Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Music Video Auteurs

Full transparency: I am unabashedly obsessed with Nabil and Kahlil Joseph.

It seems that we’re in the second age of the music video auteur. Even though new music videos from artists/bands such as Kanye West, Frank Ocean, James Blake, Nicki Minaj, Nas & Damian Marley,  Arctic Monkeys, FKA Twigs, Foals, and alt-J (exhaustive list because I love all these acts) are events in and of themselves, when they are released, blogs usually lead with the fact that they are Nabil-directed.

Kahlil Joseph, whose works is most associated with Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus, is arguably hip hop’s most important director (and currently has an exhibit at MOCA running until August 16th). Lamar commissioned Joseph to direct a short film based on his debut album good kid, m.A.A.d city. The video he directed for Flying Lotus Until the Quiet Comes was a film festival favorite.

Whereas the first era, circa Spike Jonze pre-film, was wedded to TV screens and music television channels, music videos are now located on computer screens via music and pop culture blogs. Now they are portable and the most accessible cinematic form. How does the music video, which is arguably the most dynamic cinematic space at a mass audience’s fingertips, exist as an intensely auteur form in a mass context?


  1. I think because music videos aren't as prevalent as they used to be - TRL and MTV would show the music videos of any popular act - you have to have something really "quality" in order for your music videos to matter. So the auteur totally makes sense. When I worked in indie rock, we always had a video that came with a single, because it's still about the singles right now because there's soooo much music out there. Sometimes if the director was a name or a known artiste in his or her own right dropping that name before the musical act could have been a bigger deal. From the industry angle, it's another way to push content.

    And I think if you're a real fan of someone like Kanye or Minah or Blake etc., or anyone, you're going to know their videos. They're very nostalgique for me too so I love reliving the excitement of a music video. Confession: I made my dad go with me to Times Square so we could be a part of the TRL crowd sometime in the late 90s early 00s. Ricky Martin waved at me!

  2. Love this question! I think the mode of consumption for music videos has a lot to do with their cult like appeal and the influence of the auteur. I remember staying up late to watch pop up video on VH1 as a kid in the 90's or "BET after dark" with my sister just to get a glimpse of Janet Jackson "Anytime Anyplace" or The Spice Girls "When 2 Become 1". Back then, you had to catch videos when they were broadcast, maybe it was TRL or an episode of "Making the Video". Now, music video premieres are like events with artists plugging them on their social media accounts ahead of time. Furthermore, you can watch them repeatedly and on loop. Fans can obsess over Beyonce's choreography and play it back to learn the dance moves themselves. The fact that Ed Sheeran has half a billion views for a video released mere months ago is insane. Music videos create brands out of artists and contribute to the evolution or birth of the artist's image. For the filmmakers, they are creative expression at its most freeing (less censorship online and music itself is such a fluid medium I think it allows for abstract interpretation more than the Hollywood film studio system). To be fair, these aren't all examples of auteur directed music videos/aritsts, but it's more a comment on the mode of consumption. The medium is the message.