The Squeeze: Q&A With Video Director Melina Matsoukas
In her short career, video director Melina Matsoukas has worked with some of music's heavyweights, including Beyonce, Katy Perry, Ne-Yo, Snoop Dogg and Rihanna. The latter recently snagged Matsoukas to helm the controversial clip for her latest "S&M" single -- which has apparently been banned in 11 countries due to its racy visuals.
Matsoukas phoned Billboard.com's The Juice to talk about how the concept for the video came about, how Perez Hilton ended up playing a dog in it, the status of the Beyonce and Alicia Keys video "Say It In A Love Song," which she shot, and to dish on who she hopes to work with in the near future.
Billboard: Tell me about the treatment for Rihanna's "S&M" video. How did it come about?
Melina Matsoukas: Well, she called me and said she wanted me to do this video for her. She told me she had this idea to make it not just about what you'd expect a song titled 'S&M' would be about, like chairs and whips. She wanted to play with the idea of the media attacking her and build on that sadomasochist relationship she has with them. She wanted to basically take the power away from the words that have been said about her and basically throw it back in their faces but at the same time keep it fun and poppy and colorful. In that aspect she was very much inspired by pop art and pop culture.
Where did you get inspiration from?
Well, it's different every time. It starts off with imagery for me, and scenes from movies and photography, art, culture, landscape, everything. I collect art for inspiration on my computer and I also store magazines. It starts off with that and then we go into what feels right and what she wants to do. I tried to figure out how to visualize her idea so I came up with some scenes. She liked most of them and then we developed them from there. Aside from having this idea about depicting her relationship with the media, we wanted to tap into the S&M culture, which has lots of fun imagery. I researched it and found out there's this whole phenomenon of Japanese anime porn, so, for example, the end of the video was inspired by that. There's also the erotic asphyxiation thing that people do, and that inspired the scene when she's behind the plastic.
How did Perez Hilton end up in the clip?
Rihanna wanted to incorporate him and a bunch of bloggers who have sh*tted on her in the past. But I thought it didn't make sense to have all of those people in there that weren't recognizable, just Perez. So we formulated a scene around him with her walking him like a bitch. She loved it and he apparently loved it too.
So he was on board to play a dog in the video from the beginning with no hesitation?
Yes. I told her she had to call him and she told me he agreed. I said, 'did he read the treatment? Because it's kind of sensitive.' So I told her to make sure to have him read it and she said she would, but that I had to call him to follow up. When I called him he was so excited. He said it reminded him of 1990's Madonna and provocative art and said he'd like to be a part of it.
Perez played an excellent dog. Did you guys tell him exactly what to do? Or did he improvise some of it?
He was willing to go with it. His scene was the first scene we shot. We put him in a harness and I made a hydrant for him to pee on and he pee'd well! I told him to tap into the dog character, and he began rolling on his stomach. That was all him. He brought it out of him and made it fun. Also, Rihanna walking a man on a leash could've been looked as real S&M, so we built off the energy. It's my favorite scene in the video. It was a nice way to start the tone of the piece.
Why do you think it was important for Rihanna to tackle this topic?
Well, she definitely isn't the first to do it. Michael Jackson's done it, Madonna did it too. When making statements and doing something provocative like this you want to own it, and that's where all the fun imagery comes in. I think regardless of what you may think of it, it's still a powerful message about taking power back and giving the middle finger to everyone who hates on you. That's important. She's also the girl that's put a gun to her head and drowned in her videos before, so, I'm sure she wanted to outdue herself and get better and develop more as an artist.
What is one of your favorite videos you've worked on?
Beyonce's 'Why Don't You Love Me.' She wanted to do something retro and build off that whole Bettie Page thing. She paid for that out of her own pockets and it was probably the smallest budget I've ever had, but it worked. We had two weeks to get it done. She did her own hair and make-up. I randomly found that house and a lot of that stuff was already in there. It goes to prove you don't need a lot of money to make it work.
Whose idea was it to have Beyonce dust off her Grammys in the video?
Oh, that was her idea. She was like, 'I want to take a moment and dust off my Grammys.' So she brought her real Grammys in. It was like the f*ck you moment of the video.
You shot the Beyonce and Alicia Keys duet "Put It In a Love Song" last year, but it still hasn't been released. Is it ever going to be put out?
I don't know. It's basically finished, but, I don't know if it will ever come out. I have no control over that.
Who do you hope to work with in the future that you haven't worked with yet?
I'd love to continue working with B and Rihanna, but also Kanye West. I will crush his visuals! Also Madonna, Prince and Sade.
What else do you have scheduled for this year?
I'm not scheduled to work on any more videos but that can change at any given moment. I'm trying to do movies and commercials and things and hopefully go into creative directing tours and performances.
What would you tell someone that wants to break into the field of video directing, especially a female like yourself?
I would say build up your work, invest in your work, invest in yourself and have confidence. Educate yourself and go for it. Meet people, intern and be humble. It will happen if you don't stop believing and don't stop working hard for what you want.