Not only does Derek Hough have a record-breaking run on Dancing with the Stars (and two Emmys for choreography, to boot) under his belt, but the Hairspray Live! alum is now setting his sights on a new project: directing himself in a music video. This won’t be his first time behind the camera, but Hough’s cover of Breaking Benjamin’s “Ashes of Eden,” which you can see exclusively above, is all for him — a self-described passion project that comes on the heels of his recovery from grueling vocal cord surgery in 2016.
As he prepares for this spring’s MOVE BEYOND Live on Tour with his sister, Julianne Hough, he talked to EW about getting back on the singing horse and his busy year ahead — including his role as a judge on NBC’s upcoming World of Dance alongside executive producer Jennifer Lopez and fellow judges Jenna Dewan Tatum and Ne-Yo.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This was your third time directing a music video — how was it different?
DEREK HOUGH: Yeah, yeah. The thing is with this video, for me personally, is last year I had surgery on my voice and I couldn’t speak for a month, which was really difficult. It was just an interesting time for me to sort of reflect and to be thoughtful… Not having a voice at all, like not even a whisper, not even like a murmur — absolutely nothing for a month… And I would listen a lot more. And it got me thinking about things about life, and about what’s out there, and is there something greater than us out there? So when I heard this song, and it’s a cover — it’s from a band called Breaking Benjamin — I just heard it and it really resonated with me. I don’t know, it just really spoke to me, it was really powerful, especially not having a voice, it kind of became my voice and questions through that song.
You tweeted about them back in 2009, singing their praises. You’ve clearly been a fan for a while now.
Oh yeah, yeah, I love Breaking Benjamin. I’ve actually been a fan of them since I lived in England, back in London, when I was, like, 15 or something. From their genesis, I’ve been a fan of theirs. Hearing a song that, for me at least, it meant something to me, and I definitely felt like I wanted to record it, and also to see if I could still sing, to see if I still had a voice… It’s scary, you’re not sure if your voice is going to break. That’s literally how it feels. It feels like your voice might snap, your chords might snap in half. It was definitely a very, very, very therapeutic project that I set for myself, to sort of get myself back on my feet.
What were the challenges and benefits of directing yourself?
I think the difference is, when I directed Michael Bublé’s [“I Believe In You”] video, that was for somebody else. I have a few of these videos that I’ve made, like some original songs, some covers, but they’re really passion projects.
Why did you opt for black and white in particular?
It transported me a little bit more… It looks crisper, it looks cleaner.
I’m assuming you choreographed this as well?
Actually no, no, my friend Rudy, Rudy Abreu, he choreographed it. But a lot of it was just them freestyling, so a lot of those moves are just who they are, it’s just them, which I love. Especially when you see them on their own, dancing, that’s them just freestyling… It’s some of my favorite moments.
On the topic of dance, how did you get involved in World of Dance, and how will that be different from other summer talent-based competition shows?
What makes this dance show different from the rest is that it’s global. We’re having acts from all over the world come and perform, and there’s going to be groups, there’s going to be soloists, there’s going to be duets and trios, but also, every form of dance you can possibly think of. Probably the biggest difference is that there’s an actual prize.
Right, it’s a million dollars.
[Laughs] It’s a million dollars. For me, that’s a massive, massive deciding [factor]. It’s a wonderful thing because what I love is that it gives these artistic athletes — they’re actually going to be compensated… where it’s like life-changing, basically.
Do you guys coach them at all or do they just sort of come out with what they have?
They come out with what they have, and then halfway through they sort of go in there and mentor them, and we switch it around a little bit. That way we have a chance, sort of, with each group.
Does that mean the judges are all comparing notes on them?
Oh yeah, we’ve had arguments. We’ve had full-blown arguments after a performance where we’re behind the desk and I just straight-out disagree with some of their things, and with their opinions. But that’s what makes us judges. We’re going to have different opinions, and we’re going to have conflicting ideas. I think ’cause we’re so passionate about it, we’re so invested. And we love dance. We’re all such fans of dance, and we want to make this the best we can possibly make it.
Tell me about working with J.Lo, Ne-Yo, and Jenna Dewan Tatum. Had you worked with any of them before?
No, we haven’t worked together before, but Ne-Yo and I got along straight away. We’re like two goofballs. We’re very like-minded. And Jennifer, she’s just a joy, and just fantastic. And you definitely get to have an insight of why she’s Jennifer Lopez. She is a hard worker, [has an] amazing work ethic, and she’s really just a sweet person. Just a sweet soul.
And she’s the executive producer as well.
Exactly. And then you have Jenna … I couldn’t say enough good things about Jenna. She’s just the sweetest, most amazing person in the world. Just her light, her love, her compassion, her passion, everything. She’s just an extraordinary woman. She’s wonderful.
World of Dance premieres May 8 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.