Selfies! Smoking! Snogging! Why pop stars love a house party

From Beastie Boys to Beyoncé, we explore music videos’ enduring obsession with red cups and riotous shower scenes

The house party has been a pop video staple since the Beastie Boys’ 1986 classic (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!). While fads come and go, nothing ticks all the boxes like chucking a pop star and a bunch of elegantly wasted extras into a fancy house. Here are six cliches of the genre...

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If anyone claims to have seen Beats headphones or those mini speakers that look like sex toys out in the wild then they’re lying because they only exist in music videos, especially ones featuring large gaggles of rent-a-friends. They appear alongside Miley Cyrus and her band of heavily stylised misfits in every other frame of the We Can’t Stop promo, share space with Akon in Lady Gaga’s Just Dance and crop up near a zombie in Charli XCX’s undead twist on the genre for After the Afterparty. It’s not just Dr Dre’s headgear, either; Katy Perry drunk dances to Last Friday Night (TGIF) on Nintendo’s Just Dance game, while Alexandra Burke uses a chunky Sky remote to turn on a TV displaying the always available Pitbull during her All Night Long house party.

Do go chasing waterfalls

Be it people jumping off roofs into swimming pools (Robbie Williams’s Come Undone; Janet Jackson’s Go Deep), couples snogging fully clothed in showers (the xx’s On Hold), or extras having a nice bath (Take That’s Sure), water crops up a lot in nocturnal, house-based videos. The genre’s end-of-the-working-week aesthetic is also a little less opulent, which might explain the regular appearance of paddling pools. Zayn’s mansion-destroying party in Still Got Time features the humble inflatable, as does Beyoncé’s Party, while Lady Gaga writhes around on the back of a PVC whale in one while trying to avoid Colby O’Donis in Just Dance.

Up on the roof

In a house party narrative the ultimate act of rebellion isn’t smoking weed (Still Got Time), tonguing a doll (We Can’t Stop) or wearing sunglasses made of crayons (All Night Long); it’s climbing on the roof. Syco-signed, Simon Cowell-created rebels PrettyMuch spend the majority of the PG-13 house party setting for No More draped casually over some expertly laid roof tiles. Bad Boy for Life by Love (née Puff Daddy, Puffy, P Diddy and Diddy) features a house-cum-garden party and him hitting a Bad Boy-branded golf ball off the roof and through Ben Stiller’s window. We’ve all been there.

Watch me on your video phone

A house party music video might seem like a cheaper option but it takes a lot to make them look that way. Zayn’s Still Got Time utilises a sepia filter to make it look like grainy Super 8, while PrettyMuch go one step closer to the “vintage” motherlode by combining old-school film effects and camcorder footage. Meanwhile, the premise of Alexandra Burke’s All Night Long is “50 cameras, one party”, which involves her waggling a diamante-encrusted pink phone in various people’s faces. Apparently house parties are also an excuse to attach spotlights to cameras (Drake’s Started from the Bottom, Fiona Apple’s Criminal), accentuating the idea of catching people doing naughty things.

My red cup runneth over

In the US, the iconic red plastic cup signifies frat parties, college freedom and the American Pie trilogy. In the UK, however, they just come bagged with a ball and sold as Beer Pong kits at the front bit of Urban Outfitters. So it’s our US chums that show them off the most, from Beyoncé’s Party to Jimmy Eat World’s The Middle, while both Lady Gaga and Katy Perry favour some pastel-coloured ones in Just Dance and Last Friday Night (TGIF), respectively. British style-goths the xx feature them a lot in On Hold’s editorialised house party (DJed by Jamie xx, natch) but it’s filmed in the States so they just about get away with it.

Rebel yell

What better way to suggest you’ve tasted alcohol than to manufacture a house party. Not by accident was Miley’s controversy-baiting We Can’t Stop video set in one, and the London-based, pint-swilling, kebab-scoffing portion of Taylor Swift’s typically heavy-handed End Game video also features a lavish house party scene in which she hits a balloon with a cane while wearing a top hat. Back in 1993, Take That unveiled a daring new look: Mark got his nose pierced; Robbie shaved his head; Howard got dreadlocks; Jason learned some new breakdancing moves; and Gary looked more uncomfortable than normal. For the video for the harder-edged Sure they got some friends round, awkwardly danced in black mesh tops and briefly seemed one iota cooler than they did in the Pray video.


Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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