Chances are you have a favorite music video. Chances are you also have no idea who directed it. Unlike movies, audiences seldom pay attention to the names responsible for creating the music videos that become important in their lives. Music video directors rarely receive recognition until they step into the feature film industry. Let’s change that – you should know these eight music video directors today so you can know how they’re going to shape movies tomorrow.
Please be aware: some of the music videos featured contain nudity and are Not Safe for Work.
An obsession with abandoned spaces, the symbols of royalty, the lost magic of nature, and the sleek lines of modern technology make for strange themes in this directing duo’s work. Fleur & Manu manage to make each obsession reflect the next in a way that points directly back to the audience. The sleek lines of women are compared to the sleek lines of fighter jets as men peruse each with an academic dispassion. The chaos of a rave gives way to floating spheres of assault rifles. Fleur & Manu’s music videos are dreams of power and loss, of discovering untouchable desires that should remain untouchable.
Hiro Murai deep dives into your dreams and puts them up on-screen in ways that both spark curiosity and make you want to claw your way back to consciousness. His music videos follow a private logic and he places the burden of theorizing the meaning on the viewer. This makes his music videos feel like puzzle boxes to figure out and open up.
A photographer’s eye for composition lends Emily Kai Bock the ability to communicate character in an instant. This leaves her the room to spill out story. She plays with depth when other MV directors tend to rely on medium shots and close-ups exclusively. She has discovered how to convey internal emotions in a medium where characters aren’t allowed to speak once the music starts. She puts together some of the best narratives in music videos today, and her ability to evoke nostalgia and memory is unparalleled.
This guy’s been working overtime the last few years. He created several dynamite music videos for Clipping, juxtaposing CG images against the rapper’s own performances. Sometimes the CG becomes literal, illustrating the barrage of images in Clipping’s own rapid-fire lyrics. Sometimes the CG undercuts this and becomes slyly comic. Estrada often composites a variety of takes into one long shot, so it looks like an entire music video is done without an edit. This allows his performers’ intensity to come out without giving viewers any kind of break.
Talk about not getting a break – Emil Nava has directed 58 music videos in the last six years, including nine apiece for Jessie J. and Ed Sheeran. He’s an expert at filming dance choreography, especially in the kind of spaces where it usually goes unseen.
Working exclusively with iamamiwhoami, Lee directs under the moniker WAVE. Her ethereal music videos feature gorgeous shots of nature, curious costuming, and lighting schemes that seem to punch up natural light to the extreme. It’s an odd combination that makes for videos that always feel like half narrative, half travelogue.
You know M.I.A. as a musical artist, but she’s increasingly stepping into the directing role of her own videos. She couldn’t care less about Western narrative expectations of the format. She’s gone beyond the simple parody of internet memes in “XXXO.” She scrambles faces and brands in “Double Bubble Trouble,” as if parts are shot on police video. She poses gangs with toy guns in front of Drone Survival Guide posters. Women march down the street in burkas designed to look like blond, white faces. If cyberpunk has a musical inheritor, the mantle shifted from bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead to M.I.A. several years ago. Increasingly, it’s been her directing that’s delved even further into this world, illustrating the points of her songs with a mix of in-your-face, lo-fi, brashness, and coy thematic subtlety. Please be aware the following video contains quick flashes of images and may be unsuitable for viewers with epilepsy. Check out her new video for “Broader Than a Border” as well.
From exceptional partnerships with Calvin Harris and Florence + The Machine to one-offs with Lana del Rey and Miike Snow, Haycock has told layered narratives about internal emotion using some of the most complex cinematography in any visual format. His cameras alternate between complete stillness and breakneck pace, he draws stunning performances from the musicians themselves, and he often relies on repeating early moments in a music video later on when the emotional context has changed. He is a consummate storyteller and a crucial voice helping to shape the future of music videos.