These 3 filmmakers are making music videos cool again
By Imani Mixon
What is an album without a lead single? What is a lead single without a music video?
During the pandemic year, active fans have sorely missed the ritual of attending live shows―a loss amplified by streaming, NFTs, and technologically frustrating virtual programming. Remember that intermission when you rushed from your seat to buy merch to wear the next day? What about when you stood in that long, crowded, fan-filled line to the bathroom so you could change into your newly purchased concert tee right then and there? You copped a new token of appreciation with the artist’s name or image displayed across it, didn’t you? In the absence of real life interaction at live concerts, listeners have had to design their own connection with an artist. Essentially, we are reverting back to a time when music videos―that age-old combination of concept, drama, costume, and visual appeal―were of ultimate importance. Now, music videos are one of the only ways we can see our favs in all of their glory.
For Black artists in particular, music videos represent a full ownership of their image and intention. Music videos offer the opportunity to put a face and a vibe to the sounds we hear. If we’re being honest, it’s where Black artists really shine. Think Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Prince, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé. Music videos are a portal into an artist’s universe, one where they can shape what their world looks like and who inhabits it.
Music videos are a medium for Black artists to mark their own territory and make their own rules. As songs become shorter and virality becomes imperative, it’s no secret that music video culture has changed. And at a time when the industry has experienced staggering losses and pauses, we have witnessed the rise of talented Black filmmakers who lend their cinematic expertise to the art form of music video directing. These new directors are both tech and social media savvy, creating their own buzz alongside the musicians that they feature. I spoke with three directors who use their reverence for music videos to propel musicians forward.
Director: Andre Muir
Video that caught my eye: I AM ft. Flo Milli - Yung Baby Tate
What’s so cool about it: This song and video is an affirmative anthem featuring a stylishly monochromatic squad having an indulgent night in and hitting choreography that you could recreate at home.
Other artist collaborations: Chance the Rapper, Mahalia, Mereba, Mick Jenkins, Ravyn Lenae, Vic Mensa, Wyclef
Andre’s Philosophy: “When you land that one visual that really speaks to your audience and it speaks to who you are, that's when you pop off.”
Director: Morgan B. Powell
Video that caught my eye: fxck it then - Yaya Bey
What’s so cool about it:
The spray painted sign that reads ‘Angelic Bitches’ sets the tone for approximately two minutes of Black folks caring for, laughing with, and doting on each other in nude colors that actually match their skin tone and a spectrum of hairstyles ranging from a fro to a pinned up wrap. This is a masterclass in Black interiority and adornment.
Fun fact: Morgan and Yaya Bey are roommates.
Morgan’s Philosophy: “I think black people created the music video. I'm not a music historian, but I don't think that shit got crazy and compelling and interesting until black people started making music videos.”
Director: Sean Frank
Video that caught my eye: Rider - Mereba
What’s so cool about it: Mereba is positioned as an ethereal, trustworthy narrator; she remains untouched as cars circle near her and kick up desert dust. I’m enchanted by the complementary blues in the denim, pickup truck, and her gown.
Other artist collaborations: Andy Allo, Apple Music, H.E.R.
Sean’s Philosophy: “Within that space, you get to play with so much visually and tell a story in this really short amount of time. With music videos, you can lean into illustrating this song, this vibe, this track. I've always been inspired by them and thought it was a really nice additional piece to complement the track.”