Director Mark Romanek suggests Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt watch the new Taylor Swift video “Shake It Off,” which the hip-hop artist publicly renounced for reinforcing racial stereotypes.
In a Q&A with Vulture, Romanek, who directed such high-profile videos as Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” No Doubt’s “Hella Good” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” says that Sweatshirt has missed the point of Swift’s latest video, which shows her attempting to fit in alongside various types of dancers, from ballet and Lady Gaga-esque pop to a chorus line of twerkers.
“I'm a fan of his and I think he's a really interesting artist,” Romanek said. “But he stated clearly that he hadn't seen the video and didn't even intend to watch it. So, respectfully, that sort of invalidates his observations from the get-go. And it's this one uninformed tweet that got reported on and rehashed, which started this whole ‘controversy.’
“We simply choose styles of dance that we thought would be popular and amusing and cast the best dancers that were presented to us without much regard to race or ethnicity,” Romanek said. “If you look at it carefully, it's a massively inclusive piece. It's very, very innocently and positively intentioned. And — let's remember — it's a satirical piece. It's playing with a whole range of music video tropes and cliches and stereotypes.”
Although Romanek said he usually comes up with the concepts for videos he directs, in this case, “This basic idea was all Taylor's. We met and she told me that she wanted to make a sort of paean to the awkward ones, the ‘uncool’ kids that are actually cooler than the ‘cool’ kids.
“She said she wanted to shoot all these styles of dance and then be the individualist dork in the midst of these established genres,” he said. “And that she somehow wanted her fans involved. I loved that idea, so over the following week or so we narrowed down our choices for styles of dance. I think she imagined it in more natural settings and I suggested giving it a starker, more minimalist look. And I suggested the idea of incorporating her fans as a climax, for the ending as a kind of surprise.”
The whole theme is ultimately what convinced Romanek to take Swift up on her invitation to direct the video.
“I find the structure of it quite moving, actually,” he said. “Because after all this goofy, stylized clowning around, the appearance of these real kids just being themselves is tremendously affecting to me. In a way, the whole video is just a setup for that moment. And this is why, I think, if Earl Sweatshirt was open-minded enough to take the four minutes to watch it, he might see what the larger, humanistic, and utterly color-blind message was intended to be.”
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