The 5 Best DANIELS-Directed Music Videos
The DANIELS did well for themselves last night. Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, the directing team behind Everything Everywhere All At Once, won three Oscars in a single evening: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Everything Everywhere turned out to be the night’s true juggernaut. Three of its actors — Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Jamie Lee Curtis — also took home Oscars, and the movie won for editing. The two DANIELS are both 35 years old; they’re two of the youngest Best Director winners in history. They’re also the first Best Director winners ever to come from the world of music videos.
Think about it: Spike Jonze has an Oscar, but his is for screenwriting. Michel Gondry has a screenwriting Oscar, too, but he’s never won for directing. David Fincher has zero Oscars. Gus Van Sant has directed a few actors to Oscars, but he’s never won any. The same is true of the other big-deal auteurs who started out making videos: Michael Bay, Russell Mulcahy, Mark Webb, McG, Francis Lawrence, Antoine Fuqua, Tarsem Singh. In this category, the DANIELS stand alone.
The DANIELS, friends at Emerson College, started out directing after Daniel Scheinert went on vacation to Iceland in 2010. There, Scheinert heard a song that he liked. That song, FM Belfast’s “Underwear,” was already two years old, and it already had a (bad) video. But Scheinert and his friend Daniel Kwan made a clip for the track anyway, and that video already has plenty of the stylistic signatures that you can see in Everything Everywhere All At Once — the dizzy energy, the daffy surrealism, the ecstatic slow motion, the explosively twee aesthetics, the willingness to push a joke further than anyone would expect or even want a joke to be pushed.
For years, music videos were the DANIELS’ medium. Their clips, mostly made for early-’10s festival-bait acts, were hugely energetic and imaginative, and the DANIELS quickly joined names like Nabil and Hiro Murai on the list of people were doing the most exciting things with the medium. The DANIELS didn’t make that many music videos, and they apparently had most of their pitches turned down, but some of their images still endure: the wrecking ball coming through the window in the Shins’ “Simple Song” clip, Gabourey Sidibe’s mid-car-chase kiss in Foster The People’s “Don’t Stop (Color On The Walls),” the singing CGI baby in Manchester Orchestra’s “The Alien.”
This morning, I went back and rewatched all the DANIELS’ videos and picked my five favorites. During their music-video era, the De Niro to the DANIELS’ Scorsese was Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, and none of their videos for that band made this list, but the slow-motion time-collapsing narrative of the “Simple Math” video came very close. Also, an honorary mention goes to Dogboarding, a short film set to a Foster The People song. It’s not technically a music video, but it rules.
5. Foster The People – “Houdini” (2012)
Daniel Scheinert, in a 2015 Pitchfork interview: “We wanted to kill the band for a long time, but nobody would let us.” The DANIELS had a whole idea about terrorists trying to blow up the National Guard but killing the National by mistake instead, and the National were not down. Foster The People, however, were happy to die in the opening frames of this clip, and then to become Weekend At Bernie’s-esque marionette corpses and then boy-band robots. The goofy joke just keeps twisting and twisting, until it becomes a halfway-profound meditation on the way the music business drains the life from the people who actually make the music.
4. Chromeo – “When The Night Falls” (Feat. Solange) (2011)
Drake’s “Way 2 Sexy” video has a cartoon throwaway joke about Future looking at different women and those women immediately getting pregnant. The DANIELS landed on that joke a full decade beforehand, and they did a whole lot more with it. “When The Night Falls” starts off as absurdist slapstick, and then it becomes a deadbeat-dad zombie movie and a an extended metaphor about a young father’s anxieties. I don’t know how these guys got away with it, and I’m not sure the video could be made today. But this is one of many examples of the DANIELS taking a ridiculous single-joke premise and wringing actual empathy out of it. Maybe you could say the same about Everything Everywhere All At Once.
3. Joywave – “Tongues” (Feat. KOPPS) (2014)
Daniel Scheinert in that Pitchfork interview: “At its core, it was like, ‘Oh, it’s funny if rednecks shoot clothes onto naked hippies.'” True! It is funny! There’s also a whole lot of visual ingenuity in the way that DANIELS approach that premise, with childlike naïveté in the hippies’ faces and the way the clothes seem to explode onto their bodies. But that visual gag won’t keep working for four straight minutes, so we also get a love story an an Akira-style body-horror finale, and now I’m starting to wonder if the DANIELS could get a whole movie out of that one idea.
2. Battles – “My Machines” (Feat. Gary Numan) (2011)
Some poor schlub in office-casual clothes falls down an up escalator in a janky mall for four uninterrupted minutes. Battles and Gary Numan expressionlessly make their clangy sounds around him, acting as a dispassionate Greek chorus, as a slapstick gag slowly starts to feel like a commentary on consumerist hamster-wheels or a visual metaphor for Sisyphean struggle. I love this shit. The guy falling down the escalator, incidentally, is stuntman Tim Eulich, who served as stunt coordinator for both DANIELS’ 2016 feature film debut Swiss Army Man and Everything Everywhere All At Once — perhaps the furthest that anyone has ever gotten by agreeing to fall down an up escalator for four minutes.
1. DJ Snake – “Turn Down For What” (Feat. Lil Jon) (2014)
I’d love to get esoteric with the #1 pick, but some things are just obvious. This is the DANIELS’ first hit. Their work pushed this screamy EDM track into the top 10. It got a billion views. It won them a VMA. It’s probably the reason that they got to make Swiss Army Man, which is the reason that they got to make Everything Everywhere All At Once. It’s also a perfect piece of physical comedy.
So here’s Daniel Kwan, sweaty and disheveled, visibly falling apart, so desperately horny that he humps through a concrete rooftop and into the apartment below, terrifying the young woman who lives there. Kwan’s scream, over the phone lines, is powerful enough to melt a cop’s face; his crotch is powerful enough to smash phones and flowerpots and picture frames. Kwan’s freakiness takes over an entire building until all those strangers become a spent, euphoric, utopian mass of humanity. Maybe its a commentary on Asian male sexuality, or maybe it’s just a dick joke taken to its logical extreme. I wish I could say that I knew, right away, that the auteurs behind the “Turn Down For What” clip would one day win three Oscars in a single night, but society rarely gives us such cause for hope.
Look, man. I was rooting for Avatar: The Way Of Water. But this? I’ll take this.