Heeeere’s Sean! — Big Sean and The Shining

Introduction

The music videos that Big Sean has dropped for Detroit 2 (“ZTFO”, “Wolves”, and “Lithuania”) have all incorporated spiritual elements. In “ZTFO”, for example, Big Sean channels the transcendent energy of the Buddha as he levitates around his house. In “Lithuania” the spirituality leans more toward the paranormal and works against Big Sean and Travis Scott. The video references The Shining, which provides rich visuals and works with the director’s goal of showing Big Sean’s success over obstacles he has faced in his life.

Through the use of anticlimax and specific camera movements, the director depicts Big Sean’s triumph over a chaotic and antagonistic environment.

Context

“Lithuania” is off Big Sean’s fifth studio album Detroit 2, the sequel to his 2012 mixtape Detroit. Both the album and the music video were released on September 4th, 2020, almost exactly 8 years after the mixtape. The music video was directed by Mike Carson, a frequent collaborator with Big Sean, as well as the co-director of “America” by Mac Miller which I analyzed a few months ago. The two have experimented with different genres, and this video is yet another new style for them.

Big Sean. Detroit 2, GOOD Music, 2020.

Analysis

The main source of the video’s mood can be found in the cinematography, specifically the camera movement. From the very first shot the camera movement creates an unsteady and warped environment. The video begins with a Vertigo shot, or dolly shot, to create the feeling that the room is closing in around Big Sean and Travis Scott. It causes a sense of claustrophobia and the feeling that they are in hostile surroundings. This shot is repeated when Scott is in the maze for a similar effect.

The use of this Vertigo shot is unique because it’s generally used to portray the inner disorientation of the subject. Instead, the two artists are calm and composed, and the shot actually depicts the outside environment rather than inner confusion. This continues to be the case with all of the cinematography choices — the viewer is not given a glimpse into the minds of Big Sean or Travis Scott, only into the world around them.

The two artists don’t have agency over the movement in the video. Big Sean is shown in an elevator plummeting downwards, Travis Scott is transported to different locations against his will, and the video ends with them in a room rocked back and forth by one of the women. Most shots are static, and those that move do so slowly. These techniques make the subjects seem trapped in their environment. It creates more of an emphasis on the locations they’re in, which gives more power to the paranormal surroundings. This technique was used to great effect in The Shining, which the music video also directly references.

The director recreates shots from The Shining in the setup of scenes in the music video but alters the endings. The creepy hallway and garden maze that Travis Scott finds himself in are both visual allusions to the classic film. The Overlook Hotel from the film is haunted and causes Jack to lose his mind, and the two women in “Lithuania” similarly try to influence Big Sean and Travis Scott. The moment Jack enters the maze is the moment he is lost forever, and eventually dies there. So, when the girls send Travis Scott into the maze, they are trying to send him to his death. The fact that he is unaffected (aside from looking mildly confused) is notable.

Similarly, when Big Sean stands in front of the elevator the viewer expects him to be swept away by blood like the iconic scene in the film, but no wave of blood appears. Another death-defying moment comes when Big Sean stands at the bottom of a stairwell. This is another movie reference, although a less obvious one; it mimics the scene from American Psycho in which Patrick Bateman drops a chainsaw down a flight of stairs to murder a fleeing woman. In this music video, the shot at first seems to suggest that Big Sean will be brutally impaled in a way similar to in the film. Instead, the camera stops and retreats, creating yet another anticlimax.

The Shining is an allegory for alcohol addiction and depicts its ability to destroy your life. In the film, Jack succumbs to this addiction, which is why he dies at the end. In “Lithuania”, Big Sean and Travis Scott face a different sort of obstacle: women. The two women take on the same adversarial spirit in the hotel as alcohol did in the film. The difference is that Big Sean and Travis Scott are almost completely unaffected by the women’s attempts to destroy them. Each scene in the video builds up to a moment that the viewer believes will be fatal (or at least extremely dangerous, but each time they are met with an anticlimax.

The women’s failure shows Big Sean’s and Travis Scott’s strength in the face of temptation as well as their ability to overcome any obstacle on their path to greatness. The final shot literally shows them sitting back and enjoying the ride. They have nothing to be afraid of from outside antagonists, so they’re able to relax and go with the flow. The final shot perfectly encapsulates this — their nonchalant confidence in the face of the hostile absurdity around them is what is needed to stay sane in this modern world.

Conclusion

The references to The Shining place Big Sean and Travis Scott in a dangerous environment and make the viewer believe they are in peril. In addition to the visual references such as the hallway and maze, the director creates this hostile mood through camera techniques. The use of Vertigo shots, for example, creates a sense of unsteadiness. Big Sean and Travis Scott are shown to be unfazed by the forces working against them, though. This is achieved through anticlimaxes that work against the viewer’s assumptions of well-known references as well as the two artists’ nonchalant acting style throughout the video. The two are calm and collected despite the craziness around them, a quality we all need these days.

Analyses of some of the most interesting and important music videos of the past decade.

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