Director X goes behind the scenes of 'Like I Would'
Credit: Isaiah Trickey/FilmMagic

Back in 2004, Director X helmed Usher’s laser-heavy music video for “Yeah!” — but it wasn’t laser-heavy enough, so he brought the lights back for Zayn’s just-released “Like I Would” clip.

“If I could go back in time, I would have made ‘Yeah!’ all laser,” X, whose recent credits include Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and Rihanna’s “Work,” tells EW. “So this is my chance to do it.”

And do it, he did: The entire three-minute video is filled with blue, green, red, and white lasers, and features the former One Direction member donning reflective Tron-like outfits as he dances among the lights.

Read on for more about how “Yeah!” inspired “Like I Would,” whether or not Zayn’s a dancer, and where that mysterious orange contact came from.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did the idea for the video come from?

DIRECTOR X: Zayn’s manager originally had an idea that it was going to be lots of dancing and then they went and got what they call the Cyclone, that big laser rig that’s in the video that he’s standing underneath, they found that. If I’m getting the story right, his laser designers in general said, “We’ve designed this thing.” That’s their custom rig. I guess they looked at it, and they were like, this is the greatest thing to ever exist. This should be the video.

I’ve done a bunch of laser-themed music videos before. I did Usher’s “Yeah!” and I’ve been wanting to redo that video for a long time. I’ve got, what, 10 years of thinking about what I could have done differently? Something like that. So I brought in all that old experience and the Cyclone, and we started building it from there. Then the team started getting involved. Like, “Hey, what if we did clothes that light up?” We held on to the some of the dancing idea from the original treatment and just all that mixed together.

Could you talk a bit more about how “Yeah!” influenced it?

“Yeah!” got inspired by the [imitates the song’s opening], that really distinct sound. We mixed it in with a club narrative. In general, I enjoy making videos very much a theme. Like you saw with this one, it’s the laser theme. It’s not just a thing that happens, it’s about the lasers. You saw “Hotline Bling,” it was a theme. I like to find what a theme is gonna be and just rock with that. So looking back on Usher, I was breaking my own rules, and I felt like, “Wow, we could have done this whole thing that way.” I’ve just been wanting to do it for a long time and people have not bit, which turned out well because this was a great way to do it and a great artist to work with.

Everything is very Tron-like. Was that intentional? Are you guys Tron fans?

Of course. I’m a nerd. Of course I’m a Tron fan. The way I work, I really let people own their department. And they showed up to set with those great outfits. We had a third one, but it wasn’t bright enough. It was red lights, and red can get a little technical. It eats up a lot of light. It might be bright to your eye but it’s not bright to film cameras, so the red one just didn’t quite work, but I love the one with the shoulder pads and the white shoes and the Tron outfit is, of course, amazing.

Has much input did Zayn have?

Zayn really has a good team around him that he communicates with. He definitely has an opinion on set and very much into how he’s performing. “Okay, I can do this, I can do that better.” He’s involved.

Is he into dancing?

I think there is a dancer inside of him. If you look at his performance, you begin to see it. I don’t know how much he embraces it, but as someone who works with dancers and can see potential, I think in a few years, you’re going to be seeing quite an active Zayn onstage. He’s coming out of his shell.

He’s a former boy band member trying to break free of that. Did that factor into this video at all?

It’s not really something I was thinking about. My focus is just always on the work. I was treating him like any other artist. He’s more than a boy band artist, he’s definitely shown that he has what it takes to play in the major leagues. [Laughs] Not that One Direction wasn’t major, but there’s a disconnect with those young boy bands. Their fan base is very young and as an adult, there’s just a song or two I might know from One Direction. It feels like they’re on a different radar. Even like Justin Bieber, he’s progressed and now he’s really in the game. He’s legitimately getting clubs. They’re playing his songs at nightclubs. There is another level to achieve.

What can you tell me about the orange contact?

That was Zayn’s idea. It’s something he wanted to do. He came on set and had this contact in. I was like, “That’s what we’re doing?” “Yeah, that’s what we’re doing.” [Laughs] I’m very much a believer in people owning their department and I think an artist really owns the video. I trust their instinct and their tastes, because their taste is what their audience likes. I go with it.