Taylor Swift’s just-released “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” video plays out like one gigantic pop-up book, with sets springing to life and the scenery changing nearly every second — to say nothing of all the animal costumes. It’s truly a treat to watch, especially since the whole thing is shot in one long, continuous take, a fact that also makes it a technical feat to marvel at.
Of course, one-shot music videos are nothing new — Bob Dylan’s iconic 1965 “Subterranean Homesick Blues” clip is proof of that — but they’ve remained a relative rarity — probably because they’re so difficult to pull off. But over the years, a few folks — mostly French auteur Michel Gondry — have managed to advance the artform to dizzying heights. In celebration of Taylor’s entry into the one-shot club, here’s a look back at some of the most memorable one-take videos in history:
The Replacements, “Bastards of Young” (1985): A single, slow pull back from a speaker blasting one of the ’Mats’ best tunes, it perfectly captures the suburban malaise the song rails against, and comes to a jolting end when the smoking dude rises from his couch and smashes the speaker to bits. It’s also a sly bit of social commentary, a crude thing that poked fun at the ballooning budgets of music videos and the inherent ridiculousness of the content those budgets bought.
Lucas, “Lucas With the Lid Off” (1994): We’ve selected this video by Gondry — who has been making eye-popping one-shot clips for more than two decades now (including The White Stripes’ “The Denial Twist,” Cibo Matto’s “Sugar Water”) — because it’s undeniably his best, an arty black and white clip that dips and dives through London streets, matching the kinetic energy of the song and never once stopping to catch its breath.
Wax, “California” (1995): Directed by Spike Jonze (who also went the one-take route with Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song)”) this slow-motion, single-shot clip of a burning man running to catch a bus is deceptively simple, not to mention disarmingly powerful. It’s since gone on to be recognized as one of the best videos of the 1990s, and rightfully so.
Radiohead, “No Surprises” (1998): Thom Yorke sings the tune inside an astronaut helmet, one that slowly fills with water and leaves him gasping for breath. Sure, it’s simple, but it’s also visually striking (not to mention slightly terrifying), and as anyone who’s seen Radiohead’s “Meeting People is Easy” doc can attest, Yorke absolutely hated shooting it. Sometimes you’ve got to suffer for your art.
Smashing Pumpkins, “Eva Adore” (1999): One long, nightmarish tracking shot, it follows the Pumpkins (in prime techno-Goth finery) through a head-swirling menagerie of human horrors, and ends in a nearly empty theater, where, presumably, even worse things are transpiring.
Coldplay, “Yellow” (2000): The song that made them international superstars comes with an artfully understated video, one that follows Chris Martin as he strolls down an abandoned beach at sunrise. The clip perfectly climaxes with the sun breaking through the sky, matching the song’s wide-eyed, wide-screen sentiments.
OK Go, “Here It Goes Again” (2006): It wasn’t their first one-take clip (that would be the dance-riffic “A Million Ways”), but this goofy, giddy treadmill video thrust OK Go to superstardom (they memorably nailed it at the ’06 VMAs) and established them as go-to guys for eye-catching clips. Even if their most elaborate, “This Too Shall Pass,” is actually two shots.
Feist, “1234” (2007): A dizzying delight that seems near impossible to have pulled off, it features Leslie Feist and a gaggle of brightly costumed dancers as they whirl through an elaborate, Busby Berkeley-inspired dance number. She’d do other one-take clips (“My Moon My Man” “I Feel It All), but this Patrick Daughters-directed beauty is far and away the most magical.
Vampire Weekend, “Oxford Comma” (2008): A casually cool stroll through the countryside that features plenty of extras (and several chapters), it plays out over one long tracking shot, and, as the action picks up, the camera movements only get more complex. No idea how many takes it took to pull this one off, though in keeping with their buttoned-up demeanors, the Vampire guys never once break a sweat.
Erykah Badu, “Window Seat” (2010): Sure, it got a lot of heat for Badu’s slow strip show (and its references to the Kennedy assassination), but it’s a technical marvel to behold, and the fact that it was shot guerilla style — check the reactions of the unsuspecting strangers in the background — not only ups the ante, but imbues the clip with a downright dangerous sentiment.
Tell us your favorite one-take video in the comments below!