How the Vertical Music Video Finally Took Off

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Selena Gomez's "Bad Liar," Halsey's "Without Me," Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson's "Nothing Breaks Like A Heart," and Ariana Grande's "No Tears Left To Cry"

After earning her first solo No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on Jan. 12 for her raw breakup single “Without Me,” Halsey was dethroned the following week by Post Malone and Rae Sremmurd’s “Sunflower (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse).” But on Jan. 26, she rebounded to the top, thanks to a remix with Juice WRLD -- and a vertical music video optimized for watching on a phone. Released to YouTube on Jan. 9 following an exclusive Spotify premiere last October, the video propelled a surge in streaming that brought Halsey back to No. 1.

“Typically, we create a vertical video as an afterthought and tack it onto an official video shoot,” says Targa Sahyoun, vp video content and production at Capitol Music Group. But this time, the label shot a new clip specifically for vertical, which allowed director Brooke Nipar to get the perfect frame. Nipar turned the camera vertically from the outset, zeroing in on the singer’s eyes and lips as she was showered with water. “We could get her angles,” says Sahyoun. “If you’re just punching in on an existing wide-format image, you’re not able to pick up those details or get that intimacy that we really wanted.”

The song’s original horizontal video, also released in October, depicts Halsey in a toxic, party-fueled relationship. “When you hold your phone vertically, you’re seeing a more voyeuristic look into an artist’s life,” says Sahyoun. “Being able to get up close and personal that way, fans engage more with what you’re singing about.”

Since Spotify first launched vertical videos in May 2017 with Selena Gomez’s selfie-mode “Bad Liar,” a slew of others have followed: Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson with “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart,” Ariana Grande with “No Tears Left to Cry” and Travis Scott’s “Watch.”

“As music consumption is mostly mobile, vertical videos are a natural evolution in content creation,” says Roberta Pate, artist/label marketing lead for Latin America and U.S. Latin at Spotify. Other platforms have latched on; most recently, Instagram launched a new IGTV vertical-only interface in June 2018. Says Sahyoun: “Now that a vertical video can contribute to how well a song will do on the charts, it’s going to become more and more important.”

Additional reporting by Jessica Roiz.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 9 issue of Billboard.

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