From Justin Bieber to Haim: how seven top artists made video clips in lockdown

Katie Cunningham

New Zealand band The Beths are getting ready to release their second album in June. It’s kind of a weird time to do it. “It’s pretty strange, it feels a bit like releasing out into the void,” says vocalist Elizabeth Stokes. “In the old reality we would have been touring right now.”

Album releases and tours normally go hand in hand, with good reason – musicians make the bulk of their income from live shows and just a trickle from music sales or streaming. With gigs and festivals unlikely to return any time soon, most artists who were far enough out to pump the brakes are delaying their albums until 2021.

But those who are pushing on with release plans face another logistical hurdle: how the hell do you make a music video when you’ve got to stay 1.5 metres apart from everyone else?

With big crews, back-up dancers, make-up artists and most public locations off the table, here are seven that are improvising.

1. The Beths – I’m Not Getting Excited

The Beths initially had a very different plan for the video for this single. But when the country went into lockdown the week they were due to film, they were forced to throw it out and come up with an entirely new concept.

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Their directors, a duo called Sports Team, sent each band member instructions for how to photograph themselves and then used stop motion animation to bring the shots to life. “We all filmed in our respective homes, as we couldn’t see each other. [The directors] sent us briefs of the shots we had to do and how to set them up, and where in each of our houses we would do our parts. We’d send them pictures of the framing, they’d give us feedback until it was right and then we’d shoot, with help from people within our ‘bubbles’,” says Stokes.

“We wanted to make it seem like it was all within one nightmare-y house, so we’re all in a different room of this imaginary house.”

2. Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande – Stuck With U

Pop superstars Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande were brought together by their shared manager, Scooter Braun, to record a love song custom-made for the pandemic. Stuck With U is reportedly the first of a string of charity singles the duo will record together in 2020 (proceeds from the song benefit the First Responders Children’s Foundation).

Their medium of choice for the music video was the humble iPhone. The video took the artists’ own home-filmed footage – that’s JB and his wife Hayley Baldwin lounging in bed and slow dancing around the kitchen – and collaged it with videos sent in by housebound fans and their loved ones (partners, dogs, bottles of wine, whatever). There are also blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos from celebs including Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jaden Smith.

3. Washington – Dark Parts

Australian artist Megan Washington actually began using apps and YouTube tutorials to learn how to animate before the pandemic. The new hobby came in handy when it came time to make a video for her single Dark Parts – which she animated herself.

“I only started the Dark Parts animation in late March, pretty much the second week of Australian lockdown. We had a music video that we were planning to make, before lockdown, but it fell through because we couldn’t get the location we wanted. So while we were figuring out what to do next, I just started drawing,” Washington says.

Isolation proved to have a small silver lining. “I’d say that iso forced me to go deeper into my creativity in all senses. This video was just meant to be a seven second looping thing to play on Spotify. But I just had all this time so I kept going and going and then one day (many, many weeks later) it was finished,” she said. “I now understand why frame by frame animation is so unpopular. It takes forever.”

4. Charli XCX – Claws

Charli XCX has to have been one of the most productive people on Earth during the pandemic. In early April, the boundary-pushing pop star announced plans to record and release an entire album during isolation. Four days later she’d released its lead single; six weeks on, How I’m Feeling Now arrived.

“The nature of this album is going to be very indicative of the times just because I’m only going to be able to use the tools I have at my fingertips to create all music, artwork, videos everything,” she told fans on an Instagram video.

Sure enough, the video for Claws was shot using a home green screen and filmed by her live-in boyfriend, Huck Kwong. Worked a treat.

5. Genesis Owusu – Don’t Need You

Rapper and vocalist Genesis Owusu only recently finished writing this single, so the concept for the video was devised with Covid restrictions in mind. The clip was filmed around the barren expanses of Lake George on the outskirts of Canberra, Australia, with a video crew of just three: the artist, director Bart Celestino and a cameraman (“equipped with a zoom lens for all our social distancing needs”).

The trio found distancing restrictions worked in their favour. “We ran into literally one other person, an older woman enjoying the Lake George scenery. She seemed pretty shocked that I was a ‘singer’, and asked if I knew Justin Bieber and Chris Brown,” Owusu says. “Honestly, isolation made this so much easier to create. There wasn’t really anyone around, and all the restrictions forced us into making a more simple yet refined video, so it was kind of a blessing in disguise.”

6. OK Go – All Together Now

US band OK Go have a reputation for making impressive videos on shoestring budgets – you’ve probably seen their legendary clip for 2006’s Here It Goes Again (it’s the one with the treadmills). Last week they shared All Together Now, a song written and recorded at home during the Los Angeles lockdown. The video, too, was a DIY affair, with each band member filming themselves individually from their homes.

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In a note accompanying the release, lead singer Damian Kulash described the song as a “sombre prayer for hope” during the pandemic. “This isn’t the clever new video we’ve been working on for months or the lead single from our new album; there’s no campaign. It’s an earnest, personal song about the moment we’re all sharing, and a homemade video of us recording it in our closets and kitchens.” Kulash also wrote about his own experience with Covid and the terror of watching his wife battle the virus.

7. Haim – I Know Alone

Not even a pandemic can stop Haim dancing. They filmed the video for I Know Alone on a basketball court – all positioned six feet apart – with direction and choreography both handled “remotely”. The track will feature on a new album that was originally due to be released in April – but has been rescheduled due to the obvious.