Beyoncé, Rosalía, Harry Styles… The world of music videos belongs to female directors

Their music videos are buzzing, millions of views on Youtube and transcend artists. Meeting with six ultra-demanded directors, who impose their style and their vision in the music industry.

In a world of images, the music video has become essential to amplify the success of a song: it intensifies its emotional and creative scope, while addressing a large audience. The figures perfectly illustrate this power: the social media Youtube alone broadcasts more than 5 billion videos and has 29,000 billion views worldwide (Pex study).

The influence of music videos is therefore global, massive, monumental. It can even exceed that of the cinema… However, in this overpowered industry, the disparities between men and women remain glaring: only 23.7% of clips are made by female directors, against 76.3% assigned to men. Women are still largely in the minority in this profession, but they are gaining ground in terms of fame. More and more of them are making their mark by signing music videos of global reach and among the most artistic of the moment.

They are encouraged by precursors who paved the way for them: one of the first successful videos in the history of music videos was signed… by a woman, New York videographer and visual artist Julia Heyward (exhibited at the Whitney Museum in New York). No one forgot their music video Burning Down the House, Talking Heads, broadcast in 1983, where it projected the face of David Byrne on a burning house, like a sort of infernal palimpsest. This achievement revolutionized the aesthetics of video.

On video, the clip Burning Down the Housefrom Talking Heads, directed by Julia Heyward

Today, a tribe of women imposes itself in this very masculine universe and offers another look. Their names are Megan Thompson, Melina Matsoukas, Tanu Muino, Hannah Lux Davis, Karena Evans, Sophie Muller, they are mostly American, Canadian and English, but the bouquet also includes French or Belgian artists, such as Charlotte Abramow, Marta Bevaqua or Ambrr. All defend a vision of the quasi-cinematic clip, with beautifully crafted mini-films, with neat aesthetics and skilfully constructed scenarios.

This new generation of video artists produces the clips of the stars, reveals talents, launches urban fashions and is closely followed by the luxury and cinema industry. Driven by an almost militant commitment, these directors are bringing about a revolution in this industry and changing the representation of women in film.

Melina Matsoukas

Who is she ? In a few years, this 41-year-old New York director has become a reference, an essential size, already rewarded with two Grammy Awards for the best music video for We Found Love, by Rihanna, and Training, of Beyoncé, with whom she collaborates regularly. Born in the Bronx in a popular and activist environment, she grew up reading Malcolm X, watching Wong Kar-wai or Wes Anderson films, and watching hip-hop clips broadcast on MTV. Its vocation comes from this explosive cocktail. A graduate of New York University and the AFI Conservatory, she signed her first music videos for the Def Jam label, of which Jay Z is president. Before seeing her career change when she started working with Beyoncé in 2007.

His stunt? “I treat each video as a thesis project,” she says. Committed political bomb, its clip Training, for Beyoncé, produced in 2016, is a cinema truth chronicle, a tribute to the Black Panthers and the Black Lives Matter movement. The footage, inspired by the works of Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, was shot with a Bolex camera which gives the video a documentary feel. The video quickly became iconic for its aesthetics and its powerful message celebrating black women. Through this feat of arms, the director paves the way for a whole generation of young black female directors in the world of music videos. In addition, Melina Matsoukas presented her first feature film, Queen & Slim, in 2019.

In video, Beyoncé’s “Formation” clip, directed by Mélina Matsoukas

Hannah Lux Davis

Who is she ? Director of ultra-colorful pop-baroque clips, Hannah Lux Davis has shot videos for Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, rapper Drake and even British singer Charli XCX. His sophisticated photographic style, in counterpoint to images of urban culture, has earned his videos a viral success (Thank U Next, by Ariana Grande, is the fastest video to reach 100 million views on YouTube in twenty-four hours). To the point that the 36-year-old American director has already been awarded three MTV Video Music Awards.

His stunt? Pioneer of the feminine pop aesthetic of the 2000s, she notably brought together Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and Jessie J in the famous choral video, “girl boss” and badass with contagious energy, for the title bang bang. “As products of a mass culture aimed at a young audience, my music videos aim to show all types of women: fairy-tale characters, warriors, sensual or fatal hedonists, abandoned women , betrayed and, finally, independent, powerful women: the divas. »

In video, The clip “Bang Bang” bringing together Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande and Jessie J, directed by Hannah Lux Davis

Charlotte Abramow

Who is she ? This 29-year-old Belgian, a graduate of the École de l’image des Gobelins, first made a name for herself through her photographic work, notably rewarded with the Picto prize for young fashion photography in 2014. But quickly, this precocious talent is also interested in directing and signs his first clips, at 24 years old.

His brilliance ? Swing your what, the shock clip of Angèle’s tube, which addresses sexism and street harassment. The video now has 107 million views. An immediate viral success, which finished establishing the popularity of Angèle at the same time as revealing the talent of the young director to the music industry. “We put cinematographic means into this minifiction”, says Charlotte Abramow, who also signed an episode of the series for Arte H 24, 12:00: the forbidden cry, and other clips for Angèle and singer Claire Laffut. “It was my first fiction and I directed everything, from the styling to the lines, with a team and the eyes of Angèle, who fully played the game. What I like about the clip is that there is a form of ecstasy in the fusion between music and images, an evocative poetry. »

In video, the cult clip of Angèle Swing your what

Karena Evans

Who is she ? Very early on, this 26-year-old Canadian wanted to follow in the footsteps of her big brother, Jordan, her renowned hip-hop mentor and producer (Eminem, Jay-Z). But it is through the image that she managed to make a name for herself. She began her career working alongside Director X, a famous director of over 100 music videos, before moving behind the camera herself. Since then, she has directed numerous music videos – including Everyday Life, from Coldplay – but also episodes from several series: P Valley, Snowfall and Gossip Girl: Next Generation.

His stunt? She was one of the first directors to enter the misogynistic world of rap by signing Drake clips, including God’s Plan, in 2018, which earned him an avalanche of awards. She also directed for the Canadian artist the astonishing Nice for What, in which the public sees for the first time a rapper celebrating the independence of women through images. “Drake agreed to carry a strong message: the women in this clip are not sexual objects to be collected for a rapper, but goddesses overflowing with strength and grace, she underlines. Like me, director Melina Matsoukas managed to defuse the misogynistic nature of rap music videos, bringing a new aesthetic to videos by artists like Snoop Dogg, some of whose past music videos mixed hip-hop and pornography. »

Through her work, Karena Evans imposes another look. “All of us female directors wonder about the representation of powerful women or ‘divas’ in music videos: what kind of myths do these representations relate to? How does society view women? What is the role of the music video in this context? Our work must make it possible to change representations. »

In video, Drake’s “Nice for what” clip, directed by Karena Evans

Tanu Muino

Who is she ? Cuban father, Ukrainian mother, Tanu Muino grew up until the age of 6 in Havana before living in Odessa, Ukraine. Photographer, designer, stylist, director, she embodies this “slasher” generation which multiplies projects and talents. In 2016, she began to shoot the clips of the Ukrainian artist Monatik, until a certain Katy Perry called her to entrust her with the controls of her clip Small Talk. Since then, the great international artists have been fighting over this director with a pop and crazy universe: Cardi B, Lil Nas or Rosalía.

His stunt? This year, she signs As it was, the dizzying clip of a star she admires the most: Harry Styles. “I like working with artists who blur the codes. For this clip, I wanted Harry to wear a sequined disco suit and red nail polish, while keeping the sex appeal extremely masculine. This play on appearances, I also exploited it in the clip Chicken Teriyaki, by Rosalía: she dances dressed in shreds of fabric, showcasing her voluptuous body with a torrid, free and assumed sensuality. Women have often played secondary brainless characters in music videos. To assert their power, they had to strike masculine poses à la Cary Grant. I need to change that. The Spanish singer Rosalía also considers the director as a guide: “Tanu helped me to defend a reversal of roles that is very important for our generation, she confides. We want women to be able to play with their bodies, their desires and their sexuality as they please.

In video, Harry Styles’ “As it was” music video, directed by Tanu Muino

Jenn Nkiru

Who is she ? Born in Peckham, south London, this British-Nigerian director is one of a young generation of women at the helm in the music industry. A true committed artist, his work has been exhibited at the MoMA in New York. She has also made a film with visual artist Arthur Jafa and a documentary on women in contemporary art, presented at the Tate Modern in London.

His stunt?His spectacular video, Brown Skin Girl, for Beyoncé. She was also awarded a Grammy Award in 2021. In the midst of sumptuous decorations à la Luchino Visconti. Beyoncé highlights the power of black women by surrounding herself with personalities such as Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, models Adut Akech and Naomi Campbell, or her daughter Blue Ivy. This clip is full of references to contemporary African and Afro-American artists: William Kentridge, Chéri Samba and Kehinde Wiley. “This video is a celebration and affirmation of the beauty of black skin,” says Jenn Nkiru. I wanted each character to be photographed in a royal light. Beyoncé’s hairstyles in the film were inspired by traditional African styles, including a crown of braids from the Mangbetu people of eastern Congo. »

In video, Beyoncé, Blue Ivy, Saint Jhn, Wizkid’s music video: “Brown Skin Girl”, directed by Jenn Nkiru


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *