Emirati director Aiham AlSubaihi on Now United's Abu Dhabi-shot 'Lean on Me' video amassing 14 million views

The music video showcases a host of Emirati talent behind the camera

Filming a music video is challenging in its own right, but to shoot one for a band with 17 members, each of whom deserve their time in the spotlight, is a whole other ballgame.

That's the challenge that Emirati filmmaker Aiham AlSubaihi faced as he sat in the director's chair for Lean on Me, the latest music video released by global pop group Now United. Though only 11 members of the group made it to the shoot, AlSubaihi says he still wanted to ensure they each got their fair share of screen time.

"Each of them is an international superstar," the Forthcoming filmmaker says of the group. "In fact, once we begun shooting the video I started getting a bunch of emails asking me to relay messages to the group and to take photos of them. I had to remove my email from my Instagram."

The video to Lean on Me has now amassed almost 14 million views on YouTube since it was released on Friday, January 15. The video was produced entirely in Abu Dhabi, by local creative talents. It begins with an aerial shot showing a luminous Emirates Palace, 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 at Emirates Palace.

The clip then takes viewers to different parts of the hotel, using its ornate circularly-recessed walls and zigzagging staircases as a backdrop. “It was such an honour to shoot a music video at one of the most luxurious and beautiful locations in the Gulf,” AlSubaihi says. “I don’t think anyone [else] has had that opportunity.”

A week before the shoot, AlSubaihi went to Emirates Palace to identify which locations around the hotel would be ideal for filming. He then visited it again with the video's dance choreographer Nicky Andersen, famous for his work on Disney's live action remake of Aladdin, to make sure the spots would accommodate his choreography.

“After that, I went to the Berklee College of Music to watch the group practice the dance so I knew what to expect for the shoot,” AlSubaihi says. “Their level of professionalism was incredible.”

He says that he still can't wrap his mind around how quickly the number of views for the video is rising. "It surpassed a million views in less that 24 hours and it's been just climbing since then," he says. "Almost 14 million since it premiered on January 15. That's more than the population of the UAE!"

The video is produced by twofour54 with the support of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi. It was filmed in November 2020, with a number of Emirati talents working behind the scenes, including twofour54 associate Omar Al Dhaheri, who served as the video's executive producer, and fashion designer Khamis Al Hameli, who created the glittering one-piece costumes.

Al Dhaheri says that Now United have forged a professional relationship with the UAE, which dates back to when the group visited the country in 2019 to perform in Special Olympics World Summer Games Abu Dhabi.

“They came again in November last year and stayed for more than 35 days,” Al Dhaheri says. He adds that during their time in Abu Dhabi, the group filmed six YouTube episodes, highlighting their visit to the UAE capital’s theme parks and cultural attractions, as well as three music videos.

While each of the videos have amassed millions of views each, as well as generating a slew of fan reaction videos on YouTube, Lean on Me has proven to be the most popular of the bunch. Al Dhaheri says he is happy with the way the video showcases Emirati talent and creative potential.

“We wanted to show our amazing local talents and the high level productions we are capable of,” Al Dhaheri says. “We wanted to show that even during the pandemic, we were continuing to put quality productions while still ensuring all the necessary safety measures.”

Al Dhaheri says he hopes the video's popularity leads to a bigger partnership with XIX Entertainment, the managing company behind Now United. "We're ready to welcome the group back," he says. "I think we can say that we managed to make them fall in love with Abu Dhabi. We want them to perform here and help them attract more fans in the region, especially now that they have an Arab artist in the group."