idea. Who should be at the party? What should they wear? What are they doing and when are they doing it? You get a sense that among everything there is a lot going on, I don’t mean in sheer volume of events but in narrative. These mini stories such as the awkward hand on the shoulder, the glass of water in the face, the lonely woman sat on a rock who is familiar with the little boy all add gravity to the video pulling you in deeper for a better understanding of these short moments that are drip fed to us.
Logistically this must have been a massive challenge, one that I wish I’d have the opportunity to ask Garth Jennings about in person. Can you imagine being sat there with the task at hand? All those people to choreograph so that they perform the right action at the perfect time to fit in with everyone else or worse; singing this line at this moment…only backwards! The only way I can answer the question is to have a go myself which is one of my ambitions as a Director.
There is so much detail to take in and every time I watch it I notice something new. Incidentally did anyone spot the escaping convict? Genius!
‘Suit & Tie’ (Justin Timberlake ft. Jay Z) Directed By Laban Pheidias
“Suit & Tie?” Yes Suit & Tie. “The lyric video not the main music video?” Yes the lyric video NOT the main music video. Why? Because it’s awesome, it’s cool, it’s slick, it’s stylish, it’s amazeballs, it’s off the hook, it’s off the chain! It’s new and it’s already one of my favourite videos.
So what makes this a game changer? Firstly Laban Pheidias has created the greatest “lyric video” ever made that is unprecedentedly better than the official music video! Usually lyric videos are exactly that; lyrics that appear on screen in time to the music (which reminds me of the old Disney sing-along VHS’).
Eventually people started to get a little creative and add an element of contextual movement to the text and design to the environment providing an enjoyable and relevant video giving the artist time to make the official music video. Suit & Tie however is a music video combined with a lyric video. The recorded footage intrinsically linked to the text appearing on screen.
The second thing that makes Suit & Tie a game changer is its complete command of style. Immediately you can tell that this is no ordinary lyric video, it has the production value and high concepts of a “conventional” music video.
Really this could be a music video without the lyrics which is saying a lot in the genre of lyric videos. The entire video is in slow motion which adds to the smooth styling that unifies the on screen action which carries throughout the video.
Slow motion videos have been done before but here it feels right, contributing to the rhythm of the video in a manner that is both contrapuntal and complimentary.
Getting down to the visuals we are awarded with a treat to the senses. Every image feels relevant, not a shot is wasted. There’s a sense of a story which is not overly complicated and allows us to enjoy a story that unfolds slowly yet does not drag. He’s getting ready for something; suited and booted, preened and groomed.
The use of less obvious shots and more obscure yet well timed camera angles allow you to take in minor details and caught moments as the story unfolds. The lighting style is subtle black and white with soft definition and the occasional camera flare that is just so in right now. The choice of font, brilliant, although reminiscent of the font famously used for ‘The Social Network’ promotional material and DVD box art that seems to be everywhere right now but Laban Pheidias uses it well with perfect timing. Text moves, remains static, steadily zooms, blurs, appears in the environment, appears out of the environment all executed masterfully. That only leaves the animation.
Appearing as pop-art pencil outlines the animations add a sense of colour and whimsy. They accentuate little moments such as the trimming of Justine’s hair or the knocking of his shoes together. Cartoon smoke coming from his shoes? Why not, it’s cheeky. The animations also fill in for what isn’t there like the lighting of the cigarette, classy and cool.
At times it seems like a high end fashion video rather than just a music video (funnily enough as it’s a collaboration with clothing designer Tom Ford). This video isn’t just a game changer; it raised the game.
Tai Campbell, Creative Director, Epik Music Videos