Late last year, Elton John held a competition through YouTube with AKQA and Pulse Films, asking undiscovered filmmakers to create original music videos for the queer singer's iconic hits. Originally recorded before the advent of video, John's '70s classics—"Tiny Dancer," "Benny And The Jets" and "Rocket Man"—were never released with a visual component, despite being rich in cinematic possibilities.
John and his 50-year-long collaborator Bernie Taupin received entries from more than 50 countries for the competition's three categories: Animation, choreography and live action. After choosing the winning treatments and producing John's new videos, the results have finally been released this week, each offering a fresh take on the singer's timeless songs.
For "Tiny Dancer," director Max Weiland reflected on John's love for California, showcasing subjects driving around Los Angeles—some joyful and others pained. Weiland focused on the simplicities of everyday life—the highs and lows—while dramatizing some of the Golden State's clichés, from vapid blondes in convertibles to a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. "You had a busy day today," John sings, as Weiland's cast mouths his iconic lyrics together, breastfeeding, transporting an urn or hauling a "Jesus Saves" cross. The treatment is a collection of life's many mundane experiences, underlining both the beauty and complexity of human existence.
Iranian filmmaker and refugee Majid Adin tackled "Rocket Man," alongside animation director Stephen McNally. The story follows a fellow refugee, who escapes the stress and isolation of traveling by imagining himself as an astronaut. "I'm a rocket man," John sings proudly on the chorus, as the protagonist is shown dressed in a space suit, dreaming of the family he left behind. Taking on the open sea in a flimsy inflatable raft, he eventually tumbles out, falling deep into the ocean, while snapshots of his adventure flash by wistfully. "I think it's gonna be a long, long time," John repeats, as the character looks down on planet Earth—a powerful, but concerning statement about the state of immigration and inclusion.
For "Bennie And The Jets," directors Jack Whiteley and Laura Brownhill delivered a campy, black-and-white celebration of movement and fashion. With a glamorously retro, sci-fi treatment, the duo outlined John's bouncy lyrics, telling the story of how Bennie and her Jets first formed. The characters are presented as "weird and wonderful contestants" with extraterrestrial names, like Galaxy and Luna—each challenged to showcase their talent to Bennie, who stands proudly at the center of a circular art deco stage. "B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets," John coos, as the video closes with an impressive group dance executed by clones of the winning contestant: Jet, of course.