Bruno Mars Choreographer & Dancer Phil Tayag Talks Bringing the Funk to Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show: Exclusive
MTV junkies who binged on the dance competition show America's Best Dance Crew will remember the JabbaWockeeZ, who dominated the dance floor and won season 1 in 2008. Fast-forward to 2016, and the masked men are still killing it, landing the Jreamz tour at the MGM Grand and the Halloween Horror Nights run at Universal Studios Hollywood, as well as some high-profile commercials (see: Ford and Gatorade).
One Wockeez member in particular had a chance to light up the Super Bowl 50 stage. Once known under the alias "Swaggerboy" (a.k.a. "S.B."), North California rep Phil Tayag found himself performing at San Francisco's Levi's Stadium for the Big Game just months after helming the choreography in the music video for the Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars smash hit "Uptown Funk." He then got jiggy on the S.B. stage (see what he did there?) in San Francisco alongside Mars and halftime show co-stars Beyonce and Coldplay this past weekend.
Here, Phil explains how the magic happened in this exclusive interview with Billboard.
How did you end up on the Super Bowl halftime stage with three of music's biggest names?
I don’t believe in coincidence. This particular performance was a very significant one for me because the name that was kind of given to me coming up -- I dance and I do music, rap, produce -- was "Swagger Boy" a long time ago, like maybe in ‘05, and it turned into "S.B." I’m from Sacramento so I came up in Northern California, and the Bay Area was pretty much like our stomping grounds. This is where I was groomed. Where we stayed in the Bay is where I used to perform when I was 16 years old. Behind where we stayed was this Johnny Rockets where I had my first date. So it was a very big deal to be out here. Coming up [as] this struggling artist, street dancer, garage kid, coming up and, you know, things kind of popped off for myself and my crew Jabbawockeez in 2008. We were on MTV, won America’s Best Dance Crew. After that, that was where everything kind of took off. When we went on tour, I was really only listening to two artists at the time: Coldplay and Beyonce.
How did you link up with Bruno?
Bruno and I had a mutual friend. I did not meet Bruno at the time, but i knew of him in 2008. I was introduced to him and his music [through] footage of him. Producers showed me his stuff and I was like, "Oh wow, he’s great." Fast-forward [to 2015], I’m working with Bruno Mars, we do the "Uptown Funk" video which was a mega-smash. He actually asked me if I wanted to do the Super Bowl with him, Coldplay and Beyonce in the Bay Area, so it’s like the stars really aligned for this, and I couldn't be any more grateful.
Doing the choreography for the "Uptown Funk" video, were you aware how much of a hit it was going to be even before it blew up?
Yes. When I heard the song. And reflecting on it, I was telling [Bruno], like, this song is going to be at every wedding from here on out. It’s a classic -- it’s not too trendy, it’s feel-good, it’s just a funky song. And sure enough, after he fired it off, [it became a] mega-smash. He fired off the video, and it gets over a billion views. It’s unreal.
Months leading up to the Super Bowl, there were rumors that Bruno was going to perform but nothing was really confirmed until a week before. How long ago did you know that you were going to be involved in this process, and how hard was it to keep the whole operation a secret?
We’d been at it for a good month, so we were just kind of chipping away at this thing and fusing everything together. The process has been unreal. It’s been a beautiful process, always creating with Bruno, and that guy -- he’s a dancer too, and I will not take all of the credit for choreography. We know this guy writes, produces his music, plays live instruments, sings, performs, and now he's embracing the dance in him. Bruno is the complete package. He has the eye when it comes to what he wants to see, what he wants to do and how he wants to move. We just really vibed out, and I think that’s what makes it great about our dynamic is it’s really organic. We just come together on a really homie level and just create. It doesn’t feel like work and it should never feel like work because we’re artists.
Were you able to interact with Coldplay or Beyonce during the rehearsal process?
You know what? Yes, and it was really beautiful. Of course we’re always going to, first and foremost, be professional, but I’m genuinely a fan. I’ve been a fan of Beyonce since [Destiny's Child] "No, No, No, Part 1" dropped. I was probably 15 or 16 years old at the time. People grew up with Michael Jackson or Elvis -- I really grew up with Beyonce so there was a lot of anticipation kind of around that. But of course when we all hooked up and Bruno introduced me to Beyonce and to Chris [Martin], it was just very cool. Everyone was just super respectful and humble. At the end of the day, they’re artists just like myself, just like Bruno. Everyone [could] rightfully have this confidence or maybe even be cocky -- they’re powerhouse artists but they didn’t come off that way and didn’t have that sense of entitlement.
Were there any memorable moments during the creation of the halftime show?
There was this time where we got to rehearse in the dance studio and there was just like a lot of taunting going back and forth because you know we’re supposed to be kind of have this little stand-off where we kind of square up -- Beyonce’s camp and Bruno’s camp and you got Chris and Coldplay in the middle. Before we actually collided, it was just really separate and everyone was just trying to show who they were and what they were about, but when we got to rehearse in the dance studio, it just got really fun. Everyone really came together and it really felt like a tight-knit family that Coldplay called all of us "the royal family."
How much of a perfectionist is Beyonce in terms of landing the choreography and making sure everything is on point?
Everyone knows that she is such a perfectionist and it’s beautiful to see how [with] these opinions that she has, she doesn’t hold back. She’s very well-spoken, she communicates well, very professional and ultimately you can just see this strong woman. Everyone knows this whole independent woman powerhouse subject matter that she’s about really does come off but in a good way. It makes me want to embrace who I am even more. She’s embracing who she is, what she is, what she’s about, and I thinks she does it in a very classy way.
Is there a difference in terms of pressure between choreographing for the Jabbawockeez versus a Bruno Mars?
Well, I think the only pressure involved is that with Jabbawockeez, you’re wearing a mask so it’s more so about the body language where obviously with Bruno, you have to dance, sing and remember lyrics so there’s a little bit of a difference but it isn't too crazy, at least for me.
Is there anyone on your wish list that you have yet to work with?
It would be nice to do something like this again for sure. Coldplay is amazing. Bruno and Beyonce are really at the top of the list as far as who you would want to work with on a dance performance level so I’m kind of fine with where I'm at. I was even just okay with a handshake from Beyonce and just saying [to her], "Hey, you’re amazing," but I can’t even think of anything past this. It’s just unreal already. I’m good where I’m at.
What's the biggest takeaway from the experience?
Bruno, Beyonce, Chris Martin, all of these people were dreaming of doing what they’re doing now and same thing with myself. We weren't just born into this. You actually have to have a vision and work to make it happen so bottom line, I just want people to know that if they stick with what they love and they just go for it [with] no expectations, dreams really do come true.