In 1984, the annual MTV Video Music Awards began honoring your favorite musicians for the visuals that brought their songs to life. More than three decades later, music videos remain powerful storytelling tools. But how does a video come together when the artist — the one who dreamed up the story in the first place — isn't physically present in the clip?
Sia, who's known for being camera shy, is a pro at this, notably recruiting Maddie Ziegler from Dance Moms to star in five of her videos. Likewise, "Sorry" has racked up a whopping 2.7 billion views since its October 2015 debut without so much as a quick cameo from Justin Bieber.
This year, several VMA nominees fit that description, so MTV News got in touch with those videos' creative teams to find out how they pulled off visuals without their featured artists in front of the camera.
First off, there's more platforms now for multiple videos.
Not all that long ago, music videos lived almost exclusively on TV, but YouTube changed the game. Fans began making their own lyric and dance videos, inspiring artists to follow suit. Major Lazer, Justin Bieber, and MØ's "Cold Water" is a perfect example of this. Instead of one traditional music video, the hit song has three official clips: a lyric video, a tour video, and a dance video (above). The latter is up for a VMA, though none of the artists attended the shoot in Iceland.
"I think what was happening was the track was gaining a lot of traction," director Matt Baron said about the nominated video, which was always meant to focus on choreography. "All they had in the beginning when they released it was the lyric video. Then they were like, OK, when's their music video coming? Then while we were actually shooting [the dance video], they released a tour video, so I think they just needed to get content out there for their audience."
Sometimes, schedules conflict.
Charlie jokingly explained her absence by saying they "don't talk anymore," but the real reason is less exciting. She was on tour and simply couldn't make it. Director Phil Pinto said it "wasn't in the cards" for both Puth and Gomez to be in the same city at the same time, and they were "in a rush" to release the video.
The clock is always ticking.
Speaking of time constraints, every person interviewed for this story had one thing in common: a strict deadline. Baron and Major Lazer's bikini-clad dancers trekked across glaciers and through caves to film "Cold Water" in one week. "We Don't Talk Anymore" took three days, while Kygo and Selena Gomez's "It Ain't Me" took two. And Kanye West's provocative "Fade," which premiered at the 2016 VMAs and is currently up for Best Choreography, was a one-day shoot.
"It was so fast," Guapo, who choreographed "Fade" with Teyana Taylor, recalled. "For them to have gotten all of that done and edited the video and have it in a way that they were happy with it to release it, that was crazy. It was so much footage. There was a lot of stuff that they didn’t even use that we shot that day. Teyana was dancing for a long time, she was really living her life, like, feeling every take.”
Often, the video isn't about the artist.
The stars of "It Ain't Me" look awfully similar to Kygo and Selena Gomez, but writer and director Phillip R. Lopez said any resemblance is coincidental. In fact, Sel specifically refused a lookalike. "That was the one thing she did not want," Lopez said, adding that he's gotten this request before from other artists. "They prefer, if they're going to be in it, to be in it. Otherwise, [they] don't necessarily have to make it about them."
At its core, a music video is a piece of art.
Why wouldn't an artist want to star in their own work? Well, perhaps the video's message is stronger without a celebrity spotlight. When asked why 'Ye wasn't in "Fade," Guapo's response was short and sweet: "Because he is a genius!"
He continued, "Oh my god, you have to be in the presence of his energy. His art, his everything, it's crazy. He's an artist, you know what I'm saying? He's making a piece. This has nothing to do with him. It doesn't have anything to do with him. He was presenting a piece. ... I love people who take hip-hop to the next level."