Drake’s mates and Taylor Swift’s cosplay: exploring the 2018 music video

From famous friends for hire to Kate Bush-aping interpretive dance, it’s likely the modern music video will fit one of these frameworks

Expensive garbage

Before Marvel monopolised blockbuster season and tried to crowbar in some, like, intelligence, you could always count on a mega-budget film experience to sit in front of and unplug your brain. Thankfully, that kind of gloriously empty nonsense still exists in pop videos and it’s mainly Taylor Swift and director Joseph Kahn’s fault. First there was 2015’s feminism-destroying Bad Blood, in which every high-gloss “futuristic” scene screams: “The budget for this one video is more than your entire album campaign!” That was then followed by last year’s Route One dystopian cosplay video ...Ready For It?, which appeared to re-use some of the old Bad Blood sets while borrowing its one aesthetic highlight from Scarlett Johansson’s version of Ghost in the Shell. Worst of all was End Game, in which lavish country-hopping ended up looking like the most expensive (and boring) episode of A Place in the Sun.
See also: Justin Timberlake’s Supplies; Zayn’s Let Me

Arty farty

Look, we’ve all seen a Björk video and flicked through a style magazine; we know what constitutes “challenging”, “experimental” and “thought-provoking”. Funnily enough, none of these phrases immediately spring to mind while watching the instantly meme-able video for Christina Aguilera’s latest opus, Accelerate, in which the former hitmaker appears to huff glitter, enjoys a glass of milk like – niche reference alert! – George Galloway in Celebrity Big Brother 2006, and has what looks like translucent icing dolloped on her in a way that might be seductive to lemon drizzle cake obsessives. Obviously there are bits filmed in black-and-white because all music video directors understand that a lack of colour connotes a lack of ideas, which in turn saves on retouching, which in turn helps with the budget for the album campaign in the long run.
See also: Miley Cyrus’s Dooo It!; the Weeknd’s Call Out My Name

Mates’ rates

Pity the poor extra, slavishly waiting by the phone, ready to walk out of a Costa Coffee at the drop of hat if it means sipping from a red plastic cup in a party scene for a Vamps video. But this is 2018 and extras in videos are now made up entirely of other famous people. Drake’s recent Nice for What video is essentially a showreel for random female actors and models to practise their various #moods. So we get Issa Rae smiling her way through a frustrating business meeting, Jourdan Dunn filmed in black-and-white looking miserable on a horse, and Letitia Wright seemingly stuck up Battersea Power Station. All while Drake rollerblades in a bomber jacket to a song that bastardises Lauryn Hill’s immaculate Ex-Factor. It’s a funny old world, isn’t it?
See also: Charli XCX’s Boys; Jay-Z’s Moonlight

‘I’ve just heard back and they’re actually on tour’

Pop stars are busy people: there is original content to upload; other famous people to interview for magazine covers; and Twitter apologies made up of screenshots of the iPhone Notes app to post. So, sometimes a music video is the last thing a schedule will allow, and that’s where things get creative, ie everyone panics. Ed Sheeran’s latest slightly pass-agg love song Happier features a puppet rendering of the multi-millionaire, who is in the middle of a world tour, while serial collaborator Selena Gomez used the same excuse for not appearing in a video with Charlie Puth. That must surely have been why Kelela put out the animated, Sims-inspired Frontline video, too, right? Still, both are preferable to the barrel-scraping tour montage video, as showcased recently in Pink’s “will this do?” single, Whatever You Want.
See also: Rihanna’s Cheers (Drink to That); Taylor Swift’s New Romantics

‘I saw Kate Bush do this once’

Pop’s current obsession with interpretive dance (see Taylor Swift’s Delicate video) can be traced back to professional recluse Sia and her decision to use a be-wigged child avatar (Dance Moms’ Maddie Ziegler) in her videos. Since then, every other two-bit pop star has tried their supple hand at interpreting feelings and/or emotions via the medium of a crab-like physical contortion. Sia and Maddie, alongside Florence Welch’s billowy arm gestures, also paved the way for Christine and the Queens, AKA Héloïse Letissier, and her slightly more artfully rigid moves. These have, in turn, shown up recently in Dua Lipa’s IDGAF promo, in which Lipa faces off against herself in some sort of besuited dance battle that’s all locked limbs, jagged elbows and – perhaps taking cues from original dance overlord Michael Flatley – fairly blank from the neck up.
See also: Anything involving Solange; anything involving FKA twigs

Contributor

Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
2018: the year in pop culture
Featuring Cardi B, Sting and Shaggy, Sharp Objects, Teddy from Atlanta, bad sex, Hereditary, Black Panther’s influence, and... dogs

Issy Sampson, Steve Rose, Fiona Sturges, Ellen E Jones, Michael Cragg, Gavin Haynes and Rebecca Nicholson

22, Dec, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
The year in music: how Beyoncé, Kanye and Drake saved the album
Reports of the LP’s death were premature, and music and politics collided thanks to Chance The Rapper and Blood Orange

Sam Wolfson

23, Dec, 2016 @1:30 PM

Article image
From Kate Bush to Hotline Bling: an unofficial history of pulling (awkward) shapes
Celebrating the nan-friendly hand gestures, drunken-uncle moves and trapped-in-a-box shapes of wacky pop-culture dancing

Sam Wolfson

14, Nov, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
How Taylor Swift’s ME! video killed Instagram’s kooky aesthetic
With its pastel colours and fluffy clouds, Swift’s video feels out of step with the online shift back to reality

Lauren Cochrane

14, May, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
Tinashe: ‘People are past the point where they think I’m a mindless puppet’
The R&B star has defied bullies, the wrath of Wendy Williams and the insidious music industry. With her new album Joyride, has her moment finally arrived?

Hattie Collins

14, Apr, 2018 @6:00 AM

Article image
Can you pack Taylor Swift’s London tour into a day?
The singer claims it would take three years to complete the itinerary in her new song London Boy. We try it in under 24 hours

Rich Pelley

17, Sep, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
Dinner party soundtracker to timeless muse: exploring the Sade complex
The enigmatic musician remains an influence on modern stars such as Drake and Beyoncé. As she releases her first single in seven years we explore why

Ellen E Jones

24, Mar, 2018 @6:59 AM

Article image
The 10 best things to do this week: The Florida Project and Taylor Swift
Sean Baker’s much-anticipated film features incredible child-star performances, while the queen of pop unleashes her sixth album

The Guide

03, Nov, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
‘What if Beyoncé never happened?’: an alt-reality post Kanye v Taylor
Ye’s interruption at the VMAs 10 years ago sent the stars on different paths. But could things have been different?

Joel Golby

01, Oct, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
Charli XCX to Taylor Swift: 10 of the best albums made in lockdown
Anxiety, escapism and noise complaints from neighbours all feature in the work musicians have created while house-bound

Michael Cragg

07, Aug, 2020 @7:00 AM