The volatile situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has caused many changes in the world, and that includes the world of music. With gigs being pushed back and at worst cancelled, those in the industry must learn to adapt in order to survive. As that happens, new trends emerge, like virtual shows and socially distanced gigs — and other previously explored concepts, like animated music videos, experience a resurgence like never before.
It’s clear why this format works. Fears of the coronavirus, by regulation or not, are sure to halt or interfere with the production of music videos on set, which typically involves a large crew. In turn, this throws the spotlight on animators: “We are aggressively opening our budgets to make sure people have enough funds to bring in animators,” Atlantic Records' Jeff Levin shared in an interview with Rolling Stone.
Countless animated music videos have since been released. From Billie Eilish, The Strokes, Beabadoobee, Katy Perry, BTS, and even the collab between BLACKPINK and Lady Gaga, these animations have their own unique elements that could make them pass off as short films on their own. Scroll on for our top picks of the year so far:
BILLIE EILISH - ‘MY FUTURE’
Billie Eilish recently unveiled her new single ‘my future’, which quickly picked up close to 40 million views in the span of a week. Headed by Australian director Andrew Onorato, the animation team consisted of a whopping twelve people, including Alex Dray, Annie Zhao, and Cliona Noonan.
Visuals depict Billie wandering through a magical forest in the rain at night, before the lo-fi ambient track transitions into something more upbeat. Both the song and clip are one hell of a ride, and we’re not the only ones who say so, with many comparing the animation to the likes of Ghibli, which is often defined by its mystical and otherworldly presentation.
Fun fact: Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas wrote this track in only two days.
BEABADOOBEE - ‘SUN MORE OFTEN’
Beabadoobee’s ‘Sun More Often’ gives us a much-needed escape from our current reality by bringing us on an alien’s mission to launch some caterpillars into the sun. Despite being in black-and-white, the doodly nature of Elliot Bech’s art doesn’t fail to bring out the youthfulness of Bea’s emotive rock tune without losing its hard-hitting aspects.
As it turns out, this isn’t Elliot Bech’s first time working with other artists. The animator, who’s also known as chubbypumpers on Instagram, is also the one behind the visuals of (Sandy) Alex G’s music videos for ‘Southern Sky’ and ‘Brite Boy’.
LADY GAGA & BLACKPINK - ‘SOUR CANDY’
Shortly released before BLACKPINK’s comeback is their collaboration with pop icon Lady Gaga for ‘Sour Candy’, the third single off her sixth studio album Chromatica. The lyric video sees both BLACKPINK and Lady Gaga as characters in a hypnotic digital landscape – each in a different colour with Jennie in blue, Lisa in yellow, Rosé in red, Jisoo in purple and Lady Gaga in pink. Contrasting the mishmash of colours is a green character dialogue box displaying the lyrics on screen, akin to an actual video game.
The production of this video was led by multihyphenate Sam Rolfes, who apart from being a director and animator is also an experimental electronic musician and writer.
HONNE - ‘NO SONG WITHOUT YOU’
Over the course of these few months, electronic duo HONNE have been putting out a series of animated videos from their new mixtape no song without you. The soft and subdued art style is employed with the help of illustrator and animator Holly Warburton, giving the videos an overall tenderness that blankets the already comforting tunes. According to James Hatcher and Andy Clutterbuck, the album draws on the memories of the different bits and pieces of their lives – read more about it here.
JUICE WRLD & THE WEEKND - ‘SMILE’
The song leaked under the title ‘Sad’ back in 2018 has officially been released with the help of The Weeknd as ‘Smile’. Following Juice WRLD’s passing late last year, the song now carries a whole new meaning with animation by KDC Visions depicting his girlfriend, Ally Lotti, looking through photos taken with the late rapper. It also shows him appearing as an angel outside her home, as the lyrics go “I want you to prosper and come proper, even if that means I ain't by your side.”
The video also contains some references to his other song ‘Wishing Well’ (shortly released a month prior), which was made by the same animation studio.
DUA LIPA - ‘HALLUCINATE’
There are no trips in sight anytime soon, but you can go on a psychedelic one in Dua Lipa’s eclectic music video for ‘Hallucinate’. Taking inspiration from ‘70s disco, the entire video is filled with pulsing neon lights, hand-in-hand with Dua Lipa’s vision for a pop and disco record. This was fulfilled by a large team of animators, directors and designers, including Titmouse, an independent award-winning production company. Director Lisha Tan also said: “Given so many summer music shows are cancelled this year, we all wanted to create something super fun, escapist and that has a colourful festival vibe.”
BTS - ‘WE ARE BULLETPROOF: THE ETERNAL’
‘We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal’ is no ordinary music video. In line with BTS’ Festa celebrations, which marked the anniversary of their debut, this year’s drop is a reflection of their seven-year journey – and an immensely moving one at that. Spot past music videos like ‘Blood, Sweat And Tears’, ‘Run’, and ‘Spring Day’, woven together by a dynamic serenade to the BTS ARMY represented by a sky of purple. You’ll probably even need to watch it more than once to catch all the easter eggs.
GORILLAZ - ‘ARIES’ FT. PETER HOOK & GEORGIA
If there’s one wholly cartoon band we all collectively know, it has to be the Gorillaz. ‘Aries’, the third instalment from Song Machine, an unconventional music-cum-cartoon series, is delivered promptly during the Aries season and rides on Peter Hook’s signature bass sound. The product is reminiscent of New Order, and is appropriately accompanied by the virtual band cruising on the road in vehicles against a negative landscape. ‘Aries’ is directed by Jamie Hewlett with the help of animators Venla Linna and Setareh Seto.
PINK SWEAT$ - ‘RIDE WITH ME’
If you’re looking for a lighthearted listen and watch, Pink Sweat$’s ‘Ride With Me’ is one to fit the bill with its visuals of a bear walking down the streets while grooving to the beat. Behind the simple yet delightful scenes is 351 Studio, an animation studio with a massive portfolio of lyric videos for artists like Wiz Khalifa, Lizzo, and Doja Cat – producing one not only fitting for Pink Sweat$’s aesthetics, but also perfectly complements the dreamy and catchy single.
THE 1975 - ‘THE BIRTHDAY PARTY’
Many artists use their songs to shed light on bigger issues, and The 1975 are no stranger to that. This time in ‘The Birthday Party’, the band takes a nose-dive into internet culture, touching on the overarching theme of addiction – a subject frontman Matty Healy has come to understand and conquer himself.
Loaded with memes, you can choose whether you want to take the video seriously, but it’s clear a lot of effort has been put into the concept. Directed by Ben Ditto and animated by Jon Emmony, the video is stylised in the form of a virtual reality game where you’ll get a glimpse of the whole band as avatars, alongside other cinematics. The members were 3D scanned for it and there’s even an interactive website for the digital detox space Healy enters.
THE STROKES - ‘ODE TO THE METS’
The Strokes stunned us with their animated video reminiscent of the ‘80s with ‘At The Door’, but that wasn’t all they had in store for us. A joint collaboration between Julian Casablancas and longtime director Warren Fu led to the visual galore in ‘Ode To The Mets’ – the idea supposedly originating from a conversation they had about the introduction to the sitcom, Cheers. Pieced together by eight animators with eight different chapters, it journeys through multiple dark scenes, including those of prehistoric times, an empty high school gymnasium and an apocalyptic landscape. If this was their take of the world ending, it sure ended beautifully.
YAEJI - ‘WAKING UP DOWN’
In between the lines of house and hip-hop is Yaeji’s bop ‘Waking Up Down’, which may strike a chord in those of us who have been spending our days at home. The music video shows Yaeji getting out of bed to complete mundane tasks like cooking, making a list and hydrating, only to be enlightened and motivated by the older version of herself.
Brought together by a big creative team, this one reminds us fondly of old-school anime, which may give you a much-needed blast from the past to help you recover from your burnout.
BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS - ‘THREE LITTLE BIRDS’
Some 43 years after its initial release, Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ makes a comeback to remind us everything’s going to be alright. Part of MARLEY75, a year-long commemorative effort to celebrate the reggae legend, the clip carries an unexpected ending to the classic Big Bad Wolf – perhaps attempt to unify all especially during such trying times. Marley’s daughter Cedella said to the Rolling Stone that the song “has helped provide hope and light for so many over the years, including me, and I hope it does the same for people now, especially with all that is going on in the world.”
MAC MILLER - ‘GOOD NEWS’
This Mac Miller track is the first single off the late rapper's posthumous record, Circles. Titled ‘Good News’, the song’s video contains much archive footage, backdropped by the renaissance, pixel art, and even sci-fi inspired graphics.
While it’s a pretty laid back piece, the hearts of many fans have been moved by Mac’s telling lyricism and its accompanying visuals. Some have even pointed out that it makes them feel like Mac is taking them on a guided walk in the afterlife, or that he sent this song from heaven.
KATY PERRY - ‘DAISIES’
The lyric video of Katy Perry’s ‘Daisies’ may have received fewer views compared to its two other versions, but it’s no less captivating with its minimalism and pastel hues. With lyrics that Katy Perry says represents “all of the dreams that you guys have been dreaming about, and all the things you want to achieve”, the uplifting song is complemented by abstract imagery of a woman facing and overcoming obstacles – making it a thoroughly inspiring work of art altogether.
The animation team consisted of companies Moving Colour and 2Veinte, plus director Vallée Duhamel, Brian Covalt and a list of other outstanding creatives. Moving Colour said it was “one of the most collaborative projects [they’ve] ever done, and also one of the most rewarding.”
CARAVAN PALACE - ‘MOONSHINE’
Those feeling a little lost or with some wanderlust to curb may get a bit of reprieve with Caravan Palace’s scenic video for ‘Moonshine’. While it’s open for countless interpretations, the plot seems to be about a man who feels constrained by his life, perhaps struggling with an existential crisis. He later then takes a strong interest in discovering the universe, including the flat earth theory – and proceeds to go on an adventure to find some meaning for the world and himself. Like the Gorillaz, this is one of many animated videos for Caravan Palace – and this in particular seems to share the same lore as their other music video ‘Lone Digger’, released four years prior.
STEPHANIE POETRI - ‘STRAIGHT TO YOU’
Stephanie Poetri is a case of someone putting her stay-home days to good use. Unable to go ahead with her original shoot plans due to the coronavirus, the American-Indonesian 88rising singer willingly carried the weight of the whole clip on her shoulders – ending up with the roles of director, producer and even editor of her music video ‘Straight To You’.
But besides the main video, her adorable lyric counterpart deserves some attention too. It takes up the concept of a pinkish, pixel graphic, survival platformer game – and is perhaps the other best accompaniment to the song. In true Stephanie style, its melodic tune and fluttery vocals are juxtaposed with distinct beats, making it quite the listen for both pop and electropop fans. Everything creates the overall aesthetic of sweet, pastel-coloured day-to-day happenings that make our lives feel a little brighter, especially during such bleak times.
BENEE - ‘NIGHT GARDEN’ FT. KENNY BEATS & BAKAR
In Benee’s ‘Night Garden’ you can find a groovy track and an animated horror short both in one. The music video, drawn by animator and illustrator Alisa, tells the story of a haunted Benee trying to find out what’s been giving her the creeps – guided by a narrative account of what’s been going on, such as her bad dreams and the feeling of being watched. It features Kenny Beats, who has produced songs with popular artists like Gucci Mane and Dominic Fike, as well as a verse from Bakar.
Check out Alisa’s concept art for the music video here:
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CHLOE MORIONDO - ‘MANTA RAYS’
Chloe Moriondo, who has a large following on YouTube for her ukulele covers, released Spirit Orb, her first EP under Elektra Music Group earlier this year. Since then, the talented 17-year-old has been generous with her original songs, including jangly new single ‘Manta Rays’ – which came with a vibrant animation of a girl submerged in the water surrounded by fish. Fans are quick to point out the distinctive art style by Vewn, who also has a few videos on YouTube herself and frequently posts her illustrations on Instagram.
RAUW ALEJANDRO - ‘ALGO MÁGICO’
In competition with Rita Indiana’s ‘Como Un Dragon’ and Chiquis and Becky G’s ‘Jolene’ to name a few, Rauw Alejandro’s ‘Algo Mágico’ won with 55 percent of votes on Billboard’s poll for best Latin animated video of the year. The video, which showcases multiple iconic landmarks of Japan, has currently amassed more than 24 million views. See for yourself the impressive texture and details that’ll make you wish this was a video game, and alongside listen to the bop by one of the most popular Puerto Rican singers in the world.
While first reintroduced due to constraints in our current world, it seems animation has opened the music industry up to new possibilities in concept, execution and budgeting that never would have been in reach otherwise. Now the real question lies in whether we will see this beyond the pandemic, and if the medium will continue to be used widely even after the coronavirus has run its course.
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