Yeah Yeah Yeahs End 'Epic' Night on Top of the Empire State Building

"Despair" is the first music video filmed atop the landmark

yeah yeah yeahs, despair, empire state building
Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O Photo by Getty Images
Kyle McGovern WRITTEN BY
Kyle McGovern

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have become the first act to film a music video atop the Empire State Building. As the New York Times reports, the SPIN cover darlings filmed an official clip for "Despair" on the famous skyscraper's observation deck, located on the 86th floor. Filming happened back in April — around the release of the YYYs' fourth album, Mosquito — and took place over the course of a few hours, from 2 a.m. to just after sunset. The shoot involved a crew of two dozen and relied on a helicopter for aerial shots. 

Anthony E. Malkin, president of Malkin Holdings, operator of the Empire State Building, granted the band permission. "The way I look at it is, why hadn't this been done before?" he told the Times. "Credit to them for having the gumption to ask." Malkin also admitted that part of the reason he gave the okay was to draw fresh attention to the iconic structure. "To make sure the Empire State Building isn't frozen in people's minds in An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle — we're live, we're vibrant, we're 82 years young." 

Other artists have tried to film at the landmark, but their requests were denied. Approving the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was "not casual," according to Malkin. "We did review the lyrics, we understood what the song was about, we understand the treatment," he said. "It had to be appropriate for the building, and it was." 

Patrick Daughters, the video's director, envisions the short as "the end of an epic night out in New York City." The clip, which premieres on Monday, June 24, opens with Karen O, guitarist Nick Zinner, and drummer Brian Chase meeting at the Empire State Building, where they play "Despair" live. 

Karen O said that she had never been that high up in the skyscraper before. "It was definitely an iconic moment," she said. "It's hard to do something like that and not to feel like it's symbolic — it's like the American dream for us, singing your song on top of the Empire State Building, feeling like: man, where were we 10 years ago, when we were sitting around in some punk rock dive bar, thinking about what to name our band, and New York City, and now here we are at the top. It really felt dreamlike."

For a look back at the New York trio's entire career, read Yeah Yeah Yeahs Get Free. Head over to the New York Times to catch a 10-second teaser of the "Despair" video. 

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