It’s fleeting, but for a few seconds in Justin Bieber’s music video for his song “I’ll Show You,” the expression on the singer’s face after tumbling down a moss-covered hill is one of pure joy. It’s a rare glimpse of a star who isn’t worried about his next performance, interview or annoying paparazzi trying to capture a private moment. Blink and you might miss it.
“That’s what’s really beautiful about it; it’s really Justin,” says Rory Kramer, an avid photographer and Bieber’s personal videographer who directed “I’ll Show You.” “It’s not him acting. It’s him being himself. It’s him being happy. Him living.”
That moment almost never happened.
In September, while finishing his newest album, “Purpose,” in Santorini, Greece, Bieber found himself reflecting on all of the places he has traveled in the world when performing or promoting his music.
“I asked him, ‘Where is the one place you’ve never been that you’ve always wanted to go?'” recalls Kramer, in an exclusive interview with Marriott Traveler on the making of “I’ll Show You.”
The answer from the 21 year old wound up being Iceland, which surprisingly enough was also on Kramer’s hit list, namely for the island nation’s stunning lush and almost otherworldly landscapes that he’d always admired from afar online.
Justin would just sit there and look at these cliffs and think of life. It was one of the first times I had seen him be by himself and not be bothered by people coming up to him.
Kramer, 31, quickly found out he had another bond with Bieber: California-based travel photographer Chris Burkard, who both followed on Instagram for his striking images of the outdoors — many of which were taken in Iceland.
“Justin knew I liked Chris and every time I would show him a photo I took, he would say, ‘This is good, but it’s not Chris Burkard,'” Kramer says.
While in Greece, Bieber had an idea: On the way back to the United States to make a Calvin Klein shoot, why not surprise Kramer with a pit stop in Iceland. And better yet, invite Burkard.
“We both loved Chris’ photos,” Kramer says. “We knew he had been there multiple times. It only made more sense to have someone that knows the place.
“Justin was literally walking into the booth to record one of his tracks and said, ‘Tell him if he comes I’ll pay for his ticket.'”
Getting Burkard to Iceland didn’t take much convincing.
He received the invitation from Kramer via email at around 6 a.m. in Los Angeles. Within an hour, he was at the airport headed for Reykjavik.
Burkard wound up taking Bieber, Kramer and a small entourage two hours outside of Iceland’s capital, hitting up oceanside cliffs and glaciers.
“Once we drove, everywhere you looked, you wanted to stop,” Kramer says. “There would be smoke coming out of the ground, mossy hills, waterfalls galore. It was like seeing a beautiful sunset. You just wanted to admire it and not think of anything.”
Bieber also found himself captivated by the scenery, in one instance perching on the edge of a boulder, dangling his legs high above the canyon below him.
“Justin would just sit there and look at these cliffs and think of life. It was one of the first times I had seen him be by himself and not be bothered by people coming up to him,” Kramer says.
One stop had Bieber deciding to strip down and swim in the glacier lakes of Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, near the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Shots of Bieber emerging from the frigid Fjaðrá river in his Calvin Klein underwear quickly went viral.
“We were probably never going to do that again, so I dove in and got on an iceberg with my GoPro,” Kramer says. “I dove back in and started doing the backstroke to make it look like it’s no big deal. My body started shutting down. It was so cold I was lucky to get out of there.”
Naturally, Kramer being a photographer, couldn’t help but capture the moments of the trip.
“If Justin had not been in the shots I would have shot them anyway,” Kramer says, noting the awe-inspiring cliff line that opens the video. “I love this stuff, it really makes me feel present,” Kramer says. “If you slip you’re going to possibly die. It lets you forget everything else and be in the moment.
“I thought, we’ll use this for something; some sort of video content for sure,” Kramer adds.
We went there on vacation to see the beautiful landscape. I had no intention of filming a music video.
Little did he know that the footage he would capture would become the music video for “I’ll Show You.” At the time, a concept for a video for the song didn’t yet exist.
That’s apparent — in a good way. “I’ll Show You” doesn’t feature the typical choreographed dance sequences Bieber is known for. With the exception of a quick look at the camera, you’re watching him let loose, running across rocks, skateboarding down roads or on top of abandoned airplanes.
“In a lot of the video you don’t really see his face,” he says. “You become him, and feel what he’s feeling through the song’s lyrics.
“The beauty of the video is that it wasn’t really directed,” Kramer adds. “It wasn’t set up. It’s a bunch of friends going to amazing locations and being themselves.”
Also unplanned: All of the photos Burkard took of Justin in Iceland now also play a major role in “Purpose.” They’re the album’s art, with the exception of the front cover.
Of course it’s hard for Bieber to go anywhere and not be noticed. Even in Iceland, where the singer surprised a fan when he walked into a Subway and coffee shop.
“There were only three people in the (coffee shop), but his fans are detectives,” Kramer says. “They know to the minute where he’s at and what he’s doing. It’s almost scary.”
That included a photographer who started following Bieber around the island. But when asked by Kramer and security to hold off on posting any photos of the singer for a few days, the photographer obliged.
During the flight back to the U.S., Kramer started editing the footage he took of Bieber. He wanted a song to lay over the shots and found that the only track he had to work with was an a capella version of “Where Are you Now.” The song had already been out for a few months, so when Kramer looked for another track, he came across a demo of “I’ll Show You” that Bieber had downloaded to his computer.
The beauty of the video is that it wasn't really directed. It wasn't set up. It's a bunch of friends going to amazing locations and being themselves.
“I put the shots in and said this is too good to be true,” Kramer says. “It was almost like we subconsciously were shooting for this.”
Bieber wanted to see what Kramer was working on. Kramer only had 15 seconds of edited footage to show but Bieber was immediately hooked.
“’No one else is doing this,'” Kramer recalls Bieber saying. “This is going to be the music video.” Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun wound up signing off on the video the next day during Bieber’s Calvin Klein shoot.
A month later, “we put it out and it has been nothing but great things,” Kramer says.
After directing videos for other artists, including Avicci’s “The Nights,” that generated 148 million views on YouTube, Kramer now finds himself with another hit on his resume. “I’ll Show You” has generated 91 million views (as of Dec. 18) and 1.2 million likes since it went live on YouTube on Nov. 2.
The video’s been featured on “Ellen,” and Beliebers have been clamoring to find out more about the video and its locations. “It’s been neat to see people saying, ‘This makes me want to travel,'” Kramer says. “A lot of kids are messaging me saying they want to go to Iceland now.”
That’s certainly music to Iceland’s ears.
The nation’s tourism board tells Marriott Traveler that 14.3% of its visitors chose Iceland as a destination because they have seen the country in movies, TV shows or music videos. Videos like “I’ll Show You” are the fourth most influential factor in determining where to go for a vacation, it says. The country recently hosted Shah Rukh Khan, one of India’s Bollywood stars for his latest movie.
While Iceland does not yet have the data to know whether “I’ll Show You” has had an impact on its tourism biz, “we are of course excited to see if this result will change for this year due to Bieber’s video,” says Iceland’s tourism and creative industries project manager Ingvar Orn Ingvarsson.
The country now hopes its ongoing Promote Iceland campaign will help attract more first-timers to the island. Bieber’s “best trip ever” tweet certainly doesn’t hurt.
“Bieber obviously was inspired,” Ingvarsson says, adding that Bieber’s “Purpose” world tour will stop in Iceland in September.
If Justin had not been in the shots I would have shot them anyway. I thought, we'll use this for something.
Travel means different things to different people. For some, it’s exploring a far off country. For others, it’s home.
Kramer’s favorite place is his parents’ lake house in Indiana. “Even though I’m not a fan of Indiana in general since there’s not much to do, I love the lake,” he says. “It’s like a little piece of paradise.
Overseas, his favorite spot was Santorini, in Greece, “until we went to Iceland the next day,” Kramer says. “It’s two extremes: One is summer being on the water, the other is taking in a beautiful landscape. I really like those two.”
Kramer already is looking forward to going back to Iceland.
“I’m going to just shoot,” he says of his planned itinerary. “No clients or budget or pressure. I feel inspired again. The (“I’ll Show You”) video made me really excited to start shooting again and think about things in different ways.”
There’s an impression that celebrities and their entourages get to experience the cities they visit when on tour. That couldn’t be further than the truth.
“You often just go from the plane to the hotel,” Kramer says. “We went to Paris for a day and I couldn’t see a single thing.”
Kramer would now also like to go back to Paris. He also wants to visit Switzerland and Norway. Portland and Seattle are also on the list. “I’d love to have a month and explore all of Oregon,” he says. “I do take a lot of screenshots of Oregon and the coastline. I’m more of a nature kind of guy.”
And there’s always Kramer’s new relationship with Burkard. “Now that I’ve become really good friends with Chris, he wants me to go on some shoots with him,” Kramer says.
About the Author: Marc Graser is Marriott International’s Editorial Director. Outside of a layover in Reykjavik, he’s never been to Iceland, but after watching Bieber’s “I’ll Show You,” and looking at Kramer and Burkard’s photos, it’s been added to his list of countries to visit. Follow him at @marcgraser.