Outside of the Tories claiming to be corona-competent, the music video is probably the most deceptive public statement of the age. A bunch of destitute students dress up like bespectacled Liberaces and cruise the closest thing that Kiddiminster has to a Vegas Strip in a limo that they’ll be paying for in reduced royalties until they’re pensionable. All to try to convince us that they’re obscenely glamorous and their song wasn’t just ripped off The Courteeners in their box bedroom during a day off from Costcutters.
As acts have strived to keep releasing music during the pandemic, though, the lockdown music video has exposed the raw reality behind the façade. While major pop acts such as Dua Lipa, Charli XCX and Katy Perry have been able to utilise all the green screen CGI wonders available to remote tech-kind, most acts have been left with their grotty shared kitchen as a set, their iPhone as the camera and their cat in a makeshift tutu as ‘quirky motif’. It’s been like watching endless episodes of a nil budget MTV show called Cribs: Indie Dole Scum.
There is one particular video I’m already sick of the sight of. It begins with a fast-forward first person walk in the park, usually with all manner of leafy double-image effects splashed all over it to match the ethereal intro. It cuts to the singer looking desolate in the corner of a squat-like bedroom with the mattress on the floor and all intravenous paraphernalia brushed almost out of shot. Next there’s a panoramic sweeping view from the roof, or the highest available window, then a quick-cut montage of kitchen implements, a chorus in the bath and repeat to fade.
Without wanting to get all Daniel Ek on your asses, musicians, you’re going to have to put a bit more effort in. I know filmmaking isn’t necessarily your field, resources are limited and your special effects skills only go as far as making yourself look like a vomiting puppy on Snapchat. I’m also aware that there are major barriers and pitfalls to navigate. Dave Bayley of Glass Animals managed to turn his flat into a video set for ‘Dreamland’, complete with professional camera tracking equipment and skilfully hung surrealist objet d’art, but he had to have the whole thing delivered to him to be assembled like Ikea’s new range of flat-packed rock stardom – and it still ended up looking like a bad week on Taskmaster.
The National‘s Matt Berninger, meanwhile, recently released a video for ‘Distant Axis’ in which he wandered to a nearby ‘video director’’s house and squirms around on a green screen that the guy hasn’t actually put any visuals on. Let’s hope he didn’t pick up any of the lockdown chancer’s home-brew Remdesivir while he was there.
We’re not expecting you to make the 2020 version of ‘Thriller’ in such trying times, but at the very least come up with a more adventurous location and imaginative concept than ‘my house and environs; loneliness’. You might not live close enough to a desert to do a full Mad Max in the style of Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘Girls In The Hood’ lockdown video, but you only need to wander Haim-like across the deserted car park of your nearest boarded up arts venue to capture a similar sense of hopeless desolation. You may not have access to Drake’s house, but you can pretty much recreate the ‘Tootsie Slide’ video he filmed there by breaking into the V&A after hours with a sackful of plastic Grammys.
You don’t need to pay Godzilla money for an animated lockdown video either. As Soccer Mommy‘s 8-bit vid for ‘Crawling In My Skin’ proved, cheap and cheerful has an ironic appeal mid-pandemic. And even on a budget, green screen is your friend. Take Phoebe Bridgers’ film to accompany ‘Kyoto’ – she’s clearly done it on a knackered Commodore 64 using stock footage she’s nicked off the background of a Japanese tourism video from 1986, but seeing as though the closest we can currently envision to a holiday is a stress-free ketamine flashback, it seems impossibly exotic.
And that’s the key – we’re past the point of wanting to be reminded of, related to or consoled over our predicament. If you feel your song is so infected with Covid it needs a relevant video then consider something as heart-warming as IDLES’ film for ‘A Hymn’, which sees each band member driving a parent to the shops, rather than yet another tour of a dingy flat in Digbeth that looks like Homes Under The Hammer with strobes.
Otherwise, give us escapism; take us out of our misery just like your music does. Transform your front room into a scale facsimile of the bridge of the Nostromo, mash every loose food item into a ceiling high sculpture of Apollo, put psychedelic stardust filters on your next colonoscopy. Just take us anywhere that isn’t here.