Justin Bieber went to Iceland, Taylor Swift to Paris: music video locations around the world
- Coldplay were accused of cultural appropriation with their video for Hymn for the Weekend, which was shot in India
- A housing estate on the edge of Hangzhou provided a post-apocalyptic setting for Jamie XX’s Gosh
Pop videos were around long before August 1, 1981, but, with the launch of 24-hour music channel MTV, it was clear that visuals were about to become as important as songs. And when it came to eye-catching images, performers were (and still are, Covid-19 permitting) more than happy to pile onto a plane and head off somewhere exotic to film a mini movie.
Here are a few of the most notable music videos filmed around the globe.
In the early 1980s, Duran Duran were synonymous with stylish, cinematic productions filmed in faraway places. Shot in Sri Lanka, the promo for Hungry Like the Wolf (1982) has a swashbuckling Raiders of the Lost Ark feel, while visitors planning a grand tour of the Indian Ocean island could do worse than hire a car and driver and track down the locations featured in Save a Prayer (1982).
Beach scenes were filmed on the scenic south coast around Talpe and Koggala, where fishermen on stilts still catch their supper. Helicopter shots of the towering rock fortress of Sigiriya and the Buddhist temple at the ancient city of Polonnaruwa are spliced with footage taken at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and Yala National Park.
Another classic of the glossy, glamorous genre is Wham!’s Club Tropicana (1983), which was filmed at Pikes Hotel, on the Spanish island of Ibiza. The former farmhouse, then owned by flamboyant playboy Tony Pike, was popular with celebrity guests including Elton John, Boy George, Freddie Mercury and Kate Moss.
In the video, George Michael and Andrew Ridgley are pilots on a layover, frolicking in the pool, enjoying cocktails and flirting with two girls who turn out to be flight attendants. Swapping sunshine for snow, Wham! released Last Christmas (1984) accompanied by a video partly filmed at the Walliserhof Grand Hotel, in the ski resort of Saas-Fee, Switzerland. External shots including a snowball fight were filmed at nearby Chalet Schliechte.
Sticking with Central Europe, K-pop duo Lee Hae-ri and Kang Min-kyung, aka Davichi, filmed Sorry, I’m Happy and Cry Again (both 2015) in Budapest. In between clips of the pair shopping, sightseeing and trying to win back an ex, there are shots of the Hungarian Parliament Building, Buda Castle and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge.
Closer to home, Hong Kong served as the backdrop for Two Lovers (also 2015). Much of the video was shot in Central (Lyndhurst Terrace and Cochrane Street), aboard a cross-harbour ferry and in Tsim Sha Tsui East. The girls are unaware they are both dating the same guy until the final reveal, which takes place outside The Smugglers Inn, Stanley.
September is the month and Venice High School, Los Angeles, the location for the annual Grease sing-a-long party. The art-deco facade stood in as Rydell High for scenes in the 1978 musical and the sports field bleacher benches were used in the filming of Summer Nights.
In non-coronavirus disrupted years, the film is shown on a big screen at dusk and fans in leather jackets and poodle skirts sing, jive and jitterbug on cue. Two decades after the original movie, a corridor and gym at the same school were used for choreographed dance routines in the video for Britney Spears’ mega hit … Baby One More Time (1998).
In 2011, Spears shot scenes for the song Criminal in London, joining a long list of performers who have used the British capital as a backdrop. The Clash filmed the video for London Calling (1979) on a barge next to Albert Bridge, in Battersea Park, and the Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls (1984) was filmed at Waterloo Station, Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, and provides a fleeting glimpse of the No 42 bus to Aldgate.
Talking of which, One Direction zipped around the sights on an open-top bus while waving at hordes of star-struck fans in One Thing (2011). Motörhead also boarded a double-decker bus in 2000, for their version of the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen (1977), although there were fewer screaming girls on that occasion for some reason. Taylor Swift can be spotted on one in End Game (2017) as well.
In Begin Again (2012), the American singer shows us around numerous locations in Paris. The video begins with Swift on the Pont des Arts bridge, overlooking the River Seine, and includes shots of the Opéra Garnier and the Eiffel Tower. It has been compared with Adele’s grainy, black-and-white promo for the equally minimalist Someone Like You (2011), which sees the Londoner strolling beside the Seine, walking across Pont Alexandre III and along Parisian streets.
From the City of Love to, er, Chernobyl. The video for Life is Golden (2018), by Suede, was filmed in the ghost town of Pripyat, which was abandoned after the 1986 nuclear meltdown. Drone footage lingers on a rusting Ferris wheel, decaying swimming pool and derelict buildings all frozen in time.
Dangerously high radiation levels ensure that no one will be setting up home in the Ukrainian disaster zone for at least another 3,000 years, although that doesn’t prevent people visiting. In February 2020, a group of former residents returned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pripyat’s establishment.
Staying with deserted post-apocalyptic urban landscapes, the highly acclaimed video for Gosh (2015), by English musician Jamie xx, was filmed on the Tianducheng housing estate, on the outskirts of Hangzhou, in Zhejiang province.
Four-hundred teenagers from the Xiaolong Martial Arts School, their hair bleached blond, hurry down a series of steps past what appears to be the Apollo Fountain of Versailles. They then race along a Chinese Champs-Élysées framed by French neoclassical architecture towards a rusty Eiffel Tower, where they circle an albino man. Confused? Me too. But for fans of dystopian doppelgängers, Sky City, to give Tianducheng its English name, does a pretty good impersonation of Paris.
In 2015, Justin Bieber filmed the video for I’ll Show You in Iceland. The turquoise glaciers of Jökulsárlón Lagoon make an appearance, as do the photogenic falls at Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. But the attraction that caused the most controversy was Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon – and not because he couldn’t pronounce it.
Since the track’s release, the stunning landscape has drawn swarms of sightseers, who have eroded trails and trampled down vegetation. Bieber is being blamed for publicising the beauty spot, which has been roped off to allow the area to recover. Holding the Canadian singer responsible seems a little unfair, though, especially when you consider the otherworldly location was also used as a setting for global phenomenon Game of Thrones.
Filming Hymn for the Weekend (2016) took Coldplay to Kolkata, Varanasi and Worli, a fishing village inhabited by the descendants of some of Mumbai’s original settlers. Scenes depicting the Indian Holi festival see the British band caked in coloured powder as they celebrate the occasion.
The video, which includes guest vocals by a henna-tattooed, sari-wearing Beyoncé, ignited discussions on cultural appropriation and unimaginative stereotyping – accusations commentators claim could also be levelled at some Bollywood productions.