Animated: With animation, music videos are a feast for the senses
As school resumes, I have to remind everyone not to forget the best part of summer: the bops. I like summer songs as much as others. In fact, most of the time, music is my way of defining summer.
The summer after my freshman year of high school, I listened to Twenty One Pilots’ “Ride” and Drake’s “One Dance” (featuring WizKid and Kyla) on repeat while on an exchange program in France. To this day, my memories of the Paris airport are inextricably linked to these two songs. Summer 2017 meant having Louis Tomlinson’s pop hit “Back to You” (featuring Bebe Rexha and Digital Farm Animals) on repeat in my summer program dorm.
This summer, I’ve been listening to a lot of Dua Lipa – specifically, “Levitating,” the PNAU “Cold Heart” remix with Elton John, and the relatively underrated “Hallucinate.” Due to being on repeat almost all the time, Dua Lipa has become my summer pop queen. Following my tendency to fall into the deep, dark hole of YouTube after discovering something I even remotely love, I found myself on a Dua Lipa music video marathon.
After watching far more videos of Dua Lipa than I should have, I discovered that there was one element that really illustrated her role as a musical “artist”: the use of animation to enliven her music and tell a story.
Just watch the official video for “Physical” by Dua Lipa (probably my favorite Dua song, but who’s asking?). Interspersed with live-action footage of Dua Lipa dancing, various animation images are reminiscent of old cartoons, such as an animated version of Dua Lipa performing with superpowers on a pulsating animated heart.
“Hallucinate” is another one of those clips where the animation fits right in with the feel of the music. Since the song’s lyrics are about diving headfirst into a fantasy, Dua uses animation as a medium to convey a message about the “hallucinations” of a romantic relationship.
The fully animated video follows a version of Dua Lipa traveling through various bizarre landscapes, literally bringing home the point of “Hallucinate”, with the video resembling a hallucination itself. The doors open one after the other and the cartoon of Dua Lipa multiplies. Backup dancers with stars for heads swirl around the dancing Dua Lipa. Dancing eggplants and grooving unicorn cartoons also make an appearance. The whole video feels like an incredibly out of body experience, and it’s a thrilling ride.
The animated video “Levitating” features Dua Lipa paying homage to her inspiration: Sailor Moon. From art style to galactic content, “Levitating” is Dua Lipa’s take on the iconic anime, specific to the lyrics of her music. In this case, the pop star is given the qualities of a superhero, as if the video reminds us that pop music has its own magic. Similar to “Hallucinate,” Dua Lipa and Elton John’s “Cold Heart” music video is also an eclectic mix of visuals, with animated versions of the singers coupled with stop-motion dancers and solar system imagery.
While Dua Lipa’s use of animation in her music was my favorite for the summer, she’s not the only star to show her appreciation for the art form. Billie Eilish’s live concert experience, “Happier than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles,” is a concert film that combines both animated footage and live stage performances.
True to the film’s title being a “love letter to LA,” an animated version of Billie Eilish explores the city between each performance. This integration of an animated character is an impressive way to look at the city through the prism of its romanticization.
In the movie’s trailer, Eilish says she definitely has “LA fantasies,” explaining how the movie is more than a concert movie, but a narrative about the “idealized version” of herself. With animation to portray this “idealized” self, Eilish manages to create a story that accompanies her music. Animation is really about creating an alternate version of reality, and the movie “Happier than Ever” shows that with its animated elements.
Seeing the real Billie meet the animated Billie at the end of the concert feels like a fusion of two worlds. It’s a beautifully human way to accommodate LA fantasies while simultaneously dealing with the depth of Eilish’s own experiences growing up in the city. Again, the animation is able to effectively illustrate the divisions of self, as well as their ultimate reconciliation.
Animation is a powerful storytelling tool, and it’s obvious that music artists are responding to this by incorporating animation into their music videos. The more artists of all disciplines are starting to notice that animation is a way to tell their stories, the more that animation can really take us out of this world.
Valerie Wu is a senior author on animation and digital arts from a contemporary perspective.