I didn’t pay much attention to Miley Cyrus before watching the “We Can’t Stop” music video. It gave life to something that would have otherwise been just a good song on the radio. The same could be said about Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” We already loved the song, but the video gave it the cup size necessary to really grab our attention.
It’s probably no shocker that two of the most charged music videos in pop culture this year were consequents of the same creative mind. Veteran music video director Diane Martel is behind them both.
Launched off the back of a career in documentary directing and choreography, Martel began her illustrious music career in 1993 when she directed the video for Mariah Carey’s “Dreamlover.” Since then, her large and diverse portfolio has grown to include names such as N.E.R.D (“Lap Dance”), The Killers (“Read My Mind”) and Ciara (“Promise,” “Like a Boy).
I like to think of Miley Cyrus’ now iconic VMA’s performance with Robin Thicke as a sort of zenith in an unrated fairytale about Martel’s career. “I want to make videos that sell records,” she tells Eric Ducker in an interview with Grantland back in June. “This is my main focus right now, not to make videos that express my own obsessions, but to make videos that move units.”
Well it seems Martel is having no trouble with that. With more than 100 entries in her videography, her creativity shows no limits and proves that art can still be lucrative. It doesn’t take a Bob Lefsetz subscription to know that in today’s music world, self-image is often tantamount to the quality of your music. But Martel is doing something that video directors haven’t been able to do since about the early stages of Kanye West and the prime of Missy Elliot: make the video relevant to the dollar.
Martel is a genius at bringing out the best of what’s already there. In the arguably classic video for Omarion’s “Touch,” Martel takes the dance fabric of the track and centralizes the visuals around the human body at musical play. Almost the entire video is dedicated to Omarion and a female companion communicating through dance as they walk (groove) down a deserted street , but it’s so good. I remember that Omarion is a great dancer because of this video, and without it, his name hardly means as much.
It’s not a coincidence that names such as Mariah Carey, Ciara, and now Miley Cyrus gained so much more meaning after they worked with Diane Martel. As far as knowing how to visually unearth key elements of songs, Martel is just as renown for the seamless sexual maturity of female artists on screen. All three aforementioned stars worked with Martel at key moments in their careers, transitioning from the purity of pop to something we’d feel less comfortable hearing or viewing at the office. The videos all seem to be highly focused on the subject, which is something Martel tells Grantland that she does intentionally. “I love performers and my minimalist work puts them front and center,” she says. “They have to perform because there is not a lot else going on; they feel this on set and the way I shoot invites them to contribute a lot.”
One can argue that this technique renders a more natural product and would force a girl who’s coming of age to come into her own as well. It’s not a classical tale of feminism, but it certainly can be viewed as empowering given its organic vein. Interestingly enough, the idea of empowerment was what most of the world was discussing once we’d all seen Martel’s video for “Blurred Lines” at least once. Many people, women especially, argue that the video blatantly objectifies women affront a cast of derisive horndogs in Thicke, T.I. and Pharrell.
Well, if this were the case, it would seem that Martel only created a video that parallels the lyrics of the track, which is probably what the first ever definition of a music video instructs. However, Martel claims that she wanted to go one deeper and create a product that would serve as a caricature of the actual song.
There’s certainly room for believing this. Not only has Martel’s past work shown support for female sovereignty, but it does seem like the “Blurred Lines” piece spends an awful lot of camera time on the “objectified” girls, which warrants that there might be an implicit purpose to an otherwise simple video. Even though the girls are naked and the men are fully clothed, Thicke and the boys still manage to look more ridiculous and subdued overall.
Martel might speak about desiring to only make videos that sell records, she’s done one hell of a job in 2013 making videos that are set to seal her greatness among industry legends. I for one haven’t been this excited since the days of Hype Williams. So, if you’re wondering what the first topic to shake the pop world in 2014 will be , it might be best to keep an eye on Diane Martel and see what she’s working on next.