This month’s It’s Nice That Podcast is on a topic that we all know very well, music videos. As both children of the 80s, It’s Nice That’s founders Alex Bec and Will Hudson reflect on their youth watching MTV, and the iconic directors who informed their listening.
To evaluate the art of making a truly great visual interpretation of music, Alex and Will chat to critic and writer Gina Arnold, renowned choreographer and Beyonce’s creative director Frank Gatson Jr and Young Thug director Ryan Staake.
Currently a university professor at Evergreen State College, Gina Arnold’s background of writing for Rolling Stone, Village Voice and Spin, means she has seen the evolution of music videos since the 1980s. Gina explains how she has seen music videos grow from a promotional vehicle to fully enhancing a song’s meaning and credibility.
During the podcast Gina talks through her fascinating career (which even includes an assignment to watch MTV for 24 hours), reflecting now that: “A really great music video is one that conveys the vision of the song in terms of its mood or emotion, without being too rigid in plot or interpreting lyrics.” An example of this, and Gina’s favourite music video, is Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, “a perfect crystallisation of their vision and their role in America, it was almost transcendent in the sense that they managed to convey that so well”.
Next, Alex and Will speak to Frank Gatson Jr, who as a choreographer has a unique perspective of music videos. Frank takes listeners on a journey through his eclectic career, from studying as a lawyer to becoming a flight attendant, allowing him to travel across the globe dancing and auditioning, ultimately leading to his big break in Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal video.
Working in the industry since 1987, Frank’s most known work is choreographing Beyonce, since working with Destiny Child on their No, No, No video, and most notably choreographing the “deceptively simple” Single Ladies video.
However, Frank explains how he doesn’t believe a great music video has to incorporate dance, citing Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares To You as one of the best music videos of all time. “It was amazing, magical, how could that woman just have that one shot, and captivate you like that,” he says. This leads Frank to explain how often he is hired as a choreographer, even if there is no choreography involved, using “gesture-ography”, to inform how someone sits or stands. As a result, “dance seems in some ways, is always part of it”.
Finally Alex and Will speak to Ryan Staake, a director who captivated the internet earlier this year with his video for Young Thug’s Wyclef Jean.
As a music video director Ryan takes a unique stance on the role, always aiming to have “free reign to do what I really want to do,” he explains. The original pitch for Wyclef Jean was a video he was very into, but one that didn’t plan out after Young Thug didn’t show up. Yet, Ryan made the most of a situation, realising that a no show “in itself was a creative gesture that he made, and made the video what it is”.
On set, as many areas of production fell apart, Ryan made a quick call to base the video around the situation at hand, benefitting from “a perfect storm of working with an artist who does things his own way”. The result was ideal for a record label, as Ryan explains the press alone from a video titled, “Young Thug didn’t show up but they made the video anyway,” would calculate high views.
You can listen to the full podcast on the It’s Nice That Soundcloud below.