While you may not immediately recognize her by name, you have certainly seen Petra Collins’ work. Not only has she photographed stars such as Billie Eilish and Blackpink for Rolling Stone and Vogue and shot ad campaigns for Gucci and Adidas, but she’s also directed many popular music videos for Selena Gomez, Cardi B and Olivia Rodrigo, with each raking up millions of views. Most recently, she’s even been nominated for best music video at the 2022 Grammy Awards for Rodrigo’s “good 4 u.” Collins has established herself as a prominent artist who will certainly be making waves for years to come and it’s imperative that you learn more about her entrancing style before her next big music video drops.
On her website, Collins is described as a “multi-talented artist and director whose photography set the stylistic tone for much of the 2010s. Shooting since the age of 15, her work is fueled by self-discovery and a contemporary femininity which explore the complex intersection of life as a young woman online and off.”
This intersection is most evident in Collins’ recent collaborations with 18-year-old pop superstar Rodrigo. They’re a creative match made in heaven; Rodrigo’s honest lyrics about her own teenage experience are perfectly conveyed in captivating videos directed by Collins, with each one telling a distinct story within the song’s three-minute duration.
The music video for “good 4 u” plays out a revenge fantasy, ending with Rodrigo burning down and flooding her ex-boyfriend’s bedroom. Similarly, the music video for “brutal” showcases young adult angst and horrors on a slightly elevated level. While you’re only given minimal detail to piece together exactly what happened before the cameras began rolling, you’re always able to follow exactly what’s going on, whether Collins has Rodrigo in a blonde wig bawling her eyes out on Instagram Live or sliding a bag of Smartfood popcorn next to a gallon of kerosene to appear inconspicuous at a convenience store.
The videos reference plenty of iconic women-led films such as “Jennifer’s Body,” “The Fifth Element,” “The Princess Diaries” and “Clueless,” sometimes mimicking a scene shot-for-shot or serving as inspiration for the videos’ wardrobes. These homages also fit Rodrigo’s late ‘90s/Y2K aesthetic and, when paired with Collins’ own fantastical vision, the resulting projects are bound to remain with you much longer than any other cookie-cutter music video.
Collins’ distinct style is evident even in her earliest projects, her signature, soft haze falling over Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Boy Problems” and Lil Yachty’s “All In.” This gives each of her music videos a dreamlike, fantastical quality, making them feel like cinematic masterpieces. The hints of whimsy — glittery outfits reflecting under bright lights or sunshine making eyes sparkle — make them all the more intriguing. Collins’ singular style is also captured in her shot choices, whether she is filming Cardi B dancing on the hood of a car from the inside or centering in on Rodrigo as flames surround her face. She captures elegant glam and luxury in “Bartier Cardi” and the powerful (and sometimes strange) reactions people can have to love in “Fetish,” one of her most breathtaking videos to date.
Gomez decided to collaborate with Collins after working together on a photoshoot for Wonderland magazine, where they bonded over their shared love of horror films and similar outlooks on life. Gomez sent over two of her newest tracks and Collins was immediately drawn to “Fetish,” knowing that the video had to be centered around their shared favorite genre.
“It’s still so crazy to me how, when I first heard ‘Fetish,’ I pictured it to the backdrop of horror. It’s one of my favorite genres to make a female look strong,” said Collins to Dazed in a joint interview with Gomez.
The music video features Gomez hosting a dinner party, eating glass and even pinching her tongue with an eyelash curler. She makes a mess in the kitchen, throwing and smearing tomatoes and eggs all over as she breaks down, and ultimately ends up in a freezer, where she makes snow angels in the ice. It’s unlike any music video you’ve ever seen before, taking the meaning of a song about how crazy and complicated love can be and heightening the stakes.
The video, along with all of Collins’ other projects, is shot from the female gaze, which is defined as “the gaze of the female spectator, character or director of an artistic work, but more than the gender it is an issue of representing women as subjects having agency.” This is especially clear in the shots of Gomez breaking down. These scenes are more unnerving than sexual, portraying the situation in a more raw and honest way.
“I love the video because it shows the very dirty, gross and weird love you can have towards someone. This is how obsessive some people get and how they release,” Collins told Dazed. “I’m obsessed with these weird ASMR videos. I think about how our bodies react to sounds and movement.”
While it’s currently unknown when Collins will direct her next hit music video, she is slated to direct “Spiral,” a psychological thriller film that will also star Gomez. According to Deadline, the film is about “a former influencer whose addiction to social media is causing her body to literally fall apart.” If it’s anything like the rest of her music videos, it will surely be nothing short of absolutely mesmerizing.