Jonas Åkerlund returns to music videos with Madonna’s ‘Madame X’

The Swedish filmmaker and longtime collaborator of Madonna recently directed the music star’s controversial ‘God Control’ video, marking his most prominent return to music videos after two feature films: ‘Polar’ and ‘Lords of Chaos’

The music video for ‘God Control’, a track from Madonna’s recently-released album, Madame X, starts with these lines: “The story you are about to see is very disturbing. It shows graphic scenes of gun violence.”

What ensues is nearly eight-and-a-half minutes of footage, most of which features Madonna in two avatars (black-wigged and then blonde-wigged), a brightly-hued nightclub and a mass shooter. The evocation of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando is undeniable. With over three million views (and accusations against the pop artist for its triggering effect), the video carries the trademark aesthetic of its director — Madonna’s long-time collaborator and Swedish filmmaker, Jonas Åkerlund.

‘God Control’ marks the Åkerlund’s most prominent return to music videos after working back-to-back on the Netflix original film, Polar, and the feature, Lords of Chaos, both of which released earlier this year. I catch up with the 53-year-old director, whose other music clients include Lady Gaga, U2 and Maroon 5, before the release of the Madonna video, which he remains tight-lipped about.


He does, however, credit the increased freedom he has as a filmmaker to the digital world and the end of what he calls the ‘MTV era of music’. “The past was very dictated by the [music] channels, and you had to always work around them,” he says. “In terms of form — especially for music videos — there was a rule: it can’t be more than four minutes.” Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a major music network airing a video like ‘God Control’, both for its length and graphic imagery.

But Åkerlund is keen to exploit the Internet’s generosity towards experimental filmmakers, and has taken on everything from 20 second clips to 15-minute sequences for songs. “I also realised that there’s a bigger audience out there than we could ever imagine, and creatively, it allowed us to be much more free,” he adds.

And ‘God Control’ is not the only time he has flirted with powerful and graphic imagery. His magnum opus, the February-released Lords of Chaos, was described by The Guardian as “distressingly violent”. The subject matter lent itself to that, says the director, about the story based on Mayhem, the 1990’s Norwegian black-metal band whose lead singer’s suicide was used by his bandmates to popularise their work, opening up a can of worms about the disturbing side of black metal in Northern Europe.

For Åkerlund, who was a drummer for the Swedish black metal band Bathory in the ’80s, Mayhem’s story packed a personal punch. “It’s something that’s really close to my heart, with people that were close to me,” he says about Mayhem’s influence on young musicians across Europe. Even as the story unfurled in the ’90s, he knew he wanted to do something with it. “I started to think about it a lot, and I knew that it was more than just something I saw on the news. I knew that it was going to become important to me.”

He has, of course, dabbled with lighter content. Polar, for instance, is an adaptation of Victor Santos’s graphic novel of the same name (also the creator of Sin City), and is, in Åkerlund’s words, “fun, crazy, and over-the-top”. It opened to mixed reviews, but that hasn’t stopped the filmmaker from being excited about the global audience that Netflix provided him with. “For us, working so hard on the movie, and within a flick of a switch, 150 million households have a chance to see it — it’s pretty amazing,” he says, about the Mads Mikkelsen and Vanessa Hudgens-starrer, which he adds, might have a sequel in the works.

Up next for the filmmaker — who brushes off my amazement at his multi-tasking capacity (“I always consider myself pretty extreme in that way”) — is a string of commercials and music videos, and an unconfirmed film which, he admits, he needs to spend more time thinking about.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 11:57:08 AM |

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