Sofia Coppola was the queen of 90s music video cameos

Back then, the 'Lost In Translation' director was an It Girl appearing in visuals for Madonna, Sonic Youth, The Chemical Brothers and more.

by Frankie Dunn
09 June 2021, 12:58pm

Before she directed the Oscar-winning fan favourite Lost in Translation, Hollywood royalty Sofia Coppola was what can only really be described as an It Girl. Following a few choice acting roles -- starting as a newborn when she played baby Michael in The Godfather and pretty much ending when she returned to the franchise at 19 for her much-slated role as Mary in The Godfather III -- Sofia interned at Chanel and, with encouragement from friends like Marc Jacobs, launched her own fashion brand Milk Fed (now a cult 90s collectible and still big in Japan). She also became something of a regular on MTV.

Perhaps it’s not surprising she crossed over into music at a young age — these days Sofia’s films are known for their spot-on soundtracks and, over the years, she’s directed videos for the likes of The Flaming Lips, Air, who scored The Virgin Suicides for her in 1999, The White Stripes and more (plus she married Thomas Mars of French indie band Phoenix in 2011). So, here are all of the music videos Sofia Coppola starred in during the 90s.

Sonic Youth – Mildred Pierce (1991)

Named after the 1945 Joan Crawford-starring murder mystery movie, “Mildred Pierce” was an angsty, riff-centric single from Sonic Youth’s 1990 album, Goo. For the Dave Markey-directed video, they called on Sofia to channel Mildred across a number of grainy black-and-white shots that capture her wild-eyed and successfully delivering ‘1940s psychotic episode’ to camera. As the song builds and builds to its raucous climax, the titular character grows increasingly manic on the streets of Hollywood. Sofia would go on to establish a close friendship with the band -- producing a fashion show for Kim Gordon’s brand X-Girl and taking on board Thurston Moore’s recommendation to read Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides in 1995, which would, of course, prompt her 1999 big screen directorial debut. 

The Black Crowes – Sometimes Salvation (1992)

At the height of their success, Georgia rock band The Black Crowes bagged Sofia Coppola to star in the music video for the emotionally raw “Sometimes Salvation”, directed by Stéphane Sednaoui. It opens with a shot of the then-21-year-old with long, highlighted hair and a leopard print coat, sipping her morning coffee with big ‘I did not go home last night’ energy. We soon learn why. As we follow Sofia out into the NY streets, it becomes apparent her and her pals are soliciting sex and hard drugs. Before you know it, your fave director is wolfing down handfuls of pills and stalking technicolour corridors. According to Sofia Coppola: A Cinema of Girlhood, the shoot marked the first time Sofia would properly hang out with her future-BFF Zoe Cassavetes, after meeting at a Vogue shoot and inviting her along to set. The pair were inseparable and, in 1994, teamed up to co-direct and present the chaotic Comedy Central show that was Hi Octane

Madonna – Deeper and Deeper (1992)

Shot at Hollywood’s Roxbury nightclub by Bobby Woods, many took this video from Madge’s Erotica era to be an ode to Andy Warhol. It certainly borrowed heavily from his aesthetic, layering images and featuring cameos from a number of his favourites — including Udo Kier and Holly Woodlawn. Too niche a reference? How about the shot where young Sofia, Madonna and friends sit around in the club eating bananas while watching an Iggy Pop lookalike male stripper? If that’s not a nod to Warhol’s peel-back artwork for The Velvet Underground & Nico then I don’t know what is. 

The Chemical Brothers – Elektrobank (1997)

They say you shouldn’t work with your partner, but we say you should! If your partner is director Spike Jonze and you’re Sofia Coppola, that is. Before he made it big with Being John Malkovich, Spike asked his then-girlfriend, soon-to-be wife, now-ex to take the central role in a music video he was working on for The Chemical Brothers. She signed herself up. In the cinematic visual, Sofia competes in a high school gymnastics competition, overcoming an injury to perform an impressive routine (which the director may or may not have had a stunt double for), ultimately beating her rivals. That ribbon dancing. Those aerial shots. The epic track that accompanies the whole thing.

Phoenix – Funky Squaredance (2000) 

Not actually released in the 90s (sorry – we lied), this left-field music video documents its own conceptualisation. It was created by Sofia's brother Roman Coppola, who the French band emailed informing him that “as you might remember, ‘Funky Squaredance’ is a nine minute epic… the budget being dramatically low, we need an even stronger idea”. Roman, it turned out, had one. In what looks to have been made on Powerpoint, he pieces together the story of his connection to the band (Sofia met singer Thomas — her now husband — when collaborating on the soundtrack for The Virgin Suicides a couple years previous) before taking the viewer on a weird walk through his mind. Sofia appears throughout, including in a family photograph in which she holds up two plates of pie. The video is one long, fun freeform joke — and now appears in the permanent collection of the MoMA.

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Sofia Coppola