Dejan Milićević: King of Yugoslav 90s Camp and Colour

Ever since MTV started airing non-stop music videos in 1980s, Yugoslav pop stars were keen to embrace the style and creativity of the medium. From the get go there were many creative attempts with the format from very arty and conceptual videos of VIS Idoli to sexy  high production videos to Lepa Brena’s songs.

Slovenian controversial art-band Laibach’s video for Life is Life even managed to be featured on MTV, a feat also accomplished by Obojeni Program in 1993.

However, as the golden age of videos in the world started in the 90s with Madonna’s fascinating Vogue, Express yourself and George Michael’s Freedom ‘90, Yugoslavia was fraying and there was little time or money to replicate these masterpiece.

However, there was one exception to that rule.

While the world had Mario Testino, Bruce Weber, David LaChapelle  and David Fincher to capture the sexiness of the 90s, Serbia had Dejan Milićević.

Milićević, born in 1970, and raised by a single mother, Milićević was an apprentice of Mario Bralić, a famous photographer from Zemun.

His first brush with stardom, at the young age of 22, when he took a few photos of the Yugoslav singer Ekstra Nena for her Eurovision promo in 1992, which ended up as her album cover.

He later made a few videos for Zorica Marković and Ana Bekuta, however he came to his campy element and the top of the Serbian (and Balkan) pop-culture when he directed a series of videos for Ceca Ražnjatović’s blockbuster 1995 album, Ljubav Fatalna. The album, arguably one of the best made in the history of Yugoslav music, featured multiple Milićević videos many of which became iconic.

They featured his signature blend of camp storytelling: hot women in couture and shirtless buff guys who cannot stop getting themselves wet. However the videos were ingenious visually despite limited budgets Indeed, the one for Znam (I Know) features just a chair and green screen. Milićević said it is his favourite work with Ceca.

The most elaborate and famous video he did is probably for the song Idi dok si mlad (Leave while you are young),  a story about a women who gets entranced with a buff lumberjack, and showers him with gifts only for him to cheat on her. The song and the video were so popular that Milićević filmed a sequel of sorts in 1999 for the song Dokaz (proof), in which the original cast is reunited only for the lumberjack to understand that his benefactor was pregnant with his child, and be framed with the murder of his mistress.

Idi dok si mlad was also one of the many times Milićević was a star-maker: he cast the 23 year old lumberjack heartthrob, Đorđe Duvnjak while shopping for sneakers.

Milićević was responsible for launching many stars both in the fashion and media world, through his long time work with Serbia’s premier 90s modelling agency, Klik, and on the music scene. His over the top, sexy and melodramatic aesthetic was harnessed by the up and coming TV station Pink. They both hired many of the Klik models as their faces, and also aired many of Milićević’s videos to glamourize the drab nineties in Serbia. Indeed, Milićević’s worked well with their similarly over the top programming of telenovelas, Baywatch and Power Rangers.

This candy world of high glam sex, music and indulgence stood out from the drabber and self-serious programming of other media which broadcast daily woes of 90s Balkans. Milićević made Pink’s brand sexy which eventually made the it the most popular and successful (if probably the most derided) media project in the Balkans.

The politics of Milićević’s campy cool, became overt when he did commercials for JUL political (Yugoslav Left), which was created by Slobodan Miločević’s wife Mirjana Marković, and featured many colourful characters, from the accliamed avant-garde theatre director Ljubiša Ristić to Željko Mitrović, the owner of Pink. The ads featurd hot models just saying that „JUL is cool“, but made Serbian political advertising history.

This made him very controversial for Belgrade’s tastemakers and especially the aritists who consider the turbofolk of 1990s verboten. 

His work does not square with the officially sanctioned and popularized poverty- and disaster- porn aesthetics of the transition era Serbia and the Balkans. Milićevićs brash glamazons and perma-soaking muscle boys can only make it into the serious Balkan cultural productions as something to be mocked and derided, and would look out of play in the gray-scale landscapes of brutalist buildings we love passing as “authentic art”.

Nevertheless Milićević remains influential and still works on photos and videos, including the one for Serbia’s 2021 Eurovision entry by very campy girl-group Hurricane. Milićević’s campy sexy aesthetic is still present in many music videos, and is even nostalgically referenced in Kukla’s video fo Senidah’s Mišići.

Now that there is a bit more of lenience towards turbo-folk in what remains of Serbia’s culture – “Toma”, a schmaltzy bio-pic loosely based on the life of a Serbian folk singer was ta major success – maybe Milićević receives his due and is honoured with a retrospective exhibition, or even his own museum in Belgrade or Skopje, like the one Testino has in Lima.

All of his videos from Youtube are below:

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