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Here’s a free tip to anyone making a music video set in Washington, D.C.: Don’t make it look like D.C. At least not an identifiable part of D.C. Why? Because monuments are the Ben’s Chili Bowl of downtown. If you’re shooting a music video in New York City, do you shoot it in front of Statue of Liberty? You shouldn’t. Unless you are taping B-roll for the credits of a Fox News talk show, consider making a video that doesn’t look like something sold at the America! store at BWI.
But it’s too late for my advice, because monuments have already taken over D.C. music videos. They’re just too easy to shoot! Anyone can stand near them, for free—that’s the whole point of monuments, I guess—and that’s part of the reason Washington’s marbled downtown has become the biggest cliché in local music videos. Still, there are good and bad ways to shoot even the most exhausted imagery. Here are some examples.
Uptown XO, “Finding My Way”
Released this summer, Uptown XO’s video for his Colour de Grey track “Finding My Way” is built on that oft-referenced dichotomy: “real” D.C. vs. official Washington. But XO freshens up the Lazlo-directed video with a story of his rocky, transient childhood in ’90s D.C., and the memorials (and his classy suit) symbolize his gradual entrance into a steadier adulthood.
Trus Real, “Hometown”
What up, Wheaton Triangle? Local rapper Trus Real’s no-budget video for his Adele-sampling track “Hometown” squeezes in some brief shots of iconic Washington, but it’s probably the first local music video to celebrate both the Washington Monument and Georgia Avenue’s El Pollito in the same six minutes. For that, it deserves props.
Andy Zipf, “What’s Going On”
When anti-poverty campaign ONE put out a call to musicians to cover their favorite protest songs, local singer-songwriter Andy Zipf (who now performs under the name The Cowards Choir) pitched in this meek cover of Marvin Gaye’s classic. The accompanying video is just as mild, but its Instagrammed-sunset flavor is too inoffensive to deem either a success or a failure.
U.S. Royalty, “What’s Going On”
It’s still not clear whether D.C. band U.S. Royalty is an extended performance-art piece about the waning creativity of indie rock in the Pitchfork era, or if it’s really just an overserious band that thinks no one has heard Fleetwood Mac before. If it’s the former, this ONE campaign video shot in front of the Lincoln Memorial is genius. But if it’s the latter, and U.S. Royalty’s overdressed singer isn’t pretending when he makes Marvin Gaye’s opus about the struggle for peace completely about himself, this video is just a mistake.