How Dua Lipa, Weezer, and more musicians are making music videos in quarantine
"It was kind of a mess to edit but, you know, this is the world we live in."
For the release of "Hero," a pop-rock anthem off Weezer's forthcoming record Van Weezer, the band wanted a "big and crazy" music video to go with it. So, they turned to directors and frequent collaborators Brendan Walter and Jasper Graham. "We had a bunch of ideas," says Walter, who has worked on more than a dozen Weezer videos. "Obviously, you wanna do the coolest, most fun thing ever... and then this whole thing hit."
By "thing" he means the coronavirus lockdown, which led to a halt in large label-backed productions. That means creatives have had to get... well, creative. But when anyone can shoot themselves on a smartphone or record over a Zoom call, how do you set yourself apart? "There’s been so many quarantine videos," Walter says. "What’s a way we can make that more fun?"
One trend that has emerged is crowdsourcing. Director Andrew Sandler tried it with Blink-182's "Happy Days." Initially, the band wasn't going to make a video for the 2019 track, but then its lyrics found new meaning in the current climate. "The song just happened to play on my computer the first day of quarantine," Sandler recalls. "The lyrics felt really relevant to what we were experiencing."
Columbia Records, Blink-182's label, soon set up a website asking fans to submit videos of their lockdown experience. Sandler then downloaded and edited the footage remotely. "We didn’t want to limit this to TikTok dances, we didn’t want this to just be a montage of people dancing," he says. "We wanted this to feel authentic, whether it was incessantly washing your hands or banging on pots and pans in the kitchen. We wanted to give fans creative freedom."
For Weezer, Walter wanted to try a different crowdsourcing concept. Inspired by an edited video of movie stuntmen fighting each other in a virtual brawl, he wanted "something clever with people all around the world being connected." The concept became Weezer fans passing a note to each other through screens. "People would turn the camera on, pass the note, turn the camera off. I was like, 'No! You can’t do that,'" he remembers. But he made it work. "I [had] to stretch it out or freeze frame. It was kind of a mess to edit but, you know, this is the world we live in."
Another route artists have gone? Animation, which Dua Lipa employed on her second music video for Future Nostalgia single "Break My Heart," which had already received a glossy cinematic version. The 24-year-old British pop star had previously incorporated anime into the video for "Physical," but this new take was a fully animated outing, complete with depictions of Dua rocketing through space.
Marco Pavone, an Italian animator based in Milan who worked on the video, usually delivers this kind of concept in the span of four weeks. In quarantine, he did it in two. "We are very satisfied with the final result," he writes to EW over email. "I sent two sketches to give my idea [to Dua], and she liked them at the first look. I drew Dua falling between the clouds, and another sketch where she escaped a giant robot. I have to say, it was very easy working with her, because we have been on the same page from the beginning." Pavone mainly works from his desk, making him uniquely suited to operate remotely. "This is simple for us," he says. "Currently, I'm working on two other animated videos that I think will be out within one month."
Less ambitious but still effective quarantine videos have come from artists like Kehlani ("Toxic"), Jojo ("Comeback"), and the Dixie Chicks (an Instagram video for "Julianna Calm Down"), whose videos feature footage of themselves shot at home. The Kills' and Dead Weather lead singer Alison Mosshart went that route as well, but took it a step further: On the videos for solo singles "Rise" and "It Ain't Water," she learned how to film, edit, and produce them from scratch. "My escapism is to just work," she tells EW. And with lockdown resulting in "the weirdest and most stressful time on earth," she found herself dialing that up.
The making of "Rise" was a "riot," Mosshart recalls. She taught herself iMovie in the span of four days, which she likens to "making a fanzine: pushing something through a Xerox machine and seeing what was gonna come out." The only footage she had on her camera was of bobbing lowriders she shot at an "illegal cruising" gathering in Los Angeles, which she spliced in with recordings of herself lip syncing the song. "It's hard because you can't see what you're doing [in iMovie]," she says. "If you're trying to edit between two pieces of film, you can't see the film underneath. And it's also not lined up. You might as well just put a blindfold on."
After "It Ain't Water," which she dropped on May 13, Mosshart "graduated" to Final Cut Pro but has yet to make a video through the software. That's not to say she won't. Between writing a new Kills album with guitarist Jamie Hince and developing her own series of video shorts for the release of Car Ma, her book of photographs, short stories, and poems coming in August, she's trying to stay creative and see what comes next.
Walter is doing the same. "At some point the crowdsource videos are gonna get tired," he says after making "Hero." "They might already be tired. You can only do that so many times." Now, he's eyeing the Unreal Engine, technology typically used to bring photo-real 3D effects to video games. "Maybe that's something we can explore in music videos. Like, getting bands green-screen setups of their own and having them shoot things."
Sandler believes labels will need to step up when it comes to the progression of music videos. "It’s going to push creative ingenuity on everybody to think of ways to create content under...quarantine," he says. "As it continues, there’s going to be limitations to how we can shoot."