In this episode of Hit Me With Your Best Shot, our dear host Nathaniel throws us a curve-ball, and instead of watching our regular movie, he makes us pick our favorite shot from the five music videos nominated for Best Cinematography at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards.
Despite having been created to highlight the music, music videos are more often than not built entirely around visuals, which makes it kind of hard to determine exactly what the VMAs consider to be good cinematography. The “Video of the Year” category seems to be reserved for the most popular and successful songs, and the “Best Director” for the videos with the more impressive or unique visual styles. Judging by this set of nominees, I think the VMAs are approaching cinematography mostly from a lighting perspective.
Anyway, here are the nominees, and my picks:
FKA Twigs – “Two Weeks” (Photographed by Justin Brown)
Being that this video is made of basically one continuous and fairly static shot (the camera just slowly zooms out for the duration of the song), and given the fact that its Egyptian composition was most likely achieved mainly through computer effects, it find it very weird that it was nominated for a cinematography award. One could see the lighting of the different “characters” in it as the achievement, but even then the green-screen work is pretty obvious. It was also very hard to pick a favorite shot, since the video only has one of those, but my favorite moment is when a little FKA Twigs drinks water that’s bizarrely flowing from the main big FKA Twigs’s fingertip.
Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar – “Never Catch Me” (Photographed by Larkin Sieple)
“Never Catch Me” is not only the best video of this bunch, but also features the best cinematography job. Especially if we focus on lighting as much as the VMAs seem to be doing. This is actually a pretty great video, so I’ll let it speak for itself. It’s all built around one subversively fantastic conceit, my favorite moment of which is the surprise of the first visual of the two little kids stepping out of their coffins and dancing in the middle of the funeral.
Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud” (Photographed by Daniel Pearl)
Forget the whole Taylor vs. Nicki feud, the real controversy should be the fact that this snooze-fest somehow got nominated for Video of the Year. This one is not just one take, but it is confined to one room, a conceit that seems to have cinematographer Daniel Pearl shooting from every possible camera angle in order to make things as dynamic as possible. I guess the appeal of the video is seeing Ed Sheeran do an actual choreography, so kudos to him for pulling it off without major help from the editors. My pick from this video highlights the “reality” of the choreography, as we see how dirty the sole of the dancer’s foot is after dancing for a while.
Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar – “Bad Blood” (Photographed by Christopher Probst)
And speaking of the Taylor vs. Nicki feud… The video for “Bad Blood” got a lot of publicity for having lots of celebrity cameos and expensive visual effects, but that’s pretty much all it has going for itself. It is a pretty bad video that plays on scenes and tropes that we’ve seen in recent action and science fiction movies but fails to become an eventful “narrative” video, it’s just a bunch of “cool” referential images one after the other. And as far as cinematography is concerned, it often looks pretty horrendous. I mean, look at this nightmare of a shot:
The one thing I like about the video is the gag in which Taylor Swift is betrayed, falls from a roof seemingly dying by smashing into a parked car, and we cut to her body lying on top of the car and singing the song while looking directly at the camera.
Alt-J – “Left Hand Free” (Photographed by Mike Simpson)
I’m only somewhat familiar with Alt-J’s previous album, and this song sounds very unlike it. This sounds more like a blues-y Black Keys type of band. This is just a video of people hanging out and doing dumb stuff like riding four wheelers and lighting up fireworks, so I’m assuming it got nominated for looking like a vintage home movie/instagram picture? I didn’t like it very much, so I just went with this cute picture of a swimming dog.