we called 'hotline bling's director x on his cellphone
Director X gives i-D the lowdown on his favorite 'Hotline Bling' memes, getting Drake to dance and the James Turrell comparisons.
Last week Drake's Hotline Bling video spawned a thousand memes, the best of which had him fighting with lightsabers, throwing pokéballs and unintentionally putting himself forward as a prime contender to win every tennis tournament of 2016. Mike Tyson sung a version, Cara Delevingne danced a version, even Spongebob Squarepants has covered Hotline Bling. The man behind the moves? Director X.
You're probably a fan of his work already, even if you didn't realize it. Having worked with everyone from Kanye West to Kendrick Lamar, Aaliyah to Nicki Minaj, he helped defined the aesthetic of noughties era MTV. We chat Star Wars, dad-dancing and the MTV generation with X himself.
What was the inspiration behind the video?
It's just a performance video really, they wanted to do an old school performance video.
The video has similarities to the work of James Turrell, was he an influence?
Not in the way people think. I've been doing big set performance videos my whole career; it's what I'm known for. It's what the guys asked for. They wanted do something like my Sean Paul Gimme The Light video. This is just kinda my style. Drake didn't come to me and say "do James Turrell," it wasn't anything like that. They wanted a performance video, then I went off and came up with my own ideas.
Did you anticipate how quickly it would go viral?
No, it's amazing, it's crazy to see, it's wild. It's always fun to see stuff take off but this is above and beyond.
Was the choreography something you guys planned?
No, it's not really choreography, it was more "go perform." It wasn't choreographed and it wasn't planned. When you're making music videos you're really setting a stage for the artist to perform, you just let them go. It's not about "oh I need you to do this or do that" because they spend all their other time out in the world performing.
What's your favorite meme to come out of the video?
The Star Wars one, where Drake's having a lightsaber battle with the girl that he's dancing with. It's hilarious. Then you have the tennis one, which is good. And then I like the Star Trek one where they put Drake with Spock and Captain Kirk. They cut him out and actually put him in the Star Trek movie.
This is your fourth video with Drake. What makes him keep coming back?
We work well together, we're from the same town, and we've known each other a long time. You know, I remember seeing Drake around long before the Mixtape. Even before I met him, I'd been hearing about him. I guess he's just got that hometown vibe.
Out of everyone you've worked with, who's been the most fun?
Everyone really has their thing but I like to work with Drake a lot. He really doesn't care about anything except what he's making.
You were Hype Williams' protege for a while. What did you learn from him?
Hype was a big influence on me. He's one of the guys who has a certain style and aesthetic. I kinda find that birds of a feather flock together, and Hype had a very graphic style that attracted me. His performance videos, and his set-focused videos were all very graphic, I was drawn to his work and was lucky enough to be mentored by him. Just being around and learning from him was incredible. You know the deal, and being there is a big part of it. It's not like school where someone tells you to make a music video. You just gotta be around and learn stuff.
I grew up in the MTV generation, and spent an unhealthy amount of time watching music videos, and yours were somewhat a staple of that era. I was wondering if you think there has been a shift in the way people view videos and how they're promoted today?
So, back in the MTV generation they gave you your videos, they said: "this is hot", and put them on. Then it was up to you to decide what you liked and didn't like. Now you have go out and search it out for yourself, right? You've got to like the song first, and the way you get it is a totally different game. Even the way you make them is different now -- you can go out with an iPhone 6 and shoot a music video if you want.
What's the most memorable video you've made?
Some of them are the set-driven pieces such as Gimmie the Light for Sean Paul, some of them were the more dramatic pieces like You Got It Bad for Usher. There are different ones at different times. There are some that people don't know that much, maybe in Europe they know. Kelis' Trick Me was all arrows and color -- I've got a very graphic style and when I get a chance to flex it, that's terrific. Not everyone gets it -- it's hard to explain: "I'm going to have arrows everywhere." You'll probably get some weird sketches from me.
Do you have a background in graphic design?
Yeah, I come from a background in illustration and graphic design. I thought I was going to be doing comic books when I was in junior high. Then in high school I thought I was going to be a graphic designer. I was doing these things on my own and then it grew into this.