Stringent safety measures and a resolve to stay productive during the pandemic has made the UAE an ever-popular destination for musicians to shoot their music videos.
In the past year, we’ve seen a spike in the number of works by international artists coming out of the country. But the UAE has long been a favourite for pop stars, rockers and rappers, who have turned to the sandy vistas and futuristic skylines to visually channel the energy of their tracks.
From the international teen pop group Now United to rapper Flo Rida, here are 13 musicians and bands that have shot videos in the UAE.
A prismatic, cyberpunk-themed journey through Dubai's Al Qudra desert, Bestseller is one of the latest music videos to come out of the UAE.
Featuring Ukrainian superstar Max Barskih and Russian singer Zivert, the video tells a futuristic love story and explores what it means to digitise our emotions, exchanging real human interaction and contact for likes and hits.
Since its release in March, the video has already amassed more than 16 million views on YouTube. “This was a complex project, involving a lot of people and a lot of technical issues,” Yasser Obeid, chief executive and founder of a.k.a. Media – the Dubai company behind the video – said. “Shooting a music video is very different than shooting any other type of film. One reason is that your imagination can have no limits – as long as it looks cool and cinematic.”
With exploding mirrors, laser beams and artists flying six metres above Al Qudra’s lilting dunes, the video delivers cool in spades.
‘Lean on Me’ by Now United (2021)
Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace is the backdrop of Now United's Lean on Me.
The video features 11 of the 16 members of the international pop group. It begins with an aerial shot showing the luminous hotel, the corniche and the capital’s illuminated skyline. As the song takes off with a scampering string section, the video centres on Now United members, who break out in a high-octane dance between the fountains.
Released in January, Lean on Me has amassed more than 30 million views on YouTube. "It was such an honour to shoot a music video at one of the most luxurious and beautiful locations in the Gulf," Emirati filmmaker Aiham AlSubaihi said in an interview with The National in January. "I don't think anyone [else] has had that opportunity.
“The video surpassed a million views in less that 24 hours and it’s been just climbing since then.”
‘Ya Habibi’ by Mohamed Ramadan (2020)
Mohamed Ramadan's music video for Ya Habibi starts with a special thanks to the UAE and serves as a glitzy representation of Dubai's entertainment and lifestyle scene.
The video, released in September, has amassed more than 90 million views. It shows the Egyptian star, along with Congolese singer Gims, going on night cruises on super yachts in the marina, rapping on helipads with the panoramic backdrop of the city’s skyline and hanging out in the lush opulence of the Palazzo Versace hotel.
Ramadan, a frequent visitor to the UAE and a golden visa holder, told The National that the country was an obvious choice for the location of the video. "With the whole situation with the coronavirus, we wanted to go to a place where we could shoot a video safely and with professionalism, and really the UAE is the best place for that," he said.
“From the permits by the Dubai Film and TV Commission to the international crew, it was a great and professional experience. It’s a testament to a country that is smart and is always looking ahead. I want to do more work here.”
'Jopping' by Super M (2019)
The so-called Avengers of K-Pop shot a video in the UAE in the summer of 2019. Since Jopping was Super M's first official visual release, the group made a flamboyant statement with a glitzy film captured in Dubai.
The video featured the seven-piece Korean band riding motorbikes around Happiness Street in Business Bay and Al Khail Road, cruising down Meydan Bridge, and performing on a stretch of highway in the desert.
One of the members, Taemin, makes use of the latter landscape by dancing and rapping his verse with the Dubai skyline in the background.
'New Look' by Rita Ora (2019)
To match the electronic pulse of her single New Look, Ora and crew came to Dubai and captured the emirate at its most futuristic.
She and her dancers performed some slick choreography at the Meydan Bridge and in Al Seef, while there were also shots showing her cruising down Bur Dubai.
This is in addition to grand shots of Sheikh Zayed Road and a majestic Burj Khalifa. Speaking to The National a few months after the video was released in 2019, Ora complimented Dubai as the ideal setting.
“I love the people, the scene and the location was perfect,” she said. “I just loved the girls in the jumpsuits with the headscarfs. I thought that was really cool and I’ve never seen that before, so that was really special.”
'Wala Kilma' by Freek (2019)
Freek's music video shows that the UAE has more to offer artists than just skyscrapers and the desert. With arid vistas and scenes shot in a quirky tourist hot spot that featured an abandoned Soviet-era aircraft, the video also proved to be a great showcase of Umm Al Quwain.
The music video is the second work on this list by Emirati filmmaker AlSubaihi and has amassed more than a million views since it was released in March 2019.
But Freek – born Mustafa Ismail – said both the song and the video first resonated in the UK before coming to the Middle East's attention.
“The video didn’t do so well when we first put it up,” Ismail said. “But then Link Up TV [an influential hip-hop platform in the UK] put it on their social media and people began sharing it like crazy.”
'One Night in Dubai' by Arash, featuring Helena (2019)
More like one night in the Burj Al Arab. For a bilingual track (Farsi and English) that talks about having an amazing time in the city, it feels weird that we rarely see the star attraction in the video.
Instead, what we get is Swedish-Iranian singer Arash and Swedish pop singer Helena just wandering around the hotel's luxe interiors, and hanging out on the helipad.
'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B (2017)
This is one of the most-watched music videos that was shot in the UAE, as the accompanying visuals to Cardi B's classic hip-hop single reached more than 800 million views on YouTube.
From the opening shot of a misty Dubai skyline, the city plays a central role throughout the video. Cardi B uses the emirate's diverse landscape as metaphor for her various personalities.
Scenes shot in the desert capture her in an elegant light, with classy, traditional attire, while the hectic shots in urban areas, featuring sports cars, a sparkling white villa and even a tiger, show she is very comfortable living the high life.
'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons (2017)
It is good to see the rockers also getting into the UAE's scenic possibilities. To match the drama of their track Thunder, the American rock band Imagine Dragons shot a black-and-white music video that heavily showcased Dubai Design District.
However, some of the best shots in the video are the aerial images of Sheikh Zayed Road and Old Dubai. The emirate never looked so breathtaking from up high.
'Shine Your Light' by Jay Wud (2017)
For such a powerful track, Jay Wud knew he needed an equally commanding site to shoot the video at, so he and his band went up to the helipad in Al Thuraya Tower on the Sharjah border to rock out.
With a global audience in mind, Wud wanted the black-and-white video to be slick and gritty enough to capture an international rock audience. "Because this will be played everywhere, we wanted to show that we are from Dubai," Wud told The National.
“That’s why we picked the helipad. You can see the Burj Khalifa and there is a whole urban vibe to it.”
'Cookin' by Fat Joe (2016)
If you were in the Dubai desert on a sweltering August afternoon in 2016 and saw a bunch of rappers wearing tracksuits, and walking beside a tiger, you would be forgiven for thinking it was a mirage. The surreal scene, however, was part of Fat Joe's music video for his single Cookin'.
There are also plenty of shots of the UAE national flag, majestic sand dunes and Fat Joe cruising in a yellow Lamborghini down Sheikh Zayed Road.
Despite all the fun, however, the rapper admits sweating buckets during that shoot. "It was like sitting inside a brick oven," he told The National.
“People thought I was crazy when I said 'we will shoot a video in Dubai, in the desert and in the summer' – they told me ‘yeah, good luck’.”
'So Much' by Wiz Khalifa (2016)
This is not so much a video but more of a lavish account of Wiz Khalifa's Dubai vacation. Over the buoyant beats, he ticks off the tourist bucket list boxes: quad biking in the desert, chilling poolside, hitting the nightclubs and feeding the odd tiger and giraffe.
'Zillionaire' by Flo Rida (2016)
There was a period three years ago where Flo Rida was in the UAE so much you would have thought he had an Emirates ID card.
At least he has made good use of his time, with this video showcasing the best of Dubai luxury and glamour.
Promising to take his date on the best holiday ever, they race supercars, chill at the Burj Al Arab hotel, as well as hang out on a yacht and go shopping.
All that stuff requires energy, of course, hence Flo Rida’s decision to work out in the gym beforehand in his Versace shirt.