Little Vietnam doesn’t feature in too many music videos by global music names. Long gone are the days when famous artists would beat their anti-war drums over images of helicopter gunships and American marines. Those scenes belong to a different Vietnam. Now, thanks to Naughty Boy’s video for ‘One Chance To Dance’, the world gets a look at modern Vietnam in a way that showcases both the aspirations of its youth and its raw beauty.
Shahid ‘Naughty Boy’ Khan is an English DJ who has worked with some of the biggest names in music, including Sam Smith, Wiz Khalifa, Ed Sheeran and Beyonce. If you don’t know his name, you definitely know the chart-topping hit, ‘La La La,’ which went to number one in the UK in 2013. With this latest music video, ‘One Chance to Dance’, Naughty Boy and directors Zhang + Knight have worked some cinematic magic and brought northern Vietnam to life like no other music video has done before.
The video starts with two young Vietnamese girls in the remote regions of northern Vietnam. Though the girls live in a simple home on Ba Bể Lake, their eyes and ears are tuned to the world through television and music. We see the girls acting out a scene from Titanic (1997) while riding a water buffalo in what appears to be the Muong Hoa Valley. They also have a play sword fight in front of Love Waterfall in Sapa. And, though the lyrics say, ‘I’m no Michael Jackson’, we see the taller girl dressed like the King of Pop himself, trying her best to do a moonwalk. The taller girl has big dreams and the other girl is her groove. They resonate with each other.
The opening scenes, beautifully filmed, are wonderful depiction of how many young Vietnamese see the world today. They might be from humble, picture-perfect villages, but they listen to Taylor Swift and watch Disney movies, too. They’re curious about the world. Big dreams lead to big cities, so the girls run away from home and catch a train to Hanoi.
On the train ride to Hanoi, we see the shorter girl pulling away. In a scene on Train Street in Hanoi, after the girls do the dance from Pulp Fiction (1994), their rift grows. The dancing isn’t fun any more, and eventually we see that the big city has taken away their carefree spirit. This music video captures the essence of a common Vietnamese story. Whether it’s Ho Chi Minh City in the south, or Hanoi in the north, many young Vietnamese move to the cities in search of a better life, one that often doesn’t live up to expectations.
The girls in this video wanted to dance, but the shorter girl wasn’t ready to be someone else. She didn’t want to wear nail polish and a wig. When the girls split, the shorter one is having a glass of milk at a bar. She’s still a child, adrift in the big city. Without her partner, the taller girl has lost what made dancing fun. The video ends with the taller girl back on the misty lake, clutching her school book and smiling at the sky by herself. The story arc has come home.
This video blends the almost mythical scenery of northern Vietnam with a story that will resonate with many people. It melds the song’s message to a genuine Vietnamese journey — one of hope and harsh realities that eventually sweep away the illusions of youth. Rather than simply using Vietnam as a backdrop, they’ve encapsulated some of the character of its people. This music video is as good a film for tourism as it is an expression of art.