The best thing about being born in the 80s was to be a teenager during the 90s, and being part of the so-called MTV Generation. I used to spend hours every day watching music videos. Today, the music video is a content marketing tool used by the artist to promote his or her new album. A music video can empower the song it is made for. Sometimes you only remember a song because of its music video – that’s why it’s not surprising that events such as the MTV Video Music Awards take place every year to celebrate the phenomena.

There is a specific technique that I find very interesting – the so-called single-take or “one shot” music video. Those are, as you would guess, music videos that have been shot in a single camera take, with no cuts. This is one of the most challenging ways to create a music video, because you have to plan everything ahead, down to the most meticulous detail. You also have to make sure that all elements come together to create the perfect moment you are looking for. Of course even with this limitation, there are several techniques that can be employed. For example, you can start with a long close-up focusing on the artist’s face, and then zoom out as she starts singing. Or, you can work with stage props that move in a certain order during the shot so that you achieve different backgrounds in one take.

It is interesting to see how many classifications there actually are for these single take music videos:

1° The Walking Down the Street
This is a common narrative style where the artist is walking from point A to B. Different elements are included to spice up this general theme. In the Spike Jonze-directed “California” by Wax, the main character is set on fire and runs down a street in Los Angeles in slow motion. Or, some choreography can be added along the way, like Kiesza did in her hit “Hideaway”. Don’t want to walk? No problem. You can also bounce on your way out, like in Goldfrapp’s “Happiness”.

Wax – California

Goldfrapp – Happiness

Kiesza – Hideaway

2° The Close-Up
This one is pretty simple. The camera is tightly framed around the artist’s face as to accentuate the details and the perfect lip-sync. Many sad songs use the close-up to highlight the fact that the singers are sad too. For “No Surprises”, Thom Yorke of Radiohead wears a dome helmet that slowly fills with water while he continues lip-syncing to the song. #oscarworthy

Development in digital technologies has done much for the “one shot” music video. A good example of this is Björk’s video for “Hunter”. Thanks to digital tools and strong make-up skills, the apparition of a wild bear is made a bit more realistic and relevant, and without them the video would probably not match the song as well.

Janelle Monáe – Cold War

Alanis Morissette – Head Over Feet

Gwen Stefanie – Used To Love You

Radiohead – No Surprises

Björk – Hunter

3° The Huis Clos #pardonmyfrench (or No Exit)
This technique is used in an enclosed space, with the purpose of empowering the performance of the artist. This is the case of Robyn dancing and owning her presence as a sort of lone gymnast in the video “Call Your Girlfriend”, while dancer Maddie Ziegler delivers an incredible performance in Sia’s “Chandelier”. In “Lonely Boy”, actor/musician/part-time security guard Derrick T. Tuggle lip-syncs and dances some of the iconic moves of John Travolta, Michael Jackson and Carlton Banks. The result? The music video went viral and received more than 400,000 views in its first 24 hours.

Robyn – Call Your Girlfriend

The Black Keys – Lonely Boy

Sia – Chandelier

4° The Story-Telling / The Live Performance
The live performance entails months of preparation, several costume changes, sets, storylines – we’re talking the full package here.

In “Make Me Like You”, Gwen Stefani walks through a hair salon, plays the piano, roller skates and probably goes through more costume changes than Kim Kardashian does at fashion week. This “one shot” music video was done during the live broadcast of the 58th Grammy Awards. For „We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together“, Taylor Swift takes it to another level with a massive production that included multiple costume changes and more than five sets, all captured in a single shot. During Phoenix’s “Trying To Be Cool”, you can see the band doing a lot of “awesome stuff” in order to ramp up the coolness, but what you don’t initially see are the two different camera crews that are swapping shots every 25 seconds. As one crew films, the other one is getting the next set ready to go. It’s really fun to watch. “Wannabe” by Spice Girls has to be included too, because … It’s a one shot video and also … I am a total fan! #oupsy Fun fact: the video was banned in some parts of Asia because of Melanie B’s erect nipples. #TBTwhenIwasyoung #givememyyouthback

Spice Girls – Wannabe

Taylor Swift – We Are Never Getting Back Together

Gwen Stefani – Make Me Like You

Phoenix – Trying To Be Cool

Also I noticed some bands that where able to become successful especially through their one-shot music videos.

The case of Ok Go
Ok Go, an American rock band, has become famous for doing “one shot” music videos. Every new single is released with a highly anticipated music video, which often becomes a viral sensation.

Ok Go – The Writing’s On The Wall (took 2 months to plan and over 60 takes to nail the shot)

Ok Go – Upside Down & Inside Out (shot in zero gravity)

The case of Feist
Feist, the Canadian pop singer-songwriter, made two beautiful single-take music videos. “1234” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Short Form Music Video. Then came the now classic “My Moon My Man” which makes my body move to the beat every time I step on a moving walkway inside the airport.

Feist – 1234

Feist – My Moon My Man

The most exceptional director – Michel Gondry
This list cannot be concluded without mentioning Michel Gondry’s work. Gondry is a video virtuoso. He is a producer, screenwriter and film director, but he started with music videos. You may be familiar with him through his successful film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. Gondry did plenty of TV advertising and back in the day, and has directed more than eighty music videos. So of course, he has done some “one shot” music videos as well, and I will list five of them here. But I do encourage you to explore the rest of his work.

Cibo Matto’s 1996 song „Sugar Water“ features one long continuous shot displayed in split screen with parallel action. Although the scenes are exactly the same, the left side of the screen starts at the beginning of the shot and plays forward, while the right side of the screen starts from the end of the shot and plays in reverse. 10 takes were needed to get the routine down to a tee.

For Kylie Minogue’s “Come Into My World”, Gondry used a motion control camera to capture Kylie’s performance, and by the end of the video you are watching five versions of Kylie walking on the streets of Paris.

Metronomy’s „Love Letters.“ is a cute video for a catchy song. The band is playing in the middle of the set while the camera rolling around on 360-degree angle, creating a different set depending at each position.

And finally, „Mad World“ is amazing proof of what you can do with choreography.

Ciao Matto – Sugar Water

Kylie Minogue – Come Into My World

Gary Jules – Mad World

Metronomy – Love Letters

Massive Attack – Protection


Text: Nicolas Simoneau. KALTBLUT Magazine.