Entertainment & Arts

Shocking stuff sells: Lily Allen director on music video age ratings

Lily Allen's Hard Out Here Image copyright YouTube
Image caption Sweeney directed Hard Out Here for Lily Allen - a 'pastiche' of hip-hop videos

With the news that age ratings are becoming a permanent feature on music videos on YouTube and Vevo, we spoke to director Christopher Sweeney - who has made videos for Lily Allen, Foals, Will Young and Lana Del Rey - about what difference it will make.

What impact do you think the new ratings might have on your line of work?

Films have had ratings for so long, it hasn't necessarily changed film and I don't think it's something that will change my life too much. I think it will be interesting to see what happens.

[In the future] you [might] get it on a brief for a music video - "this can't have any content that's 18 or over", you know. But you're not going to make Olly Murs an 18 video.

Do you think certain directors will set out to make 18 certificate videos?

Music videos used to live on TV in the days of big Michael Jackson videos. It used to be such a big thing to get banned from MTV, you would make a video to get it banned if you wanted [to make] a big thing about it back in the day, and I suspect that will happen again. People will make videos to get banned, like they do already.

Everybody loves breaking the rules. Online things get shared - that's how you get them watched - and being shocking is always going to be part of that. Something has to be funny, shocking, or a couple of other things to make them go viral, so I think people will play to it. But I also think we are still at the beginning of the internet, and I think all content is not necessarily for all ages, so it's a good thing.

Do you think the online age classifications will actually work?

They are obviously a stab at some kind of policing, but ultimately, who can really control what kids are watching in their bedrooms? You can't really. All I know is the biggest win of my life when I was 13 was getting into an 18 film. It makes things hotter property in a way - who's seen it, who hasn't seen it.

It's unavoidable, but then what do you say? Don't police anything? Everyone's trying to work out how to do it and I don't think anyone's got the solution yet.

Do you ever discuss whether a video is too violent or too sexual - or whether to make it more risque to attract attention?

I don't think I've ever had a conversation like that. Everyone has an instinctive level of what's right and what's not. If you are making something shocking it has to be part of what your audience is and what they want. An amazing video was The Shoes video with Jake Gyllenhaal in it [2012's Time to Dance]. That was really violent but that was right for that band and their audience.

Image copyright YouTube
Image caption Sweeney's video for Lily Allen's Hard Out Here already opens with a parental advisory

Lily Allen's video for Hard Out Here attracted a lot of attention. How much discussion did you have over what would and wouldn't be appropriate?

We did talk about it a bit, but it was about being a pastiche of hip-hop videos, so if it would have sat in a hip-hop video, it was right for us. It was a very different situation. We deliberately made that video to provoke a conversation and it was aping a lot of videos. The idea was to get people to look at all these images they see and go, "why the hell do I just stare at that numbly without even thinking 'it's probably not that cool'?" Lily is the perfect person to do that and that's what she'd written the song about.

The one I did for Lily for Our Time was banned by MTV because of violence and vomiting and a couple of other things. That got that video lots of attention.

What impact do you think it will have on an artist's image or reputation if they have 18 certificate video?

I think someone like Rihanna, that video she just did [BBHMM], I don't think the fact it was branded an 18 would change much. It's actually a really nice and easy shortcut for some people to be branded shocking and I think people like that because shocking stuff sells and goes viral and that's what people want from their music videos.

Christopher Sweeney was speaking to BBC News entertainment reporter Sarah-Jane Griffiths.

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