If you’re reading this over the long weekend, chances are you’re by a pool. Even if you’re not personally pool-adjacent, you may find yourself scrolling through endless #poolside Fourth of July posts on Instagram this weekend, from friends who are fancier than you or who managed to sneak into a hotel pool. And why should it be any other way—it’s hot, it’s the freakin’ weekend, and the Fourth of July basically calls for it. But what is it about the in-ground swimming pool that makes it so iconic, a visual stand-in for something about ourselves—so much so that it has found its way, time and again, into popular music videos? In honor of the Fourth of July weekend, we decided to take a deep dive (ha ha) into swimming pools as a cultural phenomenon. Let’s get started.
Swimming pools have been around, well, for forever. In a 2013 article in Aqua Magazine, senior editor Eric Herman writes, “Manmade pools built for recreation, therapy and ceremony have been around since the beginning of recorded history, or at least close to it.” The first man-made public bath was thought to be constructed more than 5,000 years ago in a Pakistani city settlement, although Herman notes that it was most likely made for religious reasons. But over time, the modern in-ground swimming pool rose in popularity in the U.S. after World War II.
Around pools, an industry emerged: of pool contractors who could build said pools better than non-professionals, of financing options to help more and more families afford them, of companies that make insane inflatables and pool noodles. (Hats off to whoever invented that, by the way; they’ve surely made a killing.) Over time, backyard pools changed shape (from lap pools to kidney beans) and became more extravagant (think waterfalls, underwater lights, and jacuzzis). Meanwhile, music videos began to really take off in the 1970s and ‘80s, with artists like David Bowie moving to location shoots and advancing the medium beyond just bands performing onstage. As swimming pools became more commonplace in American culture—and presumably, so did pool parties—it would only be a matter of time before they popped up in more music videos. But what’s behind their staying power? Why do popular music and pool parties go so well together?
To open our investigation, let’s begin with this: Swimming pools have never just been about swimming. Last year, alt-rock guardians Blink-182 reminded us of this fact with a 15-second force of nature called “Built This Pool.” Blink 182’s last frontman standing, Mark Hoppus, sings two lines that you could fit in a tweet: “I wanna see some naked duuuuuuudes / That’s why I built this pooooooool.” It’s the kind of gag track that the Blink guys were known for back in their heyday, and one you shouldn’t overthink.
But for the sake of this post, let’s over-analyze it anyway. A pool can be many things: an eminent suburban status symbol, a reason to befriend that one kid you don’t really like in elementary school (Trevor Gill... I’m sorry), and the best place to crack open a cold one as the ice caps melt into oblivion. But as Hoppus reminds us, swimming pools can also be a thinly veiled—and perhaps the most socially acceptable—excuse for being around other people who are pretty much naked.
And so it makes sense that pools became such a reliable trope in rock—and eventually hip-hop—music videos. At its most caricatured excess, rock and roll is all about escapism and unchecked libido, so what better place to stage a clip than a backyard pool party? In honor of this summer’s pool-and-barbecue circuit, let’s break down the essential components of a pool party music video.
The band (almost) never gets wet:
Before there were pool party music videos, there were pool-adjacent videos. Kiss’ “Who Wants to Be Lonely” was one of the early clips to basically hold a Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition cover shoot for a music video, complete with models gyrating by the pool and under the showers. Most bands don’t go anywhere near the pool, but co-frontman Paul Stanley breaks from the trend. He saunters through an underground bunker of sorts and takes his share of objectification under the shower. Paul Stanley was the original wetboy.
The promise of booze and proximity to the opposite sex:
Nickelback have never been lauded for innovation, so their stab at a pool party video feels like a good place to identify some basic tropes. They dabbled in bro country on Dark Horse’s “This Afternoon,” and made a suitably bro-y companion clip in 2010. It begins as a Revenge of the Nerds homage, with three loser dudes prepping to throw the party of the century. “I need beer, beer, and I need lots of beer,” says the nerd-in-chief, before his—and likely lead singer Chad Kroeger’s—true motivation for getting the party started: “I need babes, I need women, gorgeous red hot broads.” It’s an incredibly cookie-cutter clip that checks all the male-gaze, pool-party boxes—but is worth checking out for Nickelback’s prescient self-own at the beginning.
A pool party music video needs to flex its budget for the obvious necessities: booze, a mansion-side pool, and enough extras to make it look like a convincing party. But you also need the right kind of props. Gucci Mane’s “Make Love” video is conventional enough, with just him, an army of models, and a dozen sports cars. Then Nicki Minaj shows up on an enormous inflatable unicorn—on the lawn, no less—to deliver her verse that rekindled a war with Remy Ma. Every pool party video could use massive inflatable animals for a break from the dancing and drinking.
Clothing’s optional—well, at least for the dudes
Pool party videos, like Game of Thrones, are notoriously one-sided about who gets to undress. Few videos make this clearer than Cam’ron’s “Hey Ma” clip. Even when Cam gets in the Jacuzzi during the second verse, he keeps his shirt on!
But give credit to the videos for Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” and Biggie’s “Juicy.” Both of these classic pool videos allowed for equal-opportunity fetishizing, even if the artists stayed dry.
EXTREME SEIZURE-INDUCING CUTS
The Hangover was one of the most influential comedies of its time, for better and much, much worse. Since it was a party movie without the party, it spawned a dozen imitators that were essentially a feature-length music video of slow motion party montages and hyperspeed cuts to show you just HOW FUCKING CRAZY things could get after a few Mollys and Four Lokos.
This trend carried over to actual music videos, too. I present, the auteurism of LMFAO and Lil Jon’s “Shots” video. It’s a big dumb fun song that recoils like a speedbag, and the video’s a frantically edited companion by the pool. They too spawned a beast of their own in The Chainsmokers, albeit one that’s slightly less subtle in its wardrobe choice, visual style, and crassness. I ….. kind of miss LMFAO?
Where there’s liquor, there’s product placement
Aside from creating a ton of jobs and bringing back croquet, DJ Khaled’s “I’m the One” was hilariously obvious about its corporate intentions. It quickly shot up the charts and is looking like the Song of the Summer runner-up, but I’ll always remember this as the pool party video turned-Ciroc commercial. Unlike other pool party videos, Justin Bieber appears in swim trunks for some of the shots, but sans swimming.