Were we obsessed with exercise back then, or are we just fat and lazy now? Regardless the prevalence of washboard abs in early-2000s R&B music videos is undeniable. Britney certainly had a hand in this, but she wasn’t the sole pioneer. Because Beyoncé was around too, along with Kelly and Michelle, whose abs made an unforgettable appearance in their “Bootylicious” music video as well as practically every red carpet appearance. But still, just having concrete abs did not suffice to make it in these videos. The stomach had to sport some kind of jewelry—whether it’s a simple belly ring, à la Beyonce, or that BOMB stomach chain Aaliyah wore in her “Are You That Somebody” video. Belly shirts were also compulsory
2. Sartorial Necessities
Matchy-matchy, uniform-looking outfits were IN. But to have had face time in an early 2000s R&B music video you had to have been wearing one of the following. For the ladies:
- Fringes (preferably brightly colored)
- Big hoops
- Acid-washed denim
- Bedazzled denim (a matching top and bottom set)
- A cocked fedora
- Scarf tied around head
- A sparkly bra top
For the dudes:
- Loud, excessive Burberry printed clothes
- Scarf or bandana around head à la A.J. McLean from The Backstreet Boys
- A blow-dried, long-ish wig
- Baggy, ill-fitting pants
3. All white
Technically, this could go in the sartorial category, but since this trend was so supremely popular, I figured it deserved its own category. Mariah liked to envelop herself in white silk lingerie in her white silk sheets and bedspread. Aaliyah preferred both her and her dancers to wear all-white getups, while on a white catamaran and in the middle of the ocean for her “Rock The Boat” video. Ja Rule fancied himself an all-white outfit (I think he thought he looked spiffy). And Toni Braxton finds herself immersed in white for part of her “He Wasn’t Man Enough” music video.
4. Crawling while singing
Perhaps this salacious maneuver wasn’t considered cheesy back then? But then again, we had eyes, so I’m not sure how that’s possible.
The criteria: crawling—either on your hands and knees, or on your stomach in an prone-crawl, army-crawl-kind-of-way. Ideally, you’ll be crawling in something sand-like—whether that be a beach, in the desert, or in gravel. And finally, the look: messy, beach hair; and sultry, suggestive, yet innocent eyes, looking straight into the camera. Personally, my favorite crawler is Aaliyah.
5. Cheesy skit at the beginning
One of my favorite ingredients to an early-2000s R&B music video and also a nod to those bygone days, when music wasn’t entirely digitized and music videos were actually watched and relevant. With MTV’s Making The Video, music videos back then were always in competition to be the most entertaining and so they were imbued with as much drama and plot as possible. Somewhere along the line a standard was established for short, pre-video skits, and for that I am grateful. If the producers and directors had any brain, the skit would feature the hook of the song, at least once, spoken in conversation. Exhibit A: Backstreet Boys, “The Call”:
6. Dramatic plot line between guy and girl
The vary slightly in plot, but all within the boundaries of a heterosexual couple in tumult. For this broad ingredient, some sub-ingredients:
1) A guy
2) A girl
4) A chase
The chase plot line works better in boy band videos. Don’t ask me why; it just does. Refer to ‘N Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye” video:
Early 2000s R&B music videos liked to flex their videography skills with copious mirror scenes. Sometimes it’s a mirror group shot type-of-thing, like Destiny’s Child in “Bootylicious”. Other times it’s straight-up vanity like Ja Rule in “Always On Time” when he, first, earnestly raps into his bathroom mirror after a quick face rinse and then precariously raps into his rearview mirror while driving. Mariah has always been a stanch devotee of this technique as well—for the majority of the “We Belong Together” music video she’s singing into her vanity mirror.
Dancing was a huge fixture in early-2000s R&B music videos that has sadly fallen by the wayside ever since. Miley straddling a wrecking ball and swinging on it Tarzan style is not a dance routine. Robin Thicke furiously tapping his foot is not dancing either! To be n early-2000s R&B music video success, you had to be a stellar dancer. And even if this was the case, back-up dancers were still compulsory. It helped if the artist and dancers danced in triangle formation. Often times female artists would adopt a “bad bitch,” feminist mentality that would be reflected in their dance moves, à la Mya in “Case of The Ex” music video. If you were really good, your video and song would inspire a signature dance love, like ‘N Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye” and Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious.” Dance-offs were common too. And body rolls. You could never have enough body rolls.
9. Boats and water
Long before Lonely Island boasted of being on a boat, R&B artists everywhere were casually chilling on yachts and wearing beach jewelry like it ‘ain’t no thang. It should come as a surprise to no one that Aaliyah found herself on a boat in her “Rock The Boat” video. Less obvious, however, was Ja Rule’s boat cameo in the “Always On Time” video. It seems early 2000s R&B music video producers and directors couldn’t get enough of this boats and water motif. Because rain fixtured prominently in these short oeuvres too. Not only does rain always up the ante, but it seems to humanize the artist too, in a way. For extra effect: cry in the rain.
It’s easy to spot an early-2000s R&B music video once you know what you’re looking for. Me? I go straight for the sunglasses. Because back then, if you knew what was good for you, you wore those pink-tinted, gradient, square-shaped, rimless sunglasses. But perhaps the most telltale sign is sunglasses worn carelessly—that is, in the dark. Refer to A.J. in “The Call” video and Ja Rule in “Always On Time,” both below.