David Fincher is known for his dark films and color palette, but it’s a pretty cursory reading of his style. It’s his precision, his economy, his traveling shots and his rhythmic cutting that define the Fincher style, and it all goes back to his music video work.
David Fincher is one of the best pop music video directors, and the work shows it. He might not have the respect that others have in the industry, but that’s probably because he worked mostly with pop stars and worked to make music videos that sold the song, rather than the short art films that many others have produced. The evolution of Fincher’s signature style is particularly visible in “Vogue” and “Freedom ’90”.
ten Nine Inch Nails: “Only” – 10 million views
David Fincher uses the innovative style with “Only” by Nine Inch Nail from the 2005 album, With Teeth. The frame is a typical desktop: Macbook, coffee mug and spoon, Newton’s Cradle, and, in particular, a pin art box set.
Fincher takes the furious isolation of Trent Reznor’s song and uses the pinbox to illustrate the singer’s trapped feeling and Reznor’s frustration with the music business itself. The antiseptic sobriety of the office reinforces this feeling of isolation and of trying to get out of the corporate culture.
9 The Rolling Stones: “Love is Strong” – 16 million views
The Rolling Stones “Love is Strong” came out in 1994. It’s probably one of the Stones’ strongest videos, and the song is one of the best on their album. Voodoo lounge. The song itself performed well around the world, but stagnated in the lower parts of the US charts.
The visual of New York City overrun by giant Rolling Stones and various models, all walking and frolicking, is incredibly well done. The images symbolize the vastness of the iconic group itself in pop culture and musical history, and Fincher makes The Stones look better than they have in years.
8 Billy Idol: “The Cradle of Love” – 24 million views
“Cradle of Love” was taken from Billy Idol’s album in 1990 A lovely life and was used on the soundtrack of Andrew Dice Clay’s film, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. The song was Idol’s biggest American hit on that date, and the video was touring extensively on MTV.
The video shows 18-year-old Betsy Lynn George dancing and damaging her neighbor’s apartment in a frenzy of musical seduction. Idol is seen in various paintings showing him from the waist down, singing and cheering on the girl. The visuals are very clever, with Idol moving in and out of the footage to the beat, contrasting with the increasingly nervous neighbor.
7 Madonna: “Express Yourself” – 32 million views
At the time, it was the most expensive music video ever made, with a total cost of $ 5 million, according to Forbes. The song itself is taken from Madonna’s fourth studio album in 1989, Like a prayer, and was one of Madonna’s biggest hits.
The video is inspired by the classic silent film by Fritz Lang Metropolis (1927), with the epigraph at the end of the video for this film. Here’s Madonna in one of her best roles in the video, with heavily sexualized and expressive footage, matching the theme of the song. The character is a woman who freely expresses her sexuality and gender identity and doesn’t care what one thinks. It is one of the most innovative music videos of its time.
6 Paula Abdul: “Straight Up” – 35 million views
“Straight Up” is taken from Paula Abdul’s debut album in 1988, Forever your daughter and was his third single and his biggest international hit at the time.
With his passage as American Idol judge, it can be easy to forget how talented dancer and choreographer Paula Abdul is. Fincher conducts it here in black and white with his own choreography, using quick cuts that match the changing rhythms. Most of the others are in the shadows, with the exception of Abdul, pointing out that she is the center of attention here.
5 A Perfect Circle: “Judith” – 46 million views
“Judith” is taken from Perfect Circle’s debut album, Sea of names, released in 2000. Fincher here focuses on the band themselves as they perform the song, using a distressed and jagged look for the visuals. It’s a more straightforward approach than many of his other videos, but it suits both the wrath of the song and the hard rock of the band.
The song itself is about singer Maynard Keenan’s mother, who is in a wheelchair after a stroke. Fincher’s grainy video captures that anger and pain well, as well as the singer’s frustration with his mother’s situation.
4 Michael Jackson: “Who is this” – 79 million views
From 1992, “Who Is It” was taken from Michael Jackson’s eighth studio album, Dangerous. The video shows Jackson singing about his pain over a girlfriend who left him, holding a metal card titled “Alex”. Then the video switches to someone who must be the woman, an escort who changes identities between clients, with each new identity carrying a metal business card.
Much like David Fincher’s most successful films, it tells a dark story here, with the woman being given a makeover for each new identity. She moves from client to client with her team of trained makeup artists and wardrobes, ready to transform her again. The video is shot at night, with quick cuts and shadows hiding people’s faces and actions. Fincher often uses black and white or limits color to enhance the mood, and he does so here with great effect.
3 George Michael: “Freedom ’90” – 105 million views
Heavy on symbolism, “Freedom ’90” was released as the first single from George Michael’s album in 1990, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. The song was a major hit for Michael, reaching number eight in the United States, according to Billboard.
Michael didn’t want to appear in the video himself, but came up with the idea of using models Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford to sync his song instead. The song and video are about Michael declaring his freedom from his past, and he detonated and burned Fincher symbols of his past career, like his jacket, guitar, and the jukebox used on a previous album art. There’s no narrative here, but Fincher makes it compelling with his choice of images and editing. Viewers may notice, at one point, the Fincher-branded move of pulling the camera back through a chair.
2 Madonna: “Vogue” – 146 million views
One of Madonna’s most popular and critically acclaimed videos, “Vogue” was out of Madonna I’m out of breath album and released as a single in 1990.
The video is a tribute to old Hollywood, shot in black and white and featuring dancers wearing 1930s and 40s clothing in Art Deco settings. To underline the Hollywood connection, Fincher has Madonna pose as the studio art pictures of famous movie stars. Fincher loves strong female characters, and gives Madonna a superb seven-second ascending hero shot – an eternity in one clip. He uses rhythm to make his cuts and move his camera, making sure the viewer receives the full impact of the choreography.
1 Justin Timberlake: “Suit And Tie” – 162 million views
Named by Justin Timberlake’s “Comeback”, the song “Suit and Tie” was released in 2013 and successfully reestablished Timberlake’s pop star status after a six-year hiatus. And after Timberlake turned to acting, making one of his best films with Social network, Justin asked Fincher to direct the video.
Fincher is a master not only in filming choreography, but also in cutting vocals to enhance the song. Rather than a series of quick, random cuts, Fincher allows the viewer to see the artist and “hear: the song. He is also good at giving the artist he’s working on an iconic look. Here he is. opts for a Sinatra “Rat Pack” vibe, and he manages to make Justin Timberlake believe he just got out of Eleven from the ocean (1960).
NEXT: 10 Best Quotes From David Fincher’s Movie, Mank
MCU: the 10 most unnecessary deaths
About the Author