10 Music Videos That “Borrow” from Famous Artists


Last week, there was a piece on Hyperallergic on pop music’s love affair with contemporary art that inspired us to do some digging. Yayoi Kusama à la Nicky Minaj specifically made us optimistic that modern pop music cares enough about art to stage such elaborate recreations — although, a little credit where credit is due would be nice. That said, down the rabbit hole we went. Here are a few of the standout music videos doing that pay homage to visual artists, with various aesthetic and legal results. What did we miss?

As nodded to by Hyperallergic, Nicki Minaj dropped “The Boys (feat. Cassie)” just last month. Half of the video’s shots take place in a very, very Yayoi-ish obsessively-polka dot chamber, but hued in hot Barbie pink instead of red, naturally. Therein, Nicki dons polka dot pants with a tight woven yellow-black color pattern almost identical to the one on the press cards of the artist’s recent Whitney Museum career retrospective. Nicki’s legs could be one of Yayoi’s psychedelic sculptural tendrils. Looking at the bright, bombastic, stylin’ Yayoi now and back in the day, we can see why Minaj would want to imitate.

When encountering the beautiful Annie Erin Clark as a living sculpture in St. Vincent’s “Cheerleader” video, towering at 10 times the scale of anyone in the gawking gallery crowd, one might be mesmerized and entranced. Unless, of course, one has already encountered the immaculately detailed, ultra-realistic, surreally-proportioned works of Ron Mueck.

Jay-Z’s “On to the Next One” was an overload of Jay rapping in monochrome, random goth boy glamour closeups, and possible art allusions — the neon light works of Dan Flavin perhaps, a solid horse sculpture by Banks Violette maybe, etc. The clear centerpiece of was a “diamond”-encrusted skull referencing Damien Hirst’s For The Love of God. Appropriately, black oil was poured over the skull, and there were quick cuts to other luxury items, like Jaguars. Swag.

Here’s the video for Thom Yorke’s “The Hollow Earth.” You tell us. See, it’s “featuring works appropriated from Banksy™” or, rather, the easily-recognized stencils are flashing manically in layers throughout the video. Is that an homage? A remix? A rip? Hmm.

And now, observe the group thrash-dancing of office folk in crisp black-and-white attire in Britney Spear’s “Womanizer.” You’re thinking of Robert Longo’s Men in Cities series. You shouldn’t because Longo’s thrashers are not office folk — they’re cool people in bands back in the day.

Uh-oh. Hello, Lady Gaga. Shall we crack the olde can of worms again, and rattle through her video oeuvre and its plundered imagery? Marina Abramović, HR Giger, Marco Brambillia, Marilyn Minter, Matthew Barney… Those face implants are definitely rippin’ inspired by the performance artist Orlan, even the wig. Only, you know, hers are the real deal.

Madonna’s “Hollywood” video looks amazing, mostly because it massively appropriated the works of Guy Bourdin. Oh, Maddy. You can’t squat in lingerie over a fuzzy television set in a nearly identical manner, in a nearly identical frame, and play it off like no big deal. Guy Bourdin sued. They settled for an undisclosed and satisfactory amount.

Hmm… Déjà vu? Rihanna’s insanely theatrical “S&M” video had so many set-ups reminiscent to the works of photographer David LaChapelle — a clownishly colored Japanese rope-bondage shot, a fish-eyed-lens freak out in a zebra-wallpapered room, a regal gal walking a leashed “slave” on a law — that he sued for one million dollars. They settled out of court.

REM’s ever-classic “Losing My Religion” video featured several scenes homaging the work of Italian Baroque painter/bad boy Caravaggio. It was incredibly appropriate, considering the context of the song — Caravaggio’s turn of the 16th century works depicted Biblical stories as real happenings with real people, using his crew of thieves and prostitutes as models. The use of stage lights to mimic his sharp chiaroscuro lighting is almost comical.

And to end, here is “70 Million” by Hold Your Horses, an all singing, slightly moving recreation of paintings spanning most of art history. True highlights are those of warped perspective, specifically Otto Dix’s Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden and Marc Chagall’s La Mariée . Just… watch.