Music videos will always hold a special place in the hearts of millennials. They remind us of a time when we used to rush home after school to see which artist would top countdowns like 106 & Park Where TRL. Our obsession didn’t stop at watching music videos from our favorite artists – we wanted to know how they were madetoo much.
As the industry has changed, so have our habits. As we transitioned from adolescence to adulthood, the countdowns disappeared, and even videos of the biggest music stars began to migrate from live TV to sites like YouTube and Vevo. They never ceased to be important – now those streams equate to dollars – but with less formal programming dedicated to showcasing them, the art form seemed less of a priority than in previous decades.
Recently, however, there have been signs that things could be changing. Earlier this month, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion released whimsical videos for their new hit singles— “At the top” and “Cry Baby” respectively – garnering over 70 million combined views in just a few weeks. Together, they seem to be leading the charge in a throwback to the elaborate, big-budget rap videos of our childhoods.
Cardi B’s “Up” video is under three minutes long, but there’s no shortage of elements to make you do a double take. There’s a 2020 memorial (relatable), a wig constructed from doll heads, and even a moment when Cardi reinvents herself as Rolls Royce emblem. And I don’t even want to think about the number of COVID-19 tests needed to achieve this Britney/Madonna/Christina lip lock between Cardi and a group of girls in a clam shell.
With almost 50 million views on YouTube, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the video directed by Tanu Muino contributed to the success of the song, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, just below the viral melodrama of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License”. Needless to say, “Up” feels like a refreshing return to rap’s maximalist roots and an exciting addition to the Bronx rapper’s long list of over-the-top videos.
Last month, Cardi B shared the budget for some of her most popular videos on Twitter. It’s interesting how budgets have grown since her mixtape days and breakout “Bodak Yellow” moment — and rightly so, considering she’s now one of rap’s biggest names. She revealed that she shot “Lick” at New Jersey Youth Hostelpaying $40,000 in pocket for her future husband Offset’s wardrobe, because she wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. According to the rapper, she shot fan favorites “Bartier Bardi” for $150,000the extravagant “Money” for $400,000, and the help of Bruno Mars ” Do me a favor “ for $900,000. Reps for Atlantic didn’t respond to a request for comment on the budget for her most recent video, but “Up” certainly shows she’s come a long way from her humble beginnings.
It should not be surprising that “WAP”, at least from this Twitter thread, was his most expensive video to date, reaching $1 million. “WAP” was a must-have watch during the summer. Cardi and Megan were at home, as were we, except theirs had tigers, snakes, and cameos from Kylie Jenner and Normani. Director Colin Tilley, who was also the person behind Megan’s equally elaborate companion pieces “Body” and “Do not stop,” has a resume full of conversation-starting music videos, like Kendrick Lamar’s “Good,” Rihanna and Bryson Tiller “Wild Thoughts” and Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda.” He also led the toy story-pipe “Cry Baby,” filled with intricate dollhouse sets and Hot Wheels racers. If “Cry Baby” is what happens when we leave our toys alone, we’re a little jealous.
Ornate, big-budget videos have historically contributed to some of hip-hop’s biggest moments in pop culture. Michael and Janet Jackson “Scream” still holds the record the most expensive videowith a budget of $7 million, and TLC “Waterfalls,” Busta Rhymes “What It’s Gonna Be” and Sisqo’s “The Thong Song” all fell above the million dollar mark. It will be interesting to see how artists follow Cardi B and Megan’s lead and make videos that have us excited for new releases. We certainly don’t huddle around the TV doing our homework anymore, but you could argue that music videos are even more important today than they were back then. They’re the best way to experience the full artistic vision of our favorite stars at a time when we can’t see them perform live, and have the potential to be even more ubiquitous. Now they go where we go and we can replay them as many times as our heart desires.
Kristin Corry is Senior Writer for VICE.