Lady Gaga's Choreographer Richy Jackson On Prepping for Coachella, Internet Dance Trends, and Bringing Entertainment Back Into Pop
"I want to bring back entertainment in the artist industry. We need to be entertained again. I am on a mission to make sure that happens."
By the time Richy Jackson was called in by Lady Gaga’s record label to come check her out at a dance studio in Hollywood, Jackson had worked with a lot of superstars. He was well-known choreographer who had worked with Usher, Will Smith, Missy Elliot, *NSYNC and more. He had also choreographed and danced in major films like Honey and You Got Served.
Still, Lady Gaga, who walked into the studio wearing fishnets, left Jackson awestruck after performing for him. In November 2011, Jackson became Lady Gaga's lead choreographer and visual director, creating some of the singer's most iconic moments, including her most recent performance at weekend one of Coachella.
Billboard caught up with Jackson between rehearsals for weekend two of Coachella to chat about prepping for the festival, his proudest moment with Lady Gaga and his take on internet dance culture.
How are you enjoying Coachella?
I really loved the energy. The atmosphere was great, but once we got on the stage, it was like, “Finally!” because we went on around 11:30 at night. You’re there all day getting anxious in anticipation for the performance. There’s always last-second things [to do], but no 911’s — more so double-checking because the show was put together quickly. But it was great and I loved it.
How did you prep for Coachella?
What we decided to do with this show is play with the many genres within [Lady Gaga]. She can go from a pop vibe to rock style. We found a way to mix all her vibes with the set. When we performed “Just Dance,” It was more of her and the band, and she remixed it a bit at the top. Normally, we have her with all the dancers. It’s usually more of a pop visual, as opposed to Coachella where [we made it] more of a rock visual that allows the band to soar.
What is your proudest moment with Lady Gaga?
It would be this year’s Super Bowl. Bad Romance and Telephone were [also] very proud moments.
What have you and Lady Gaga learned from collaborating with each other?
I think we’ve learned to continue pushing our creative bubbles. She’ll challenge me to try this or go with that. I’ll say, “Okay, how do we make it faster or slower? How do we turn it another way?” I always think about where we’ve come from and where we’re going on. For instance, for “John Wayne,” I knew that was about her intense relationships with men, so I wanted the dance to feel rougher. I loved the couple section I created for her where she’s hopping on the guy’s back and still dancing and singing. That’s the beauty of our organic, creative relationship: we both keep trying to expand each other’s bubble.
What direction do you see the dance industry going?
I see the dance industry wedging and separating itself. You will have mainstream dancers and people who work for artists, do commercials, and do movies. The other half is internet-driven, where those young kids and choreographers will sort of stay in that world because it’s a different ballgame outside the internet. A choreographer who’s on the internet working with dancers is promoting themselves — and that’s not a bad thing. But in the professional world, you’re working with artists.
Have you seen any dances on the internet that have inspired you?
I see a lot of different styles and dance moves on the internet. That’s cool, but I would never put that on one of my artists because I’m always thinking about how to expand their brand as opposed to how to make them like everyone else. I rather them be leaders and show the public something else.
What’s next for you?
With Lady Gaga, it’s going to be the "Joanne" tour. I’m really excited about that. It’s going to be fun to bring that album to life, so people can see the vision. I love going on tour and seeing all the fans in different cities. They’re so excited and welcoming.
Outside of that, I want to continue to work with new artists and bring back entertainment in the artist industry. I feel like right now, it’s very vibe-y and I am vibed out. I want another superstar, be it a male, a female, or a group, because I cannot vibe anymore. We need to be entertained again. I am on a mission to make sure that happens.
Watch Billboard’s “60 Seconds with Lady Gaga's Visual Director Richy Jackson.”