Where Artists Don’t Appear in the Their Own Music Video

Music Video is a subset of the Short Film genre. The content can be racy, frivolous, touching, or even completely removed from the subject of the actual song it accompanies.

Over the decades since the inception of MTV (and earlier), music videos have become more and more sophisticated, evolving into an integral factor of any music marketing. Today, the finest directors, cinematographers, costumers and other crew add music video credits to their CV with pride.

In an earlier blog, I mentioned how rogue Australian music executives in the 1980s produced their own music video, with actors playing musicians, when their counterparts in the US wouldn’t supply one. Such was the response to that piece, I went digging through history to locate other videos where the performance is primarily undertaken by anyone other than the recording artist themselves.

Today, when personal branding (and a certain amount of narcissism) is essential in such arts, it stands out and makes a statement when the artist is played by someone else entirely.

Here are few:

Elton John: I Want Love (2001)

Likely to be one of Robert Downey Jnr’s few performances while in drug rehab, this video makes the cut on so many levels. Directed by Samantha Taylor-Wood, the video features RDJ lip-syncing to Elton John’s heart-wrenching lyrics while wandering through a deserted mansion. 

The entire clip is shot in one continuous take, resulting in a monumental outcome for both the cast and the crew. Apparently, 16 takes were shot, with the director deciding on the very final for release. Given the plight of RDJ at the time, the performance and pertinence of this ‘short film’ don't fall short. It’s a masterstroke, nearing a masterpiece.

Bree Sharp: David Duchovny (1999)

This has now become the the “unofficial” official video for this track. Pretty much shot entirely on home video, Charles Forsch and Will Shivers compiled this insiders piece while working as production assistants on The X-Files TV series. Opening with housemates miming the lyrics, their coverage extends to random individuals on the streets of Hollywood. It then proceeds to the more famous, who might have just been hanging around the Hollywood studios at the time. 

There are some real X-Files crew gems in here (such as producer Chris Carter singing away at his laptop), as well as appearances by loads of celebs including Whoopi Goldberg, Gillian Anderson, and even Brad Pitt. Duchovny of course is in there too. Originally shot to screen at an X-Files end of season wrap just for cast and crew, the video eventually surfaced on YouTube. The closing credits include all of those who appear in the video, as well as some out-takes. It’s quite a bit of fun, in a late 1990s kind of way.

Carly Rae Jepsen: I Really Like You (2015)

Directed by Peter Glanz, the video features Hollywood’s Mr Nice Guy Tom Hanks in the lead, but also boasts appearances by Justin Beiber and cameo appearances by Rudy Mancuso and Andrew B. Bachelor (A.K.A. King Bach), well-known users of the short-form video sharing application Vine. 

It turns out that Hanks is friendly with Jepsen's manager, Scooter Braun. One night over dinner, Braun shared Jepsen's concept for the clip with Hanks, who offered himself for the role. Hanks and Jepsen had previously met at Braun’s wedding. 

Much of the video takes place in front of the Mondrian Hotel in Manhattan. Opening with Hanks waking to a 5AM alarm, he lip-syncs through most of the track, documenting his day on the way to shoot a dance routine for the music video. With Hanks stuck in traffic, Jepsen texts, enquiring about him being delayed. She uses emojis in the text that translate as ‘Run Forrest Run’. The video is everything you would expect from the always affable Tom Hanks.

Talking Heads: Wild Wild Life (1986)

Taken from David Byrne’s movie True Stories, the film’s premise is based on weaving news items from tabloid newspapers into the narrative. There are two versions of the video for this song. An MTV version (which more prominently features the band's members), and the one below being the version seen in the film. It’s true to say that members of Talking Heads do appear to sing in this clip, but masquerading as characters taken from popular culture at the time.