Jessy Lanza’s music videos embrace the genericness of her Rust Belt hometown.

Hamilton, Ontario, is an industrial port city of 540,000 known mostly for being halfway between Niagara Falls and Toronto. There isn’t much around town that would leave a big imprint inside a visitor’s mind, despite the nearby natural beauty of the Niagara Escarpment and the man-made grandeur of its steel mills. But that hasn’t stopped one the city’s most enthusiastic cultural ambassadors, the synth-loving R&B singer Jessy Lanza, from celebrating her hometown in a series of music videos that use the city’s mundaneness as a setting for her energetic tunes.

In her new video for the song “I Talk BB,” fast-paced shots capture everyday Hamiltonians gardening, walking, fishing, or just loitering the city’s modest downtown. Combined with the video for “I Talk BB”’s remix, director Winston Case provides a day-in-the-life of sorts, with Lanza riding her bike around town from sunrise to sunset.

Case tells CityLab that he managed to get shots of local landmarks like the first-ever Tim Horton’s location—now a ubiquitous chain across Canada—in the video, as well as the steel mill where Lanza’s grandfather once worked. (Another landmark, the giant methane-filled tank painted like a globe that prominently advertises Hamilton to motorists on the Q.E.W., didn’t make the cut.) Case’s video for “Oh No,” another single on her latest album, shows Lanza riding out of a parking lot and into the city in the middle of the night with no one else around as the lights on her bike flash colorfully.

Lanza came up with the idea, with fellow local musician Jeremy Greenspan, to shoot her videos in Hamilton. She likes how unspecific it feels—at least to the kind of person who doesn’t think about North American urbanism all day.

“It looks like a Rust Belt city,” says Lanza, “but it’d be hard to guess which one.”

Lanza’s 2013 video (directed by Lee Skinner) for her song “Kathy Lee” features local celebrity Jed Lifeson, aka “The Dancing Guy.” Like Lanza on her bike, the Dancing Guy cruises through the city to Lanza’s vocals with Hamilton as the unpretentious backdrop.

Lanza has lived in Hamilton her whole life; she likes visiting the conservation areas as well as the Royal Botanical Gardens. Although the city isn’t as cheap as it used to be, she says she’s glad she can at least still walk to the forest from her mom's house. Hamilton is only 45 miles from much-larger Toronto, the capital of Canada’s music industry, but Lanza insists she won’t be making the short move any time soon. “Doesn’t feel right,” she says.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of an encampment of homeless people outside Minneapolis,
    Equity

    Why Minneapolis Just Made Zoning History

    The ambitious Minneapolis 2040 plan will encourage more dense housing development in single-family neighborhoods.

  2. A photo of the Vianden castle rising above the tree-covered Ardennes hills in northern Luxembourg
    Equity

    Luxembourg’s New Deal: Free Transit and Legal Weed

    It’s not just public transit: The Grand Duchy’s progressive new government also raised the minimum wage and gave everyone two extra days off.

  3. Villa 31, an informal settlement in Buenos Aires
    Equity

    The Global Housing Crisis

    Scarce, unaffordable housing is not a local problem in a few places, but is baked into the 21st-century global city. It’s time for cities, nations, and global leaders to start acting like it.

  4. The opulent anteroom to a ladies' restroom at the Ohio Theatre, a 1928 movie palace in Columbus, Ohio.
    Design

    The Glamorous, Sexist History of the Women’s Restroom Lounge

    Separate areas with sofas, vanities, and even writing tables used to put the “rest” in women’s restrooms. Why were these spaces built, and why did they vanish?

  5. Tesla vehicles sit in a parking lot in California.
    Transportation

    America’s Power Grid Isn’t Ready for Electric Cars

    The challenge isn’t just about how much energy electric vehicles will need. A more important question is when they’ll need it.