Tanu Muino has conquered the music video world – and she’s just getting started

From fashion designer to photographer to pop video director for Cardi B, Katy Perry and Lil Nas X – where will Tanu Muino’s explosive talent take her next?

Lil Nas X – MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) (2021)

► Tanu Muino’s music video work can be viewed on Underwonder.

Few music videos in recent memory have caused the sort of media frenzy that Lil Nas X’s Montero (Call Me By Your Name) did upon its release this March.

Inspired largely by art history – namely Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and Sandro Botticelli’s illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy – the CGI-heavy clip depicts the 22-year-old rapper (né Montero Lamar Hill) pole-dancing his way to Hell, where he encounters Satan and – after a lap dance – kills him before stealing his horns.

The video, which has more than 200 million YouTube views at the time of writing, quickly became something of a cultural lightning rod. It has been denounced as blasphemous in some circles while hailed for its unabashed queerness in others. (Lil Nas X, who came out in 2019, is one of relatively few openly gay artists in hiphop.) It has also turned the spotlight on the rapper’s co-director, 31-year-old Tanu Muino.

Born in Odessa, Muino grew up dividing her time between her mother and father’s respective home countries of Ukraine and Cuba. With no access to local television channels, she spent her teen years largely glued to MTV and watching movies, becoming especially enamoured of Cruel Intentions (1999) – Roger Kumble’s high-school take on Dangerous Liaisons – and the early work of Baz Luhrmann.

Since then, the multi-hyphenate’s journey hasn’t exactly been linear. She kicked off her professional career in the fashion world roughly a decade ago – first as a model, then stylist. When she found herself underwhelmed by how photographers shot the models she was styling, she picked up the camera herself. Then, having decided that the clothes on set were kind of boring, too, she founded her own fashion label, Jealousy, in 2012. She eventually waded into directing when, as she once put it for Vogue Ukraine, she wished that her photos would move.

By the time that Katy Perry commissioned her to direct the video for Small Talk in 2019 – a campy scenario in which the superstar and an ex-lover awkwardly find themselves competing with their pets at the same dog show – Muino had already directed dozens of music videos, most for Ukrainian artists.

Since then she’s racked up a list of Grammy-winning collaborators – the Spanish singer Rosalía, and the rapper Cardi B, as well as Lil Nas X – and each gig seems to generate more headlines than the last.

Muino’s music videos feel very much like extensions of the director herself: fashion-forward, ceaselessly energetic and comfortable being a little silly. Though Montero does tick all of those boxes, it is something of a stylistic departure for her – especially when compared to her second biggest video of the year, Cardi B’s Up, released in February. This is trademark Muino, leaning more on awe-inspiring set design than on CGI, and with a healthy dose of circa-1990s gothic glamour.

While she occasionally shoots things on location in grand mansions and 19th-century opera houses, she’s a lot more likely to build a bunch of candy-coloured rooms on a soundstage and move her well-dressed clients around like dolls in a dollhouse. For a particularly fun example, see her video for English pop-punker Yungblud’s Cotton Candy from last year.

Thanks in part to extreme camera angles and a never-static camera, Muino is especially good at making these sorts of confined spaces feel sprawling. In Rosalía’s Juro Que, also from 2020, the singer pines for a lover who’s been in prison for more than 400 days, promising that she’ll continue to wait for him and even pawn her designer goods if it will help secure his release.

The set for the video is just two rooms, with Muino staging the couple on either side of a Plexiglas panel – Rosalía in her home, her convict in his cell. Once their mutual frustration grows and she threatens to rob a bank so that she can join him behind bars, Muino triggers blue lights on the singer’s half of the set, bouncing off of her red satin outfit as if the police have already arrived.

That Muino is a long-time Baz Luhrmann admirer might help explain her affinity for neon and coloured lights, and perhaps some of her work’s eccentricity. Her 2019 video for Clock by the Russian electronic duo SBPCh is unsubtle in its homage to Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996), and similar crucifixes and dripping candles are more generally sprinkled throughout her videography.

She recently told Variety that she could see herself directing a musical like Moulin Rouge! (2001) one day. Only time will tell, of course, but she’d certainly have the chops for it.

In the meantime, we’re likely to see quite a bit more of Muino now that she has signed with the talent agency William Morris Endeavor, which according to the website Deadline has plans to extend her reach to film and TV.

Further reading

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