Mark Romanek

Big Machine Records

Nine Inch Nails. Johnny Cash. Fiona Apple. Jay-Z. Taylor Swift.

Does one of these not quite sound like the others? Too bad, because they’re all now artists who have commissioned director Mark Romanek to direct a music video. Romanek may have made the transition to the big screen, but the filmmaker got his start directing clean, arty and weird music videos for a bevy of stars. He was rewarded for it, too, as Romanek has three Grammys under his belt for Best Short Form Music Video. So what’s next? Apparently, returning to the small screen to direct Swift in her “Shake It Off.” Huh.

The video is, of course, beautifully lensed, and it is kind of fun to see Romanek, so well-known for serious film fare like One Hour Photo and Never Let Me Go, having a little bit of fun with his subject matter. “Shake It Off” is definitely catchy, and the video exhibits an energy and a playfulness that’s refreshing for the singer (although we do bristle at a few sequences that, at best, seem to smack of culture appropriation). Swift’s next album is reportedly her first official “pop” record, though the country star has been steadily moving away from her country roots for years now, and it’s certainly heartening that she employed a talented guy like Romanek to make the first video from 1989. Hey, people might say that Swift’s got “nothing in her brain,” but this video might prove differently. Just don’t cast her in your next film, Romanek, okay? Take a look at the video for “Shake It Off” after the break.

Hey, if nothing else, maybe it’s time for Romanek to make a dance-centric feature film.

“Shake It Off” at least looks like a Romanek production — the lighting, the clean lines, the simplicity, all are reflective of his cinematic style, though not so much of his grittier and dirtier other music videos — but it definitely gives us a hankering for his older work. Stuff like “Hurt” from Johnny Cash:

What does “Shake It Off” need? More crying. More antiques. More references to Jesus. No, really, could you even imagine that?

Or perhaps more organs, like in Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer,” also a Romanek joint:

Seriously, if you’re going to hire Mark Romanek to direct your music video, why not go full bats hit? Why not go for rich, dirty colors and lots of crucifixes and the lingering sense that things are totally gross but you still want to inhabit that world, if only for a little five minute slice?

And, yes, it seems like a missed opportunity that Swift didn’t ask Romanek to fully rip off his Fiona Apple video for “Criminal.” Now that would have been a real game-changer.

Hey, maybe next time.

Swift’s new album, 1989, will drop on October 27th. (And, no, we have not become a music site — uh, we think? — so on the movie side of things, Swift can currently be seen in The Giver and Romanek will next direct The Lost Symbol.)


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