As early as her junior year of high school, Hannah Lux Davis knew she wanted to make music videos.
Attending film school instead of college, and graduating from The Los Angeles Film School in 2006, Davis began working as an on-set makeup artist before quickly transitioning to directing, citing a music video for Twin Atlantic back in 2010 as her first paid gig as a director. In the decade since that entry point, Davis has worked with countless pop stars and become one of the most sought-after directors in the industry. But, despite her impressive pedigree, it’s her work with Ariana Grande during the height of Grande’s critical and commercial success that has catapulted Davis to a new level.
Working collaboratively with Ariana to create the kind of cultural moments that make the industry stop and stare, Davis is the director responsible for co-creating the worlds of “Thank U, Next,” “7 Rings,” “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored,” and most recently, Grande’s massive Charlie’s Angels video with Lana Del Rey and Miley Cyrus for “Don’t Call Me Angel.”
In the wake of all this head-turning success, I spoke with Hannah on the phone about the iconic 1994 video that got her interested in the industry in the first place, her best advice for young directors, and what it is about pop as a whole that makes the genre’s videos so special. Read a condensed, edited version of our conversation below.
I wanted to start off asking about the first music video you remember seeing or feeling the power of, the first one that really impacted you?
It was “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden, and it was very disturbing video, with barbies burning on a barbecue, people’s faces melting — it was just a very graphic and kind of playful video that sparked something in me. I was like, ‘Wow, this is very ballsy.’ And even as a little kid, I could feel that it was risky and interesting, and I hadn’t seen anything like it before. I remember thinking ‘what is this format that can just play on TV like this?’ That’s the first memory I have of a video that I remember watching and being really affected by.
The first time I remember an event around a music video release I was in high school — I was a teenager during that TRL heyday — and it was Britney Spears’ video for “Toxic.” Do you remember when that one came out? It was such an event. I was with a bunch of friends and we watched some TV and it was this big moment where we were like ‘what is she going to do next?’ The music video was the place where you’d tune in to see what your favorite artists were going to do next.
When did you first begin wanting to work on videos, and working on videos yourself?
I was a junior in high school when I discovered the power of editing video to music, and it was something I became hooked on right away. I did this silly project in high school where somebody’s running away from something and I cut it to music. I remember having a lot of fun with that, then I realized it was a music video. I knew I wanted to make music videos so I went to film school after high school. Instead of making a short film and doing that sort of thing, I found a band in LA to make videos for and I paid for them. I searched for bands on Pure Volume and Myspace and asked to make music videos for them if they’d let me. The rest is history.
What advice do you have for young directors who are trying to break into the industry?
I’d say take any opportunity you can, and shoot anything you can, direct anything you can, even get into photography because that gives you practice working with a team of people, working with somebody in front of your lens and how to direct them, and coach them and how they should move and emote. And also, editing! I think it’s so important for a director to not only understand editing but to actually be able to get in there on Premiere — or whatever program — and work the keys, figure out how to edit. Because that’s something that helped me tremendously in the beginning of my career, that I was also an editor.
I want to discuss your work with Ariana Grande, which has obviously been resonating so much culturally over the last couple years. But I wanted to start by asking about the “Side To Side” video because I think that’s the first one of yours I saw. I was so blown away by it, and by the female gaze of that clip. I’d love to talk about the ideation of that visual, especially given the explicit lyrics.