Action movies and reality TV depend on quick cuts to heighten what’s happening on screen. But sometimes, one continuous take can pack an even bigger punch. Here are six music videos that push the limits physically, emotionally and technically of what’s achievable in a single take. No editing required.
Call Your Girlfriend, Robyn (2011)
With the stamina of a world-class athlete and the fashion sense of a dystopian teddy bear, Robyn dances her heart out for three-and-half minutes straight in an empty soundstage. Perfectly timed lighting changes and 360-degree camera moves bring out the triumph and heartbreak in Robyn’s vocals and elbow thrusts.
No Surprises, Radiohead (1997)
This one will leave you breathless. Thom Yorke stares straight at you from inside a diver’s helmet as it slowly fills with water. His literal suffocation excruciatingly echoes the metaphorical suffocation in the song’s lyrics. You can get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the video in the classic Radiohead documentary, “Meeting People Is Easy.”
Two Weeks, FKA twigs (2014)
What’s better than FKA twigs? A giant FKA twigs surrounded by a handful of miniature FKA twigs dancing. Here, the multi-talented Brit presides as a golden goddess over a bevy of mini-twigs in one glorious panning shot. Though she typically directs her own videos, this one was directed by Nabil.
Hunter, Bjork (1997)
It took one day of shooting in a studio and months and months of post-production to put together this uncanny and futuristic video. In a pure white environment, a purely bald Bjork shifts shapes between her human body and that of a translucent blue polar bear. She’s alternately the hunter and the hunted, beautifully underscoring the song’s lyrics and her own struggle to find creative expression. Her longtime creative collaborator, Paul White, directed the video.
Blood Brothers, Ingrid Michaelson (2012)
Although technically only the first couple minutes of this video were shot in one take, we’re including it because time-lapse makeovers are such fun to watch. This one came out a couple years before Cut Videos’ wildly popular “100 Years” series. Through hair, makeup, costume and set changes, Ingrid Michaelson transforms herself into seven music superstars before your very eyes. She proves her lyrics right: “we’re all the same under a different name.”
This Too Shall Pass, OK Go (2010)
Leave it to OK Go to dress a marching band in ghillie suits and get them to dance in a swamp. This exuberant and flawlessly executed video is actually the second one for “This Too Shall Pass.” The other one features an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine and was also shot in one take, the band’s now signature visual hook.