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What makes a music video cool?

  • 01 Apr, 2016

Here’s an interesting question. What do you want your music video to be? Sexy? Funny? Scary? Emotive? Angry? Cool? When you think about it; nearly every video ever made falls into one of these categories.

Now that’s not to say there aren’t genres, styles and formats that create millions of possibilities but the answer to “What do you want your music video to be?” really only has a hand full of options.So what makes a music video cool?

When I think of cool videos three spring to mind: Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ , Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ and the late 90s Gap adverts (I know I’m breaking the rules but so what).

Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ Cool Music video

Starting with the most recent and acknowledging the awesome feet of over 1billion YouTube views ‘Sorry’ is one cool video. Before you start violently clicking the “back” button it’s 2016 and we all have to accept that Justine Bieber is making great music and music videos. Directed, choreographed and styled by Parris Goebel – this video does everything right.


I know what you’re thinking “So what exactly does it do right?” – to that I say “Where do I start?” The styling is one of the most stand out elements of the video. It’s bright, it’s colourful and boy is it cool. Look at them? They have had so much time and effort put into their clothes and it really shows…only a lot of time wasn’t put into it. In fact the clothes were brought to the shoot on the day by Parris and the dancers, and get this, it was their own clothes! Whether you spend two weeks sourcing clothes or two hours when something works it works. Reminiscent of the cool kids of the 90s (this reference will become more relevant) the styling makes a lasting visual impact plus those sunglasses look amazing!


Essentially ‘Sorry’ is a simple music video production. One location, white background with no major VFX; it relies on the content and visual subtleties to keep your attention. There’s fun with depth creating interesting emerging foregrounds, midgrounds and backgrounds filled with on point cuts and exciting camera movement (although some were done in post), put it all together and you have a video with great rhythm and great pace. You know what else? ‘Sorry’ isn’t afraid to be fun. The girls are having fun, the video’s fun and if we’re having fun then guess what? Fun is cool.


Now for the thing that really makes this video pop – the choreography. Right? This is the biggest hook and most memorable element of the video. Choreographed by the Director/Stylist/Dancer Parris Goebel and performed by her group ReQuest Dance Crew we see a dancehall influenced feast for the eyes. The most interesting thing about the choreography is that it was mostly conceived on the day, Parris said in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine “I don't really like to anticipate or prepare things. For me, it's all about being impulsive with exactly how I feel at that moment, with the song or the people around me.” Now how cool is that?

*Interview source on RollingStone website.

Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ Cool Music Video

Next up: ‘Hotline Bling’ Directed by Director X. Dad dancing jokes aside this is one great music video. The set, which is real by the way, creates a world of equilateral shapes with visible depth allowing the Director to do some impressive things with perspective and camera movement. At the same time the set is very minimalist so it doesn’t draw attention from the musician or performers. The colour pallet, based on lights, changes subtly so that each change adjusts the tone delicately without being too distracting. The set and lighting work as cohesive elements that still allows the performance to take center stage.


‘Hotline Bling’ is also very sexy. The set is sexy, the camera movement is sexy and the dancers are very sexy. They stand in powerful poses and dance in sexy slow motion allowing us to be taken in by the composition, colour and use of silhouette. You know what I really like about these women? They are real women with real curves – you don’t get a lot of that these days. It’s one of the elements that shows this video isn’t afraid to be different, or at the very least not afraid to do things old school. ‘Hotline Bling’ Executive Producer Taj Critchlow said in an interview with Fast Co Create "When Drake approached X about doing this video, he wanted to take it back to that vintage era of just having a good time," there’s just something a significantly cool about respecting the old school.

*Interview source on FastcoCreate website.

90s Gap adverts

The final example of cool would have to be the Gap adverts of the 90s, I know; sort of breaking the rules but not really. Why? Because they are music videos! Now some of you may be too young to remember but these are among the coolest most relevant and memorable videos ever made. Remember how ‘Sorry’ drew style influences from the 90s? Remember how ‘Hotline Bling’ wanted to take things back to the vintage era? There are good reasons why.


The styling is an interesting place to start, mainly because it’s a video advertising clothes. They wear the same clothes but their own way. They use a theme in each video to compliment the clothing in the same way a music video’s styling compliments the video. They have their own style within the style.
It’s very obvious that these videos are made by people who knew their audience. Who stars in them? Only the coolest kids in school. It genuinely looks like they traveled across America picking out cool kids from various Colleges and how about the level of diversity and representation? Years ahead of their time, years.
In these videos there can be a group of people vigorously swing dancing or bunch of young men and women standing still while the camera slowly pans. Filmed in a white environment the location matters less than the people in it. So what guides our attention and makes the video so affective? In some videos the performance is understated, too cool for school – effort right? However, in others an explosion of energy, talent and fun. The simple camera movement and rhythmic editing work together in a way that sets the tone and maintains it – oh so cool.

So what really makes a video cool?

To be honest I didn’t think there’d be an answer but you know what? There is. Cool isn’t complicated or overblown, cool is simple and subtle; letting the performers and camera movement do the work. Cool looks effortless, it can be understated, it can even be fun. So why doesn’t cool have grand sets and VFX full of spectacle? Doesn’t need to be because when you’re cool, less is more.

Last modified on Tuesday, 05 July 2016 09:59
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