A Cultural Shift: Kehlani, Back-Up Dancers, and IG Style


Kehlani Parrish, Bay Area R&B star is bringing back the classic music video. The days of choreographed music numbers, mood lighting, and crisp style often feel long gone, but Kehlani reminds us not they still hold some place.

In September Kehlani dropped her visual for “CRZY, featuring a chorus with a choreographed dance sequence. It brought us back to the glory days of Ciara, featuring cropped sweatshirts, and scenes with a low-rider in the background. A group of girls crowd around Kehlani and dance in perfect sync as she sings, “I go, I go, crazy,” which is interlaced with shots of her squad and her chilling at the house; speaking to her authenticity, the squad she presents actually include her homies in real life, not actors. Kehlani even has a scene in which she types the lyrics to her song onto a laptop screen, which is also an exact moment in Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You” video.  

Similarly, her visual for “Distraction” which dropped on the 22nd and already garnered 4 million views, brings us back to the era of video girls and guys, who play the romantic interest. With birds-eye view shots of Kehlani’s face, falling rose petals and a red, lace lingerie covered body, the viewer is immediately brought back to a corny moment in any popular R & B video. Again including the background dancer, and four different sets (think Destiny’s Child “Say My Name”), the feel of the video seems like it belongs on monitor ten years ago. 

In a broader sense, Kehlani is bringing back the concept of the music video in general. While lots of videos have still been released in the last 10 years, they don’t receive the same hype or excitement that surrounded them in the 90’s and the early 2000’s. Those were the times when VH1 and MTV would play hours of visuals for popular songs, and teenagers would crowd around TVs everywhere when new content premiered, trying to learn infamous dance routines. This was also before the age of Youtube choreographers, who revolutionized dance, specifically hip-hop, by premiering their routines to popular songs online first. We no longer just had to look celebrities and our favorite singers for impeccable, fresh moves. Instead, we could find some of the best choreography on our laptops and iPhones, created by underground crews and in dance studios across American cities.

Moreover, back-up dancers that made their name in the backdrop of videos were now able to come to the foreground, and star in their own content online – making a name for themselves without a celebrity backing. They no longer had to pawn after 10 seconds to spotlight their moves in a video, as now they can create fame themselves. In many ways there has been a shift; it’s almost been flipped, as now celebrities find dancers who have garnered a following online instead of celebrities making the career of a dancer. Proof of this is Maddie Ziegler, who became famous on Lifetime’s Dance Moms and through her online following, and was later commissioned by Sia to star in multiple music videosMos Wanted Crew’s “Freak My S**t” changed dance for me forever; it wasn’t about a music video that made me glean in excitement over cutting-edge moves. It stars Ian Eastwood, who has become a household name in the dance world in the last decade. Most of this can be attributed to his popularity on social media; without Youtube, his career would not have taken off in the same way. 

In the same way that dance became popularized through social media instead of just through celebrities’ videos, style experienced a similar shift. While music videos used to premiere the newest styles in streetwear and fashion, that teens would copy and make trends of, there has been a change. In the age of Instagram, Kylie Jenner, Helen Owen and YesJulz (all of whom have used social media to make a career) influence style just as much as, if not more than, singers and rappers. 

Distraction and CRZY are two of my favorite music videos, and are great accompaniments to Kehlani’s playful songs. Her visuals feel like a rendezvous back to a different time, and while they are very entertaining, they also prove that the music video plays a less integral role in influencing culture. Social media has taken over, and in the world of Instagram filters and 140 characters, you can carve out a space, and impact style, dance, or art with the click of a button (or the tap of a screen). 

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