Music

Director X's 10 best music videos

After crafting vibrant videos for Drake, Rihanna and more, he'll be honoured at the 2023 Legacy Awards.

After crafting vibrant videos for Drake, Rihanna and more, he'll be honoured at the 2023 Legacy Awards

Director X wears a green striped shirt and matching pants while wearing tinted sunglasses and silver necklaces.
Director X will receive the Trailblazer Award at the 2023 Legacy Awards in Toronto. (Kennedy Pollard/Getty; design by CBC Music)

Director X  a.k.a. Julien Christian Lutz, the music-video-turned-feature-film director, has had a profound impact as a visual storyteller. Known for his bold music videos for artists such as Rihanna, Nelly Furtado and more, he's received a star on Canada's Walk of Fame, earned a Grammy nomination and won a Juno Award for his inventive, eye-catching esthetic. 

At the 2023 Legacy Awards on Sept. 24, he will receive the Trailblazer Award for "creating some of the most indelible music videos ever." To mark this achievement, CBC Music has rounded up his most iconic videos. 

From his vibrant use of colour in "Northern Touch" to the viral "Hotline Bling" featuring Drake dancing, watch Director X's 10 best videos below.


'Northern Touch,' Rascalz (1998)

"Northern Touch" was Director X's first ever video (when he was still known as Little X), and it hit the No. 1 spot on the MuchMusic countdown and got played on B.E.T. in the United States. The video gave each of the rappers on the track their moment in the spotlight and it afforded the young upstarts the kind of crossover appeal that Canadian hip-hop had yet to reach. The visual is as memorable as the track that brought together hip-hop artists from Toronto (Kardinal Offishall, Thrust, Choclair) and Vancouver (Rascalz, Checkmate) for the monumental collaboration. The video starts with the men walking down the middle of a street, looking imposing and ready to stake their claim as rappers worth their salt. The rest of the video uses vibrant backgrounds and colour-blocking — a motif X would return to often in the rest of his videos). It's simple but evocative: there is so much movement happening within the frames, and frequent jump cuts that keep the energy rolling. 

The video's genius lies in it feeling like something a group of friends could throw together on a whim, made with a shoestring budget, when X and most of the artists were in their early 20s. It's both timeless and a capsule of a singular moment in Canadian hip-hop history. In an interview with Tom Power for CBC's Q, Offishall spoke about that effect: "We had always been dope in my eyes but I think that was the first time that the figurative mirror is being held up and the people got to see this energy coming from where we live."

'Hot in Herre,' Nelly (2002)

"Hot in Herre" is a quintessential song for bringing energy (and sweat) to dance floors, so it made sense for Director X to capture that essence by setting the video inside a club. Onscreen, dancers twist, twirl and grind, with X showcasing the freedom of partying the night away. He played vividly with colour, by lighting the scenes with Nelly and his love interest, model Pasha Bleasdell, in a bold, cool blue tint to contrast the warm reds and oranges around them. By the time the climactic scene featuring water sprinklers drenching everyone kicks in, it's clear the video is just as iconic as the track. 

'Yeah,' Usher feat. Ludacris and Lil Jon (2004)

The first thing that likely comes to mind when you think of this video are the lasers. "I just felt real strongly about the laser beams when I heard it. I can't even explain it," X told MTV in 2004. It's a visual motif that frames Usher as he dances in the video, flashing to the song's squelching beat. It didn't hit X until they were shooting that the lasers called back to Michael Jackson's video for "Rock With You," but it was a reference that he felt was apt since "Usher is the new Michael Jackson," as he said in the same MTV interview. The result is another entry in X's catalogue of hot nightclub videos, this time with him transforming an empty gallery in Los Angeles into a steamy dance party as Usher is seduced by women both on the dance floor and in a dark hallway.   

'Temperature,' Sean Paul (2005) 

There's something undeniably campy about Sean Paul and his dancers swaying along as the seasons change in the music video for "Temperature," which is what makes it such a delight to watch. According to Paul, the song was partly inspired by "beautiful ladies dancing," so it makes sense that X would bring that theme to life through models cozying up to Paul in the snow, cuddling him under falling leaves and more. X filmed the video in Toronto and collaborated with fellow Torontonian Tanisha Scott, who choreographed memorable moves for the dancehall track.

'Promiscuous,' Nelly Furtado feat. Timbaland (2006)

"Promiscuous" was Nelly Furtado's first big foray into pop music after the successes of her more folk-driven albums. For this transition, X lights Furtado and guests Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Keri Hilson and more in dark, saturated colours, immersing them in a shadowy nightclub environment that captures the mystery, excitement and flirtiness of bodies dancing closely together. Released before internet virality became a metric for success, "Promiscuous" was a big enough hit on MTV and MuchMusic that it even inspired a MadTV spoof featuring Jordan Peele as Timbaland and Nicole Parker as Furtado.  

'I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman,' k-os feat. Saukrates and Nelly Furtado (2009)

"I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman" is one of X's more narrative-driven music videos. It's set in a rural town and opens with k-os and Saukrates fleeing with a stolen package, jumping into a red muscle car and hitting the highway while being chased by a mysterious figure dressed in black. It was definitely a far cry from the club scenes that had become X's staple at the time. There's a fun Cancon Easter egg in the video: a cameo from Matte Babel, a former MuchMusic VJ, who plays a mechanic trying to help the outlaws escape. There's a touch of playful whimsy in the video, as the two men make their final escape through a portal into outer space. The song itself was an instant classic: both rappers were at the top of their game, and an assist from Nelly Furtado on the chorus that samples "California" by Phantom Planet brought "I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman" to the next level.

'Started from the Bottom,' Drake (2013) 

In one of Drake's most Canadian music videos, X took viewers through a fictional odyssey of Drizzy's rise to fame, complete with a private jet, an over-the-top house party and a humorous skit set inside Shoppers Drug Mart. With appearances from Drake's real-life friends OB and Ryan, his producers 40 and Boi-1da, as well as his mother, Sandra, the video was a celebration of community, love and Toronto. "Drake really wanted to make a video that people would talk about," X told Complex. "When people watch the video they need to understand that he's putting in some work to entertain," he added. And entertain he did: Vice described the video as "baffling and amazing," it was spoofed on The Simpsons, and also won two MuchMusic Video Awards for director of the year and hip-hop video of the year.

'Hotline Bling,' Drake (2015)  

While Director X has created a number of iconic music videos over the years, his work with Drake has definitely led to some of his most viral moments. Case in point, their fourth collaboration: "Hotline Bling," a deceptively simple concept — Drake dancing on a big, colourful set — that immediately inspired endless memes. The set, saturated with bright pastels, yellows and blues, is an extension of X's signature stylized sets (think Sean Paul's "Gimme the Light" or Kardinal Offishall's "Ol' Time Killin'"), marked by graphic lines and dimensions. Of course, the star of the show is Drake and his dance moves, which X assured Rolling Stone in an interview were all his: "You can't choreograph that. That's just a man dancing." 

'Work,' Rihanna feat. Drake (2016)

Following the success of "Hotline Bling" is no easy feat, but X managed to create magic all over again with the video for this Rihanna and Drake collab, which currently has 1.3 billion views on Youtube. This wasn't X's first time working with Rihanna, as they first came together for her hit single "Pon de Replay" in 2005. That video was filmed at the now shuttered Guvernment, an institution of Toronto's nightlife scene. For "Work," they sought another Toronto institution: the Real Jerk, a Jamaican restaurant in the city's east end that has been around since 1984. 

Playing up both Rihanna's Bajan roots and Toronto's Caribbean diasporic culture, they created a bashment inside the restaurant, with dancers whining and grinding, and all the women dressed like dancehall queens. Extreme close-ups and slow-motion scenes of bodies gyrating amp up the heat. Rihanna dancing alone in front of the mirror remains one of the enduring images for good reason: her sex appeal is on full, unapologetic display. But the focus is as much on the dancers as it is on the stars, who all seem like they're dancing for themselves and not the cameras. It feels voyeuristic, and is such a compelling watch because you're a fly on the wall.

'Popstar,' DJ Khaled feat. Drake (2020)

Every now and then, Drake reminds fans of his acting roots, and the music video for "Popstar" is no exception. Kicking off with a two-minute long exaggerated skit, DJ Khaled pleads with the rapper to film the "Popstar" video and Drake flexes his comedic chops in response, before letting the video's real star shine: Justin Bieber. Donning colourful clothes and a mountain of jewelry, Bieber transforms into an over-the-top parody of himself. There's something genius about using a bona fide pop star as the leading man, and the Biebs proves he's got the charisma — and the lip-syncing skills — to pull off the performance. X told etalk that the video's intro was Drake's idea, and that Bieber's involvement in the project was a way of letting the world know that his partying days were behind him. "It was very serendipitous," X said.


The Legacy Awards will broadcast and streamed live on CBC and CBC Gem on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, at 8 p.m. ET.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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Being Black in Canada highlights stories about Black Canadians. (CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natalie Harmsen

Associate producer, CBC Music

Natalie is a Toronto-based journalist with a passion for arts and culture. You can find her on Twitter @natharmsen.

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