When a musical act and a director feel like doing something really challenging, they make a music video in a single take.
1. OK Go // “The Writing's on the Wall” (4:17)
OK Go is known for their elaborate, unbroken single shot music videos, including "White Knuckles," "A Million Ways to Die," and "Here It Goes Again." Their latest, "The Writing's On the Wall," features 20 optical illusions captured in one shot. The music video took two months to plan and about 65 takes to execute; the band and directors Aaron Duffy, Damian Kulash, Jr., and Bob Partington were influenced by Swiss artist Felice Varini, who is known for his geometric perspective sculptures. "The Writing's on the Wall" gained more than 7 million views on YouTube within only a week after it premiered in June 2014.
2. Gin Blossoms // “Allison Road” (3:26)
In 1994, the Gin Blossoms released their sixth single "Allison Road" from their sophomore effort New Miserable Experience. The music video featured a single steadicam shot moving from room to room capturing a collection of television sets playing the Gin Blossoms performing the pop rock song.
3. Feist // “1234” (3:21)
In early 2007, the single "1234" launched Canadian singer-songwriter Feist into mainstream popularity in the U.S. Patrick Daughters directed the music video, which featured an impressive and colorful choreographed dance routine captured in one continuous tracking shot. "1234" was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Short Form Music Video, and Pitchfork Media named it one of the best of the decade.
4. Lorde // “Tennis Court” (3:22)
Lorde's single-take music video for "Tennis Court," directed by Joel Kefali (who also directed the video for "Royals"), featured the New Zealand pop star staring into the camera, lip-syncing only the "Yeah" bits at the end of each verse and during the chorus.
5. Cibo Matto // “Sugar Water” (4:02)
Michel Gondry directed the music video for Cibo Matto's 1996 single "Sugar Water." It featured one long continuous shot displayed in split screen with parallel action. Although the scene was exactly the same, the left side of the screen started at the beginning and was moving forward, while the right side started from the end in reverse.
6. Weezer // “Undone" (The Sweater Song) (4:15)
In 1994, Spike Jonze directed Weezer's first music video. "Undone (The Sweater Song)" featured the band playing in front of a blue backdrop with a pack of dogs racing in and out of the camera's frame. While Jonze captured the performance in one unbroken slow motion steadicam shot, the director had Weezer perform to a sped up version of the song to get the slow motion effect in camera. It took about 20 takes to complete the shot, but towards the end, the band started to take the music video less seriously, which shows in their performance. It premiered on MTV and immediately became a smash hit with the music channel's young viewers.
7. Spoon // "The Underdog" (3:48)
In 2007, Keven McAlester directed the music video for "The Underdog," Spoon's first single from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The unbroken steadicam shot featured the indie rock band playing the song with an El Mariachi horns section and a number of percussionists in various rooms of an Austin, Texas recording studio.
8. Radiohead // “No Surprises” (3:46)
The music video, directed by Grant Gee, features Thom Yorke's head inside of a dome helmet with the song's lyrics reflected (in reverse) on its plastic shield. At the start of the song's second verse, the helmet begins to slowly fill with water, submerging a clearly uncomfortable Yorke for nearly a minute.
9. Taylor Swift // “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (3:35)
Taylor Swift's music video for "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is an elaborate production featuring multiple sets and costume changes, all captured in one single shot. It follows Swift going through a nasty break up and experiencing flashbacks of the destructive relationship, as her band, dressed as furry woodland creatures, joyfully perform. It's a fun music video for a very fun and poppy song.
10. Michael Penn // “Try” (3:09)
Paul Thomas Anderson shot the music video for Michael Penn's "Try" during post-production of the director's film Boogie Nights in 1997. It was shot in the longest hallway in Los Angeles and features Penn performing the single while walking through the hallway. It also features three actors—Thomas Jane, Melora Walters, and Philip Seymour Hoffman—who also appeared in Boogie Nights. In fact, Hoffman wears a Angels Live in My Town (one of the fictional adult films in Boogie Nights) jacket as a reference to Anderson's sophomore effort.
11. Lisa Loeb // “Stay (I Missed You)" (3:05)
Ethan Hawke's directorial debut was the music video for Lisa Loeb's debut single "Stay" in 1994. It featured Loeb in an empty New York City loft performing the song in one single take. The song was featured on the Reality Bites soundtrack and was a #1 song for three weeks. Loeb was also the first recording artist to have a #1 hit song on the Billboard Hot 100 without being signed to a record label. In 2013, Lisa Loeb re-created the single take music video for Billboard Magazine in their New York City offices.
12. Vampire Weekend // “Oxford Comma” (3:39)
In 2008, Richard Ayoade directed the music video for Vampire Weekend's "Oxford Comma." It featured the band performing the song while lead singer and guitarist Ezra Koenig walks through a farm as a film crew shoots a movie in the background.
13. Metric // “Gimme Sympathy” (3:50)
In 2009, Canadian indie rock band Metric released "Gimme Sympathy," the first single from their fourth studio album "Fantasies." Its music video was captured in one long extended shot and featured the band performing in an empty gymnasium; halfway through the song all of the band members switch instruments.
Lou Reed was the inspiration behind the song. Metric lead singer Emily Haines wrote in Rolling Stone after Reed's death in 2013, "When Lou Reed asked me, 'Emily Haines, who would you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones,' I shot back, 'The Velvet Underground.' Quick thinking, sure, but also the truth. In our song 'Gimme Sympathy,' we lament the fact that none of us living today are likely to achieve the stature or saturation the signature acts of that era enjoyed."
14. Metronomy // "Love Letters” (3:07)
In 2014, Michel Gondry directed the music video for Metronomy's "Love Letters." In it, the band performed the song in a six-sided box with various cutouts, as the camera spun around with a 360 degree view. Depending on where the camera landed, you could see Metronomy in various scenarios including in a recording studio, on a laptop, in a concert hall, and on a road trip.
15. Bob Dylan // “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (2:19)
Although it's a film clip from D.A. Pennebaker's 1964 documentary Dont Look Back, Rolling Stone considers Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" to be the precursor to the modern day music video. The two-minute clip featured Dylan displaying a number of cue cards with the lyrics to the song, as he revealed one after another. It was shot in the back alley of the Savoy Hotel in London, England; Allen Ginsberg and Bob Neuwirth can be seen in the background chatting.
The promotional film clip was highly influential to many recording artists, including The Flaming Lips, Belle & Sebastian, and the punk band Anti-Flag, who all attempted to mimic its style.
BONUS: Spice Girls // “Wannabe” (3:56)
The music video for the Spice Girls' "Wannabe" appears to be shot in one take, although there are apparently two very subtle edits. At the time of its release in 1996, the video was considered controversial thanks to its risqué content. Virgin Records asked for re-shoots and an alternative version for the American market, but the Spice Girls refused because they were very proud of how the music video turned out. It won Best Dance Video at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards.