With “Party For One,” his third lead director credit on a music video, Zeinali mined rom-coms like Bridget Jones’s Diary and Legally Blonde to create hyper-personal worlds within the rooms of a hotel, where a diverse range of characters practice self-love by dancing in their underwear, unpacking sex toys and -- yes -- eating spaghetti in the bathtub. “We had an idea for an older woman who behind closed doors has this alternate life,” he explains of one character. “Exploring what she engages with when she’s fully comfortable in her party for one.”
Below, the 29-year-old director explains how worked with Jepsen to bring the concept to life (and what exactly was the deal with all those product placements).
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get involved?
I know Michelle An, [head of music video & creative content] at Interscope. She hit me up in July  and was like, “Would you be interested in writing a treatment for this Carly Rae song that’s coming out?” I was like, “of course!” [Jepsen’s 2015 LP] Emotion was a defining album in my life. “Warm Blood” is still one of the best songs of all time.
Did you get any sort of direction from Carly at that point?
They gave me a rundown on how Carly visualized it. It was a play off of rom-com cliches, like Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Carly wanted to have the journey that you go through in your alone time. I started watching rom-coms, figuring out, “what are these cliches, and how do we flip them on their head?” She liked the idea of having everyone separate, and finding an excuse for everyone to meet at one point.
How did you decide on the setting, and the scenarios going on in each room -- like eating spaghetti in the bathtub?
Initially, [the setting] started out as an apartment. But a hotel felt like the type of place where you’re on your own, and it’s liberating to a certain degree. You’re traveling, and you’re out of your comfort zone, sharing walls with strangers who are doing the same thing.
Carly and I had a lot of conversations about different scenarios -- these people in the video, what their journey would be. We knew we wanted to do a bathtub scene. We were like, “What can you eat in a tub that’s kind of gross, that’s not sad or sexy?” And then we were like, “Pasta and meatballs!”
She has a very distinct vision and is good at staying focused on what it needs to have -- and it’s more of a feeling. She’s more like, “I want it to feel this way,” versus, “I want it to look this way,” or “I want it to be edited this way.” It’s more of a reaction. It’s more emotional for her. She’s extremely authentic.
We see several familiar faces in the music video. Can you talk about them?
Obviously, [dancer] Mark [Kanemura], who is kind of an icon at this point. Carly really wanted him in the video. So, we were like, “How do we bring Mark in?” I love the Cinderella story of Mark and Carly’s relationship. He did this thing on the Internet, it went viral, it caught her attention. I love that story of what you can achieve on the Internet.
And of course, Bread Face. How did you get her involved, and what does her cameo add to the intro?
I’m obsessed with her. I sent her a DM on Instagram, and luckily she was following me so she saw it. And she was like, “Oh my God. Yes, of course!” She epitomizes what it means to be totally uninhibited, regardless of how it’s perceived or what it will mean to someone else, or whether it’s right or wrong, or if it’s uncomfortable. Right off the bat, she lets the viewer know, this is the kind of shit that’s gonna happen. It’s gonna get weird, and you’re gonna like it, and you’re gonna have a party for one.
What were some of your references? The first shot of Carly gave me major Margot Tenenbaum vibes.
It was! That was our reference for styling -- definitely Margot. One of my references was Legally Blonde, when Elle Woods is watching a movie right after her boyfriend breaks up with her. And classic rom-coms, like Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Now, there’s obviously a huge branding presence in the video --
Calvin Klein was not a sponsor! [Laughs.] Reading some of the comments on YouTube, I think somebody asked like, “Is this a Calvin Klein ad?” It was so not intentional. It was what we gravitated toward for [Jepsen] because we wanted to do boy briefs. I mean, Calvin Klein makes the best briefs. That’s just the way it is. It just so happened that Mark’s briefs were also Calvin Klein.
Fair. What about Absolut and Postmates?
You know, obviously this is necessary. This is what you need to do in order to make the project. But I think as a creative and as an artist, it’s something that you should approach as a challenge that’s exciting to take on and a good way to challenge yourself.
Coming from my background in fashion and working in more fashion-branded and commercial-type work, it’s an exciting challenge to figure out how to place a product organically into a scenario that doesn’t take away from the narrative. Postmates initially wanted a certain look for the uniform and the packaging, but they were super flexible, and they allowed us to kind of reimagine what Postmates looks like in this world that we created.
The video also seems to suggest a more mature, grown-up image of Carly -- I’m thinking specifically of the underwear, the sex toys, and so on. Was that image intentional, or explicitly discussed between you?
It wasn’t something that we really did intentionally. I think it’s something that just happened by nature. It’s where she’s at, probably, in her career and her life. I don’t think that it’s not for a younger audience, but it definitely speaks to an older [audience].
The cast features characters of all ages, races, sexual orientations and so on. What were your conversations with Carly about casting like?
Carly’s message is very wide-reaching. One thing that I really loved about her, and that I learned about her, is she’s very much against tokenism, and she’s really specific about what her message is. When we were talking about casting and stuff, she wanted to be careful about not having people be stereotyped. I really love, respect and admire that. That’s something that I’m always trying to achieve. She not only does that, but also does it outwardly and says it out loud and is very vocal: This is the way that it needs to be, and I don’t want to make people feel this way, and that’s not my message, and this is what my message is.
She has a platform and she’s responsible with it. She obviously is very much an icon to the LGBT community. I think that she gets that she needs to be careful and protect and make sure that everyone feels safe. Which I love and respect, and I think that’s something that a lot of people can learn from.
Who would be your dream collaborator for your next project?
Robyn, hands-down. Really Robyn and Lorde, but Robyn for sure. The Honey album, it’s a masterpiece. I listened to “Honey” the moment it dropped. I’m a big fan of craft, and she injects heart and soul into dance music, something that’s electronic. I think Carly does that so well with pop music, too -- she makes soulful pop, and that’s why there’s such an emotional reaction to her music, and I think that’s why people love her and listen to her music. It makes them feel.
Here’s a wild card. What does Carly smell like?
Smell like? Oh my god. [Laughs.] Sweet? Something sweet. But also like Canada -- fresh and nice and sweet and like puppies.