It seems like choreography is now back in fashion, with the help of Tinashe and Normani, we are relieved.
A huge disappointment considering music videos are and should be seen as historical artefacts. They unveil the changing shape of mainstream pop culture. Furthermore, what aided music videos in becoming an important piece of culture was dance! Its presence is the most memorable and enduring part of visuals. Michael Jackson’s Thriller is sonically stunning but it’s Michaels Peter’s dance composition that cemented its place in music history. Choreography in music visuals is not only the easiest way to create a cultural shift but identify trends before they have landed to the mainstream. For instance, Paris Globels’ inclusion of the South African “Gwara Gwara” in Rihanna’s 2018 Grammy performance signified the increasing exposure of South African music. Two years later Master KG’s “Jersualema” dropped and became a global hit.
This is why Normani and Tinashe have remained favourites of ours. Both ladies’ choreography not to eventually pay off in hype as measured through clicks and views but as an intrinsic part of their artistry.
Normani, Wild Side – Artistic Freedom
Janet’s iconic synchronized choreography of Rhythm Nation was an artistic statement. Led by Anthony “Bam Bam” Thomas, the militant-styled routine marries the song’s theme of racial harmony – and Janet’s wish of artistic freedom from her label.
Reminiscent of this is Normani’s Wildside.
Herald as the protege of Beyoncé by fans, such an appraisal carries a lot of weight. Being likened to a legendary artist at such an early part of your career, though a delight can be a nail in the coffin for a new artist. Normani has yet to establish her style and sound but is being met with criticism for not producing work that rivals the legendary singer. Choreographed by frequent collaborator Sean Bankhead, Normani nicely ceases these comparisons with the use of dance.
Donned in heels with a long ponytail, Wildside is a visual treat. Floating through the ceiling, gliding on the floor – Normani’s movements in her first few scenes are fluid and sensual. Transitioning to the next verse we see a sharp contrast in both tempo and style. The heels are now replaced by trainers and black leather pants while her crown of red jewels is traded in for cornrows.
In this section Normani breaks away from the aforementioned influences to channel the tomboy spirit of Aaliyah’s Are You That Somebody and Ciara’s Like A Boy. Nicknaming it the ‘Boy Section’, Normani explains in an interview with Zach Sang Show “ The intention for me was to be able to push myself and tap into a different pocket/Motivation is very fem, hair flips like I wanted to tap into Chris Brown, Usher, Ciara Like A Boy Vibe”. The absence of her ‘babygirl’ movements forces fans to view Normani as her own entity and warns them not to put her in a box.
A multi-faceted artist, Normani is not afraid of experimentation. This dual nature is perfectly illustrated in the “Gemini Twin” scene. Geminis are said to have a dual personality, as symbolized by twins. Normani, a Gemini herself incorporates this in her quest to establish her diverse nature. Inspired by choreographer Mackenzie Dustman, Normani and her doppelganger indulge in an avant-garde sequence, mirroring each other’s moves and interlocking at various points of the routine.
Tinashe, Bouncin – Simple yet effective
One thing that I admire about Tinashe is her love for simplicity. She is a refreshing alternative to an era of music videos swarming with multiple effects and crowded routines.
Choreographed by Parris Goebel, the dance-heavy visual takes us back to the root of dance. Dance was essentially used by directors to capture the imaginations of their audience. The word choreography is a compound word of Greek origin – “χορεία” and “γραφή” which literally means dance and writing. Considered the founder of ‘pantomime ballet’ John Weaver was faithful to this meaning. In his work The Fable of Orpheus and Eurydice, Weaver combined his love for classical literature and drama with dance. Believing a story could be told through gesture and movement only, he found this powerful technique creates almost like an alternative reality for the audience, where the main language understood by everyone is dance.
Tinashe spins her modern take on this technique in her work. Despite a basic set up she completely holds our attention throughout the visual with her agile motions. Representing us the viewers, the lone male figure in the visual observes from his VR goggles, completely enthralled by his surroundings. Twerking on mini trampolines, Tinashe and her dancers invite the male figure (us) to join in the high-energy routines and become a part of her new reality.
Similarly, in Save Room For Us, Tinashe again uses a simple setup – warehouse. Choreographed by Mykell Wilson, Tinashe details the aftermath of a breakup with dance. The male dancers represent the ghost of her ex-lover and ultimately disappear towards the end of the visual symbolizing her loneliness. Commenting on the visual to Clash Music, Tinashe explains – “I wanted it to be very dance-based and very simple in terms of what the focus of it was. But I also wanted to cut through because the song itself, for me, has a lot of underlying emotion in it”
In a Tik Tok viral-driven world, Normani and Tinashe’s are welcomed refreshments. Whilst others use choreography more for its dramatics and aesthetics, for them, dance is just as much a part of the political potential of their musical work as their lyrics.
Normani uses choreography to illustrate both her exterior life (industry expectations) and interior life (the emotions of being a new artist). Echoing visions of classic choreographers such as Michael Peters (Thriller, Dreamgirls) both Normani and Tinashe reminds us that dance is more than a buzzworthy technique to capitalize on a song and is instead an art form that should be respected and honored in all areas of entertainment.