As we begin to wind down from the summer of 2019, the world of film is undergoing a bit of a change. With studios closing down and releasing fewer films each year, the demand for video content is on the rise. Music videos have always been a form of self-expression for those in the creative industries, whether it’s through parody or tribute; and it would appear that the stars of tomorrow may look a little bit like the stars of today.
One of the latest music videos to make a splash on social media is the Robert Pattinson-directed film for “Never Think.” The video draws on the actor’s stunning good looks and his well-known charm as he plays off the characteristics of several classic film stars. The video also features cameos from several famous faces, including Michael Caine, Jeff Goldblum, and Harvey Weinstein.
The Evolution of the Music Video
While film musicals used to be relatively rare, the video format has long been used to promote and commemorate music. From Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to Madonna’s “Material Girl” and countless other examples, videos have often been used to show off the stars’ incredible talents as well as their extravagant lifestyles. The rise of TikTok has somewhat altered this practice as people are now more likely to value music videos for their entertainment value rather than as a vehicle to advertise or promote a film or album.
Thanks to the video-sharing platform, anyone with a webcam and a smartphone can now become a content creator. The combination of these two factors makes it much easier for aspiring creatives to bring their talents to the fore, regardless of whether or not they have a formal training in the field. As a result, the concept of the music video has evolved to be less about creating a useful advertisement and more about simply entertaining the viewer.
Why ‘Never Think’?
If you’re unfamiliar, “Never Think” is a track by the band Gorillaz, featuring rappers Kano and Rizzle Kicks. The song is included on their 2001 album, Demonstration, and has been covered by multiple artists, including The Clash and The Prodigy.
The title of the track is fitting as it never really grows old. Whether it’s due to the timeless quality of R&B music or the fact that it’s always suited to any occasion (from a romantic date to a corporate board meeting), the song has stood the test of time.
What is interesting is that the track is loosely based on a real-life tragedy. Kano and Rizzle Kicks’ R&B band, Level 2, opened for Gorillaz on their Demonstration World Tour in 2001. During the show, Rizzo Kicks accidentally gunned himself in the leg with a gun that was plugged into the sound system. Though the wound was not life-threatening, the shock of the event caused his leg to become paralyzed. When the tour reached Detroit in November of that year, Kano told the audience that they wouldn’t be performing that night as Rizzle Kicks was going to be rehabbing from his injury. (The Detroit Free Press, 11/19/19)
The Director Takes Center Stage
So, who is the man behind this cinematic masterpiece? Well, in addition to being one of the hottest actors of his generation, Robert Pattinson is also a skilled director and producer. Before diving into directing, he had already established himself as a leading man, appearing in acclaimed films like Good Will Hunting and David Croizier’s The Rover. In 2019 alone, Pattinson is set to star in the upcoming films, The Lighthouse and Game Over, both of which are due to be released this year.
In the case of Never Think, it was Pattinson’s idea to put a spotlight on the music video as a form. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, he said:
“I thought it would be a really fun idea to do a music video for ‘Never Think,’ ” he said. “I’ve never really done one before, so it was fun to experiment and see what would work and what wouldn’t. A lot of it depends on how good your camera is and if you’ve got a talented eye. I think it’s something we’ll all look back on in the future and say, ‘Oh, that was such a fun video to make.’ It was a really interesting case study in creative collaboration. I had a lot of fun with it and I’d love to do more in this genre.”
The actor also discussed the various challenges that come with directing a music video. In particular, he mentioned working with a tight budget and finding the right people to work with. He added:
“It’s a really stressful process, especially when you’re doing something that you’ve never done before, ” he said. “There are so many different things that could go wrong, but you just have to keep plugging away and trying new things. I think when you’re actually doing it and experiencing all those nerves, it actually feels a little bit exciting.”
While the majority of music videos are made with a limited budget, there are several high-profile examples of expensively made films that prominently feature music. Take Michael Jackson’s Thriller, for example, which was famously plagued with cost overruns and took over a year to shoot. The resulting film is an unforgettable display of the King of Pop’s visual prowess and the music industry’s extravagance in general. (Thriller, 1987)
The fact that Jackson’s Thriller was such a significant production speaks volumes about the format and how highly it’s been valued by the entertainment industry. In 2019 alone, the music video will boast an average of 12 million views on TikTok, so it’s safe to say that this project will not soon be forgotten. (Statista, 2020)
The Classic Film Star Tribute
While the majority of video content is now focused on attracting and engaging with audiences on social media, music videos have always been about much more than just entertainment. As we’ve established, there’s a rich history behind the music video, dating back to the earliest days of cinema. (The majority of videos made before 1940s are now lost, with only a handful surviving in pristine condition.) This tradition continues with several 2019 music videos paying homage to classic films. (For a more comprehensive list, see here.)
One of the most interesting tributes is that to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Thriller, Michael Jackson’s monumental 1987 masterpiece, was responsible for a string of groundbreaking music videos in the latter half of the 1980s. The album, which peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s album chart in 12 countries and remained in the top ten for over 20 weeks, was a commercial and critical success and serves as a testament to the album’s enduring popularity. (Jackson, 1987)
The music video for the album’s lead single, “Thriller,” became one of the most famous in the history of music. (Guinness World Records, 2020)
The video, directed by John Landis, was a revolutionary piece of creative television at the time of its release. The combination of live-action footage and animation, as well as the song’s iconic dance routine, made it stand out. The clip also featured several pop culture references, including a shout-out to director John Landis’ comedy classic Animal House, which was released in December of that year. (Thriller, 1987; John Landis, 2020)
It is perhaps surprising that it’s taken this long for Landis’ classic to be recognized for its groundbreaking nature, as the director discussed the album and the video for “Thriller” nearly 30 years ago.
“The ‘Thriller’ video is just a mind f–k, ” Director Landis said in a 1988 interview with The Washington Post. “It’ll be hard for people to forget, and it was a real turning point for music videos. To me, it was just, ‘Wow, this is what music videos are supposed to be like.’ ”
The video, which would go on to win four MTV Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year, stood as a testament to both the genius of its director and the enduring popularity of Michael Jackson’s catalog. (MTV, 2020)
Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’
Although many people may consider Madonna to be the queen of pop, it was not always so. Indeed, it took the singer over a decade to become the dominant figure that she is today, and the rise of her “Material Girl” music video marked the beginning of her ascent to megastardom. (Madonna, Material Girl, 2010)