Exclusive: Lady Gaga's 'Stupid Love' choreographer talks voguing in Chromatica
Richy Jackson tells EW how he devised the otherworldly dance moves for 'Stupid Love' and says 'we're going to dance down' on Gaga's new album.
You can't venture over new celestial territory without a little help from your friends, and Lady Gaga made sure her trusted collaborator and longtime choreographer Richy Jackson was along for the neon-coated ride into the land of Chromatica.
After working with Jackson on some of her most iconic projects to date — from the dance moves of "Just Dance" and "Born This Way" to A Star Is Born — Gaga again tapped Jackson to help birth her new musical era into existence via the music video for the album's lead single, "Stupid Love," which features eye-popping fashions and high-energy moves against the backdrop of an alien planet where colorful, warring tribes unite through the power of music.
As the song launches Gaga back into the pop cultural stratosphere, EW had a chat with Jackson about his inspiration for the "Stupid Love" choreography, working with Gaga on set, how they're preparing for the Chromatica Ball world tour, and more. Read on for a step-by-step breakdown of how it all came together.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You said in the new Gagavision episode that you initially thought you had the vibe when Gaga first played you the song, but then she said some things that made you change direction. Can you walk me through that process?
RICHY JACKSON: She played me the song about a month and a half ago. Initially, I was happy because it’s a feel-good, party, celebratory record. We talked through the movement, what it should feel like, and felt out some dances. She was like, “Do your thing!” She also spoke to me about what she saw, like, us in the desert on Chromatica with the different tribes and how they were at conflict, but they were all brought together through music and dance. With that initial idea, I got together some movement and held a big audition to cast a variety of dancers in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, heights, and weights because I wanted it to be a mixture of what society is today. We had one more conference call during rehearsals, and she started to say key things about how she saw the video and some of the fashion ideas, and it changed my idea of how we should be moving.
How did the song leaking in January affect you during that process?
It wasn’t like we could actually talk about it. People would ask me, but I kept it pushing. We’re in such a visual world, so, no matter what, it was going to come down to the video.
What was the initial concept and how did it change?
At first, it was more about diversity coming together and how to bring everyone together, but it was the in-between stuff, like the idea of their conflict and the story of each tribe, that gave me the seasoning in the sauce. I understood the background of the tribes, where they came from, and where they were trying to go, so they needed to move like [you see in the video].
Can you explain why each tribe moves the way they do?
The black-leather tribe’s movement and the way they looked, from a styling perspective, inspired a hip-hop vibe. Our yellow tribe is into techy skills, so I thought they should move more abstract and awkward. I call our green tribe the House of Climate Change, because they look like a mini house within the [bigger] house, so in that [vein], they needed a voguing style! The red and blue tribes…. were the strongest, so, no matter what, they’ll never break or back down, so the movement had to represent that feeling.
Voguing is a specific style. Why did you include that?
When it comes to pop music and pop-style dance, it encompasses all genres, from hip-hop to awkward movements and voguing. There are also very modern and jazz-inspired movement in pop music, so the style represented there is a style that makes pop music what it is. The pink tribe was very modern, but they encompass all the movements that are in pop music and pop-dance culture. The pink tribe was freestyles at the top, and I took a modern approach, very married to the words with their hands wrapping around their heads.
The move that unifies them in a shot near the end is the move from the chorus, where they lift their arms above their heads and shake side to side. Why was that move the unifier?
After all the separation of the tribes and all the conflict, them coming together and having a good time and celebrating together is what inspired that. It also reminded me of being in a club. I also wanted [viewers] to be able to grab this from the video and do it and perform it wherever they are around the world, and that’s what’s been happening. [I see on social media] people doing the choreography from top to bottom, but, in particular, those moves you just described!
Was it always the idea to include sign language in the pink tribe’s section?
The one line that [struck me] was “All I ever wanted was love!” and I was like, “We need to do sign language!” Gaga was like, “That’s genius!” Now, for those that can’t hear us and can’t hear the music, they can still be with us, and she loved it. Something with that line required more than just a dance.
In terms of the visual, did shooting this whole thing on an iPhone pose any new challenges?
I was actually gagging that we were shooting this whole video on an iPhone. I thought it might be just like, one scene, but they literally had iPhones mounted on drones and Steadicams. But, there were no limitations to anything.
Because of Gaga’s hip injury and chronic pain, were there things you had to be conscious of or ways you had to approach the choreography to not aggravate her body?
For this choreography, I didn’t [change my approach]. I’m always thinking about it, but this is her new record, I had to give it all I’ve got…. if she can get it, great. She came in and I showed her the entire piece and she was like, “Yeah! Let’s go!” She was so excited.
Do you feel more in your element with Gaga again now that she’s back to doing dance music versus what she did on Joanne?
The reason I love working with her is you don’t know where you’re going next. Nobody knows what genre we’re going to take…. I like that, because it’s challenging me and I can stay inspired and figure out new ideas for her to move and put together a show. It was time for this. I don’t think we’ve had pure pop in a long time. We’ve had urban pop and even hip-hop is now pop, but we haven’t had pop like this. It was time for this right now, point-blank, period.
Gaga said in her Zane Lowe interview that Chromatica is high-energy and danceable. What does that mean for you? Can we can expect a lot of hardcore choreography on some future bops?
We’ve always had that element attached somewhere. Of course we’re going to dance down! But, how are we going to dance this time around? Those ideas are going to come with the more records I hear, and I’ll know where to go. Now that we’ve done this music video, whatever comes next, I’ll go from this point and say “We did this, now let’s go to this area for the movement.”
But, the fans are going to be living for what’s in store?
Oh yes, God. Trust, I’m a club kid first, I know what we need!
Are you working on the Chromatica tour as well? Will there be new choreography or are you replicating the “Stupid Love” video?
I usually change a lot of things but keep some things based on old material, but this song just came out, and everyone knows it from top to bottom, so this might be one I can’t touch or the fans will kill me because they spent all this time learning it! I don’t know yet, but, today, I’m going to keep most of it because this is a dream. If she performs the song and everyone is out there hitting those steps, wouldn’t you just die?